The Washington Times - January 2, 2012, 09:32AM

MANCHESTER, N.H. — Another poll shows Mitt Romney with a solid lead in New Hampshire while three of his GOP presidential rivals — Ron Paul, Newt Gingrich and Jon Huntsman — are battling for second place.

The Suffolk University/7NEWS two-day tracking poll of likely voters in New Hampshire’s GOP presidential primary showed Romney with 41 percent of the vote, Mr. Paul with 15 percent, and Mr. Gingrich with 11 percent. Mr. Huntsman had 9 percent, while another 8 percent was split between Michele Bachmann, Rick Santorum and Rick Perry. Sixteen percent remained undecided.

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“There is only one candidate who can win both Iowa and New Hampshire,” said David Paleologos, director of Suffolk University’s Political Research Center. “That candidate is Mitt Romney. Although the 16 percent undecided is high right now, it is unlikely that Romney will lose New Hampshire, despite what Iowa voters may do.”

The former Massachusetts governor is fighting for first place in Iowa, where the latest realclearpolitics.com average of state polls shows him basically running neck and neck with Mr. Paul. Former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, meanwhile, has surged from the back of the pack into third place.

The Republican nomination process kicks off in the Hawkeye State on Tuesday. The action then will move to New Hampshire, which will host the first primary of the nomination process on Jan. 10.

Conventional wisdom says that a Romney win in Iowa will help solidify his commanding lead in New Hampshire — two contests that will set the tone for the nomination contests, including where people decide to send their campaign donations.

The Suffolk University poll of 500 likely primary voters showed that Mr. Romney is benefiting from the support of older voters and that Mr. Huntsman enjoys the most loyal following, with 76 percent saying they were unlikely to change their minds — followed by 69 percent of Mr. Romney’s supporters and 41 percent of Mr. Paul’s voters.

The poll also portended more trouble for Mr. Gingrich, who surged to the front of polls in November, opening up a solid lead over Mr. Romney nationwide. He also eventually snagged the lead in Iowa and jumped to second in New Hampshire, cutting into Mr. Romney lead.

But following a barrage of attacks against his record from his rivals and SuperPACs supporting their candidacies, the latest polls show him running fourth in Iowa and third in New Hampshire.

The Suffolk University Poll found that only 29 percent of Gingrich voters said they were unlikely to change their minds, while 67 percent of his supporters said they were somewhat likely or very likely to change their minds.