Weathering amplified attacks from Republican rivals on his business record, Mitt Romney continued to hold a double-digit lead in the polls heading into Tuesday's first-in-the nation primary in New Hampshire.
The latest poll of New Hampshire voters shows Romney leading with 33 percent. Ron Paul is second with 20 percent, while Jon Huntsman is in third place at 13 percent.
The frontrunner status for Romney is not surprising in New Hampshire. The state borders Massachusetts where Romney served as governor. But his 33 percent is down from 43 percent in the same poll less than a week ago.
New Hampshire does have a history of last-minute upsets. In 2008, then Sen. Barack Obama seemed a lock for seizing the state's Democratic primary, but he unexpectedly lost to Hillary Clinton. Walter Mondale in 1984, Bill Clinton in 1992, George W. Bush in 2000, and Howard Dean in 2004 all headed into the New Hampshire primary expecting victory only to suffer surprise defeats.
Such history may provide hope for the field of five challengers desperate to slow the boost Romney received from last week's narrow win in Iowa. A non-incumbent Republican candidate has never won both Iowa and New Hampshire in the same year.
With his rivals desperate for an opening to attack, Romney provided one on Monday when he told a Nashua, N.H., audience, "I like being able to fire people who provide services to me."
Romney made the remark while discussing how expanded choices in healthcare would allow individuals to reject subpar insurance companies.
His rivals pounced. "Gov. Romney enjoys firing people. I enjoy creating jobs," said Huntsman during a Monday speech in Concord. "It may be that he's slightly out of touch with the economic reality playing out in America right now, and that's a dangerous place to be."
While far behind in national polls, Huntsman hopes an upset victory in New Hampshire will keep him in the race.
Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich accused Romney of firing people during his work for the Boston-based corporate takeover firm Bain Capital. Romney, with the firm he co-founded, "apparently looted the companies, left people unemployed, and walked off with millions of dollars," according to Gingrich. "You have to raise questions about somebody who goes and invests a certain amount of money, say about $30 million, takes out an amount, about $180 million, a six-to-one return, and then the company goes bankrupt," Gingrich said during a Monday stop in Manchester.
The former speaker's attacks on Romney's job creation record is getting a boost from a Super PAC, Winning Our Future, a group that plans on spending more than $3 million, primarily in South Carolina, which holds the next primary on Jan. 21, on ads questioning Romney's work at Bain Capital.
Romney, speaking Monday in Manchester, countered that all the businesses that the firm invested in collectively netted more than 100,000 new jobs. "Free enterprise will be on trial," Romney said. "I thought it was going to come from the president, from the Democrats, from the left, but instead it's coming from Speaker Gingrich and apparently others."
Gingrich's attempts to paint Romney as a corporate elitist out of touch with the job woes of regular Americans does foreshadow the likely strategy of Democrats should Romney get to take on President Obama.
Meanwhile, Rick Santorum, who enjoyed a rise in Republican support since his surprising second-place finish in Iowa, spent Monday lowering expectations for his New Hampshire finish.
According to a new CBS News poll, Santorum support among likely Republican voters across the nation rose to 14 percent from just 3 percent in December. But the former senator from Pennsylvania remained back in the pack in New Hampshire, a state he has barely campaigned in. He likely is aiming for a top finish in South Carolina's first in the South primary later this month.
Meanwhile, on the final day of campaigning in the Granite State, Romney tried to deflect the attacks from his top rivals by trying to appear above the GOP fray. "I'm not trying to fix the Republican Party," Romney said during a Monday appearance in Nashua. "I'm trying to fix America."
But Romney got a firsthand lesson in tough campaign politics during a joint campaign appearance with New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie. At the rally at an Exeter high school, Romney employed a calm demeanor when protestors interrupted his speech.
"I'm happy to have you guys express your views," the former Massachusetts governor lectured the protestors who kept shouting, "Mitt kills jobs." "Next time do it with more courtesy."
When Christie, the firebrand governor who many wanted to run for president, took over the microphone a protestor yelled, "Christie kills jobs." Christie had a different response. "Really?" Christie replied, showing the fire that seems to be missing in many of the formal GOP candidates. "Something may go down tonight but it's not going to be jobs, sweetheart."
Christie then deftly turned the taunt around to focus on Obama's policies. The president, Christie said, has "encouraged these people to be angry at Mitt and angry at me because we stand up for what we believe in."