HAMPSTEAD, N.H. - Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney's support is eroding here in New Hampshire, with voters turning away from the front-runner in favor of more conservative candidates just two days before the state's influential primary.
Romney, a former governor of neighboring Massachusetts, has seen his support drop over four consecutive days in an overnight tracking poll. He now has 35 percent support, compared with 43 percent last week, according to David Paleologos, director of the Boston-based Suffolk University Political Research Center.
In particular, Romney is losing young people to Rep. Ron Paul of Texas and, to a lesser extent, former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman, who has focused his struggling campaign almost entirely on New Hampshire. Paul is now running a strong second in the latest poll. Huntsman has risen to third.
After dueling in two candidate debates over 12 hours this weekend, the three top contenders fanned out across New Hampshire on Sunday, holding town hall meetings and rallying supporters just two days before the first presidential primary of 2012.
In Meredith, Paul took questions from audience members, including a young girl who asked about his plans for the Department of Education.
"I don't think we need a Department of Education," Paul responded without hesitation. "What I want to do is go back to the assumption that it is not in the federal government's proper authority or ability to tell your parents how to educate you."
The audience cheered his response, underscoring Paul's appeal to independent voters here as well as Republicans who skew libertarian when it comes to government overreach.
Some of Romney's support also appears to have shifted to Huntsman, who has toiled in the single digits for months in the Granite State despite having based virtually his entire campaign here.
According to the Suffolk poll, Huntsman increased his support overnight slightly and he is now in third place with 11 percent of the vote.
Huntsman drew a big crowd in Hampstead on Sunday, with people packing into a coffee house trying to shake his hand and hear his campaign pitch. An overflow crowd waited outside for him to emerge so they could cheer him on.
"Every passing hour we get more and more momentum," Huntsman told The Washington Examiner.
He later told the crowd he plans to barnstorm the state in the coming days as the underdog candidate who can change Washington and end the partisan gridlock that paralyzed it for years.
"We are moving in a direction that nobody would have predicted a few short days ago," Huntsman said.
Rick Santorum, meanwhile, appears to have lost his bounce from Iowa, where he was a mere 9 votes away from beating Romney in the state's caucuses.
Santorum participated in Sunday's debate but left soon after to campaign in South Carolina, where the electorate includes more of the religious voters who helped him surge in Iowa. The South Carolina primary is Jan. 21.
Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich is also campaigning hard in New Hampshire, but has been unable to gain much traction in the polls and has about 9 percent of the vote. It's enough, however, to put him in contention for third place along with Santorum and Huntsman.