Expectations for Romney to dominate NH

January 9, 2012 3:51:23 PM PST
A funny thing is happening here in New Hampshire today.

There is nothing less than certainty among those here about who will win this primary.

But for Mitt Romney to simply win is no longer enough.

There are expectations now that he should dominate.

And so, on the eve of the primary, there are two questions really: Will his margin of victory silence his doubters and who will come in second to fight another day?

On the day before polls open, Romney made an unannounced visit to his Manchester headquarters. Far ahead in the polls, he knows nothing is guaranteed, and there is still value in some personal politicking.

According to the latest poll, Romney enjoys a 24 point lead over his next closest competitor, Ron Paul, who 17 percent of likely voters back. Though staging a late rally, John Huntsman has just 11 percent in a state where he staked it all, tied with Rick Santorum.

Aware of the expectations, Romney and his family aren't playing the game, as I found out talking today with the candidate's oldest son, Tagg.

When asked to guesstimate a win, Tagg replied, "Nope. Not even going to guess a win here. Hope we can do the best that we can everywhere we play."

For all the support Romney has, much of the attention is elsewhere.

Outside a diner in Derry, our cameras were among countless others aimed at Ron Paul. His plans to have breakfast didn't quite pan out. But before leaving, without eating, he did stop to talk to two New Hampshire residents still struggling over who should get their vote.

"I might have to vote for the candidate that can beat Obama, even if it's not my favorite," Barbara Bishop said.

That was half-hearted support for Mitt Romney, who won't be helped by lines like the one he delivered this morning at a Chamber of Commerce breakfast.

"I like being able to fire people who provide services to me," Romney said.

Though it came in a speech about accountability, Romney's rivals are seizing on the misstep, painting the frontrunner as a ruthless, private sector job-killer.

Even that may not be enough to salvage the New Hampshire hopes of the man who almost beat him in Iowa. Rick Santorum is already focused on what's next.

"They say, 'you can win in your backyard, that's fine, but let's see how you do in South Carolina where the electorate looks very, very different," ABC News political analyst Amy Walter said.

There is a lot of talk today about John Huntsman, who some polls suggest has picked up 4 or 5 points over the weekend. But consensus is too little, too late, for a man who has gone "all in" here.