New Hampshire's all-important stamp of approval is Mitt Romney's to lose—if he runs, that is.
The former Massachusetts governor and two-time presidential contender leads his potential rivals by a double-digit margin in the early-primary state, with 30 percent of voters expressing their support, according to a Bloomberg Politics/Saint Anselm poll released Monday. Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky, the runner-up in the hypothetical contest, garnered just 11 percent support.
Leading up to the midterm elections, Romney fashioned himself as a sort of thought leader for the GOP, a seasoned luminary who rises above the political fray. Although he has stuck to the line that he's not running, albeit in varying language, his popular support continues to grow.
"Every day, wherever he goes, morning, noon, or night, people stop him, call him, beg him, scream at him, 'Please run,' " Ron Kaufman, a former senior adviser to Romney, told National Journal in October. "An awful lot of people in this country feel that Mitt Romney would be the best person to be president."
Romney's support has only increased in New Hampshire, which he won in the 2012 Republican primary. In January, he led other GOP contenders at 25 percent support, while Paul polled at 18 percent and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie polled at 17 percent.
He is not likely to run, lest he face a third embarrassing loss to fresher faces in the GOP primary field. Should he stay out of the race, this latest poll shows presidential campaign newcomers Paul and Christie each taking 16 percent of the vote in New Hampshire. Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush would garner 14 percent.
But if "everyone else implodes," one former Romney adviser speculated to National Journal in October, Romney is positioning himself to save the election for the party. Other politicians with presidential buzz, such as Paul, Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas and Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, have relatively little experience compared with Romney. As an establishment favorite, he could be drafted to unite the GOP should the others crash and burn.
It's a long shot. For a politician who has twice failed to realize his presidential ambitions, though, a last-minute entry into the race could be his best option should he choose to run—and winning over New Hampshire is an important step toward that end.