Two things are true about New Hampshire Republican primary voters. They vote for people they know. And they love an underdog with a comeback story.

Four years ago it was the weathered but feisty veteran John McCain who revived his once hanging-by-a-thread campaign to win the nation’s leadoff primary.

And so it seems almost fated that after political observers have scratched their heads for months wondering who will emerge as the non-Romney candidate in the Granite State, the voters’ eyes should turn to Newt Gingrich, a man who was Speaker of the House during the previous century and whose own campaign was left for dead last summer.

The latest NH Journal poll of likely Republican primary voters conducted by Magellan Strategies shows Romney and Gingrich in a statistical dead heat for the January 10th primary. If the election were held today, Romney would earn 29% of the vote and Gingrich would earn 27%. Texas Congressman Ron Paul continues to show resolve by earning 16%. Herman Cain gets 10%. No other candidate is in double digits.

This is the first time any of NH Journal’s polls have shown anyone candidate even close to Romney. It also shows tremendous movement for Gingrich since NH Journal’s October survey, in which Gingrich was in third place, but at only 10% versus Romney’s 41%.

WHY GINGRICH IS GAINING

When asked why people felt Gingrich was moving up in the polls, 44% of respondents cited his depth of knowledge on the issues. Ten percent referred to his strong debate performances while another 6% said they liked that he was challenging the media in those debates. Ten percent referenced his past experience as Speaker of the House.

A close look at the data shows Gingrich is actually leading Romney among certain important subgroups of the electorate. Among self-identified conservative voters, Gingrich beats Romney 34%-27%. Among self-identified tea party voters, he leads Romney 38%-21%.

However, Romney has a wide lead over Gingrich among Undeclared voters, who give the former Massachusetts Governor 29% over Paul’s 19% and Gingrich’s 18%. There is also a significant gender gap for both Romney and Gingrich. Romney beats Gingrich 33%-22% among women while Gingrich defeats Romney 32%-24% among men.

The tightening of the race should not be understood as a rejection of Romney, however. He remains the most popular candidate in the field with a public image that is 60% favorable and 32% unfavorable. Gingrich is close with 59% saying they have a favorable view of him while 31% have an unfavorable view. Romney is also considered to have a political organization in New Hampshire that is vastly superior to the other candidates.

CAIN PAIN

The once-ascendant candidacy of former pizza magnate Herman Cain is now on the rocks. Cain is stalled out on the ballot and his public image is now upside down (51% U / 39% F). Driving that are recent accusations by former employees that Cain sexually harassed them. Forty-six percent of respondents said the accusations made them less likely to support him. Only 23% said they made it more likely they would support him.

The results cap off a disastrous week for Cain in the Granite State. On Thursday, Cain took heat for cancelling an important editorial board meeting on Thursday with the powerful publisher of the New Hampshire Union Leader Joe McQuaid.

The survey of 746 likely Republican primary voters was conducted on November 15th and November 16th, 2011. This survey has a margin of error of +/- 3.59% at the 95 percent confidence interval.

New Hampshire 2012 GOP Presidential Primary Survey Topline Results 111711

New Hampshire 2012 Republican Presidential Primary Survey Presentation 111711

New Hampshire 2012 Republican Presidential Primary Survey Crosstabs 111711[1]