And because the New Hampshire Republican primary is "open" – that is, independents can vote in it – that will dilute the tea party's impact. Some 40 percent of New Hampshire voters are registered independent. Bottom line: So far, so good for Romney. A recent CNN/WMUR poll of likely New Hampshire GOP primary voters showed Romney at 32 percent, with the libertarian Congressman Paul a distant second at 9 percent. Mr. Gingrich and Giuliani are at 6 percent; Palin is at 5; and Ms. Bachmann, Pawlenty, Cain, and Huntsman are all at 4 percent.
But there are warning signs for Romney, who has to win his home turf if he is to secure the nomination. (He came in second to Mr. McCain in 2008 and never recovered.) The CNN/WMUR poll found that only 4 percent of New Hampshire Republican primary voters are certain of their vote, with a whopping 87 percent saying they have no idea who they'll end up supporting. Forty-three percent say they're unhappy with the GOP field.
Andy Smith, director of the University of New Hampshire Survey Center, which conducted the poll, doesn't see the tea party having much impact on the outcome of the New Hampshire primary. After all, the core tea party goals of lower taxes and smaller government are basic Republicanism. "It's a difference without a distinction," says Mr. Smith.
In New Hampshire, a smaller percentage of tea partyers focus on social issues than in other states. So socially conservative tea party favorites like Cain, Bachmann, and Palin, if she runs, are likely not to get as much traction in New Hampshire as they might in other states.