SALT LAKE CITY — It's official — New Hampshire's presidential primary will be held Jan. 10, state officials announced today.
The election is seen as make-or-break for former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr., who has all but staked his campaign on winning the nation's first primary.
Huntsman said in a statement issued today he looks forward to competing in the New Hampshire primary.
"With so many voters still undecided and looking for someone they can believe in, I'm confident that they'll respond to our campaign's bold economic, energy and foreign policy solutions," he said. "New Hampshire voters make their decisions based on authenticity and real leadership, not political slogans and pandering."
Huntsman told reporters in Utah last week he was climbing in the polls in New Hampshire and experiencing a substantial increase in campaign contributions as a result.
He already has moved his campaign headquarters from Florida to New Hampshire and held more than 80 events in the Granite State, where he is spending nearly all of his time campaigning.
The other candidate in the race with Utah ties, former 2002 Winter Olympics leader Mitt Romney, has held a strong lead in New Hampshire throughout the campaign.
RealClearPolitics.com reports that Romney has the support of an average of 40 percent of respondents to recent polls, followed by business executive Herman Cain at 18 percent and Texas Rep. Ron Paul at just over 11 percent.
Huntsman and former U.S. House Speaker Newt Gingich are both at 6 percent, according to the average calculated by the website, ahead of Texas Gov. Rick Perry and Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann.
A Romney spokesman, Ryan Williams, said, "Mitt understands the important role New Hampshire plays in the nominating process and he looks forward to spreading his pro-jobs, pro-growth message across the state."
Utah's primary will not be held until June 26. It had been scheduled for early February, but lawmakers decided not to spend the $3 million the special election would have cost.
"We have plenty of other critical needs where that money could be better used," Senate Majority Assistant Whip Pete Knudson, R-Brigham City, said. "It just didn't make a lot of sense to put that money into a primary that in reality, would be somewhat meaningless."
Utah GOP Chairman Thomas Wright acknowledged holding the primary in June "won't be as exciting as being one of the first states to vote in the presidential race," but said there may be an advantage to waiting.
"With the 2012 presidential race, the nomination could go as late as June," Wright said. "We're smart to be doing it later and making sure we're voting for people who actually will be there in August," when the national party will formally nominate the Republican who'll challenge President Barack Obama.
Utah voters clearly favor Romney in a matchup with Huntsman. Not only has Romney held a commanding lead in statewide polls, he has also raised $1.9 million from Utahns, who gave Huntsman just over $256,000. Romney won Utah's February 2008 GOP primary with a whopping 90 percent of the vote.
Some Romney supporters had pushed for an early primary in Utah, anticipating that a victory in Huntsman's home state would help push him out of the race. Others, however were less eager to see two of Utah's favorite sons pitted against each other.
New Hampshire's primary is the second test in the 2012 presidential race, following Iowa's Jan. 3 caucus. Romney currently trails Cain in Iowa polls, while Huntsman is languishing behind the GOP field with just over 1 percent support there.
The next presidential primaries scheduled are in South Carolina on Jan. 21, and Florida on Jan. 31.
Nevada Republicans had considered holding their caucus Jan. 14, which could have shifted the New Hampshire primary to as early as December. But the Nevada GOP backed down, and is holding its caucus Feb. 4.
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