BOSTON (Reuters) - Former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney leads potential Republican primary opponents in the early voting state of New Hampshire, but celebrity candidate Donald Trump has substantial support, according to a new poll.
Public Policy Polling's survey, released on Tuesday, showed 31 percent support for Romney, who many see as the front-runner for the Republican nomination to go up against Barack Obama in the 2012 presidential election.
That was similar to the 32 percent that Romney received in the state's 2008 primary, when he finished second to John McCain, but down from 40 percent when the group last polled in November. Romney has not officially announced a bid.
"Mitt Romney's looked like the runaway favorite in all of our New Hampshire polling to date," said Dean Debnam, president of Public Policy Polling.
New Hampshire will hold its primary on Feb 14, 2012. Candidates jockey for position in the first-in-the-nation primary, which often sets the tone for the campaign season.
Behind Romney were former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee with 15 percent support, former U.S. House speaker Newt Gingrich at 13 percent, and former Alaska governor Sarah Palin and Texas Congressman Ron Paul, each at 10 percent.
Tim Pawlenty, former Minnesota governor, and Minnesota Congresswoman and Tea Party favorite Michele Bachmann each got 4 percent support, while 12 percent were undecided.
The surprise was Trump, real estate magnate and host of TV show "The Apprentice," who has hinted at a long-shot bid for the nomination.
If Trump were to run, some 21 percent of New Hampshire Republicans said they would vote for him, dropping support for Romney down to 27 percent and eating away at votes for most other candidates.
"Donald Trump's the first person to hold (Romney ) to a single digit lead. He really could prove to be a serious candidate if he gets into the race." Debnam said.
Public Policy Polling surveyed 384 usual New Hampshire Republican primary voters from March 31 to April 3. The survey had a margin of error of plus or minus 5 percent.
(Reporting by Ros Krasny)
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