Republican presidential hopefuls former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, left, and former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, right, share a laugh after a sound glitch during the Republican presidential primary debate hosted by Saint Anselm College in Manchester, N.H., Tuesday, June 5, 2007. ——— AP Photo / Elise Amendola
Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney was the winner of the first New Hampshire Republican presidential debate held Tuesday at St. Anselm College in Manchester, according to a WBZ/Franklin Pierce College poll released Thursday.
Twenty-two percent of the 409 potential Republican primary voters polled on June 6 picked Romney, while 18 percent thought former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani won the contest. The difference of 4 points is within the poll's margin of error.
Only 11 percent of those polled thought Arizona Sen. John McCain won, and none of the other seven candidates garnered totals over 3 percent. Of interest is that 42 percent of those polled who watched the debate or read accounts of it saw no clear victor, while 22 percent of those polled chose not to watch the debate or read any news accounts of it.
University of New Hampshire Survey Center Director Andrew Smith said his group is currently conducting a similar poll and, so far, his agency is seeing the same basic results.
Smith warned voters not to take the results of this debate too seriously because of how early these events are taking place in this election cycle.
"We're not in a time frame where voters care yet," Smith said. "Our polls show only about 10 percent of voters in New Hampshire have a firm commitment to one candidate.
"It probably won't be until December that people start making their choices," he said. "This is just introductory stuff."
Besides that, people don't watch debates to find out the positions of the candidates on important topics, Smith said.
"What they are looking for is 'leadership qualities,' which involve things like looks, styles, how the candidates handle themselves and likability," Smith said. "It's the same criteria TV network executives use to pick news anchor people."
Romney's numbers may reflect the fact that "he looks like he came out of central casting for a president," the UNH pollster said. However, the huge boost Romney got from the debate may also have to do with ads he is running in the New Hampshire/Massachusetts market that Smith said are effective.
Asked who they would vote for if the primary were held today, 27 percent of those polled said Romney, 18 percent said Giuliani and 17 percent said McCain. A similar poll conducted on March 13 had McCain and Giuliani leading Romney by 7 points and 6 points, respectively.
In the face of conjecture that actor and former Tennessee Sen. Fred Thompson may be entering the Republican presidential field, the poll took a look at how he would fare at this point in the campaign.
While Thompson's ratings were substantially above most of the other candidates at 9 percent, he still trailed the leaders by 8 to 18 percentage points.