As the Republican candidates for president prepare for their latest debate Tuesday night in New Hampshire, polls show former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney solidifying his lead in the Granite State. Yet with the state's traditionally first-in-the-nation primary still months away, much can happen. For more on what might be ahead for Romney and the rest of the GOP field, WBUR's Bob Oakes spoke with James Pindell, political director at WMUR-TV in Manchester, N.H.
Bob Oakes: Let me ask you first a question about the poll out over the weekend in the race showing Romney at 38 percent in New Hampshire, well ahead of the rest of the pack. Businessman Herman Cain is second at 20 percent. Nationally, Romney's been roughly a consistent 25 percent in this campaign. Why do you think he's doing so much better in New Hampshire.
James Pindell: Look, this is a state where he has spent the most time. Folks have a good idea on who he is. As you know, he has a vacation home in New Hampshire. It's really easy for him to campaign in the state. He really has never stopped since 2006-2007, when he began his last race for president.
The question has never been who's in first place, that's always been Mitt Romney since we began polling for this particular presidential primary. The question was who's in second place? And that's been a whole bunch of people. Michele Bachmann, Rudy Giuliani, Ron Paul, even Donald Trump, and now it's Herman Cain.
Bob Oakes: With the election in New Hampshire coming up so quickly, could such a large lead for Romney actually be problematic in that if someone comes close to Romney on Election Day, the story could be about embarrassment as it was, for example, when Pat Buchanan came close to the sitting president George Bush a few elections ago.
James Pindell: Well you're right, I mean that dynamic has occurred since the modern primary in 1952 when Harry Truman was convinced that his victory wasn't as big or LBJ in '68, his victory wasn't as big.
I'm not sure exactly where this expectations game is going to go. I don't know how many points, for example, Mitt Romney has to win the New Hampshire primary. That's going to be determined by the last couple of polls. That's going to be determined by who wins the Iowa caucus. These polls over the weekend, only 11 percent of New Hampshire residents say they've made up their mind. New Hampshire makes their minds very, very late in the process. With 89 percent of New Hampshire primary voters still not positive where they're voting, he has to be kind of worried about what's going to happen in the rough and tumble of the next few months.
Bob Oakes: So who might move up? Could anyone come close to Romney?
James Pindell: Yeah a lot of people could come close to Romney. I think a couple things to watch is this. One, where do conservatives go. Sort of that dynamic of who's in second place has been sort of trading places among a bunch of conservatives. Do they finally settle with a guy like Rick Perry who has the money, who can go the distance?
The second dynamic of things to watch is on the other side. Independent voters. These independent voters of course can vote in the New Hampshire Republican primary. They could make up 40 percent of the primary. Right now, Mitt Romney has an advantage with these folks, but someone like Jon Huntsman, that could be someone to watch.
This program aired on October 11, 2011. The audio for this program is not available.