DERRY, New Hampshire (Reuters) - Former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney easily won a poll of several hundred Republican delegates Saturday about whom they would choose to take on Democrat Barack Obama in the 2012 presidential election.
The poll was held at the New Hampshire Republican State Committee’s annual meeting in Derry, by television station WMUR-TV and ABC News, as a way of finding out which potential candidates were generating an early buzz.
Also at the meeting, conservative Tea Party activist Jack Kimball beat Juliana Bergeron to be New Hampshire’s new state Republican Party chairman — an outcome that could influence presidential campaigning in the state.
Romney won 35 percent of the poll, trouncing Texas Congressman Ron Paul, with 11 percent, former Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty, with 8 percent, and 2008 vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin, who took 7 percent.
Some 20 names were listed on the poll, including Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour, Newt Gingrich, former speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, and Rudy Giuliani, the former mayor of New York.
There were 273 votes cast in the poll, far fewer than the more than 400 delegates who attended the meeting.
By a wide margin, delegates named “reducing the size of the federal government” as their top issue for the Republican presidential nominee in 2012.
New Hampshire’s primary is usually the first in a series of state primary elections held in the United States every four years to sift through the field of presidential hopefuls. It attracts vast media attention and can make or break a candidacy.
The 2012 primary is tentatively slated for February 14, 2012.
Unlike Saturday’s poll, the primary will be open to all Republicans as well as independents, who make up a large part of the state’s registered voters.
“The people here are all engaged Republican activists,” said Jamie Barnett, 38, a committee member from Concord, New Hampshire. “Typical voters are focused on family and work. Politics is way down the list at the moment.”
Still, a recent survey of Republicans and Republican-leaning independents, commissioned by the New Hampshire Journal also showed support for Romney, who ran second in the state in 2008 to Senator John McCain.
Editing by Chris Wilson