Tea Party darling Michele Bachmann is surging in the New Hampshire primary according to multiple polls, the strongest sign yet that she may be a credible contender for the Republican nomination.
According to Democratic pollster PPP, Bachmann is polling at 18% among Republican voters, second only to Romney at 25%. Not only that, non-candidate Sarah Palin is third at 11%, suggesting Bachmann may have more socially conservative and Tea Party votes up for grabs. The rest of the field are in single digits: Ron Paul at 9%, Rick Perry and Herman Cain each at 7% Jon Huntsman and Tim Pawlenty at 6%, and Newt Gingrich at 4%.
Bachmann has gained 14 points in PPP’s polling over the last three months and other polls confirm heavy movement as well, even if she’s farther back from Romney. A University of New Hampshire poll and a Suffolk University poll each showed her gaining 8% since her debate performance in the state, but they peg her total support at 12% and 11% respectively, versus 35% and 36% for Romney.
For Romney, who governed nearby Massachusetts and vacations in the state, New Hampshire is a crucial firewall that he’s counting on to protect him from a potentially surging opponent coming out of the Iowa caucuses. Bachmann has become a top-tier contender in Iowa, where she was born, but the state’s socially conservative GOP has raised questions about whether she could appeal to more moderate races. If she keeps up her momentum in New Hampshire, that conventional wisdom could be turned on its ear and the path to victory for Romney may be that much harder.