January 6, 2012 at 6:12 pm EDT | by Chris Johnson
Eyes on N.H. for GOP presidential primary

[Editor’s Note: The Washington Blade will have this reporter in New Hampshire next week for the New Hampshire primary.]

Eyes are turning to New Hampshire as the next battleground state for Republican candidates seeking the White House.

The GOP contenders are set to compete Tuesday in a primary to determine who’ll win the state’s 12 at-large delegates in the race to win the Republican nomination.

Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, coming off a narrow win of eight votes in the Iowa caucuses earlier this week, is the strong front-runner in the polls for a second win in New Hampshire.

According to a Suffolk University/7News Poll published on Friday, Romney holds a strong lead of 40 percent from likely Republican primary voters in the Granite State. He’s followed by libertarian Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas), who has support from 17 percent of poll responders.

Jimmy LaSalvia, executive director of the gay conservative group GOProud, predicted that Romney would be victorious on Tuesday and the win would make certain he would be the Republican presidential nominee.

“No non-incumbent Republican candidate has ever won both Iowa and New Hampshire,” LaSalvia said via email. “If Romney does this, it would be unprecedented. He’s leading in all of the national and state polls, so if he wins New Hampshire the race for the nomination is over. AND he will win New Hampshire.”

LaSalvia endorsed Romney in op-ed piece published in Friday in the Daily Caller, citing economic and tax policy as reasons to support the candidate. The endorsement was a personal one, and not on behalf on GOProud.

Romney has a reputation for being less anti-gay than other candidates for saying he favors gay rights. Unlike other candidates, he said wouldn’t restore “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” and is against discrimination based on sexual orientation. Still, he opposes same-sex marriage and backs the Federal Marriage Amendment.

While Romney and Paul are ahead in New Hampshire, former U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum has risen in the polls in the state following his strong second-place showing in the Iowa caucuses. In the Suffolk University/7News Poll, the candidate has vaulted into third place in New Hampshire by claiming 11 percent of support.

David Paleologos, director of the Suffolk University Political Research Center, said the poll shows momentum for Santorum.

“Rick Santorum is the only Republican candidate moving up in New Hampshire,” Paleologos said. “He has cleared the [former U.S. House Speaker Newt] Gingrich and [former Utah Gov. Jon] Huntsman hurdles for third place and is only 6 points away from second place. Watch out Ron Paul.”

But Santorum has been enjoying a less than popular reception from some of the attendees during crowds at his campaign events in the state over his opposition to gay rights.

In one such instance on Friday during a town hall in Keene, N.H., Santorum reiterated his opposition to same-sex marriage and his belief that gays shouldn’t be able to serve openly in the military.

“Everybody has certain inalienable rights, serving in the military is not an alienable right,” Santorum said. “It’s a privilege. You’re selected. Not everybody can serve for a variety of different reasons.”

Explaining his opposition to same-sex marriage, Santorum said, “Marriage is a privilege. It is not a right. It is privilege given by society, held up by society, for purposes that it provides some societal good, and I would make the argument, some extraordinary societal good.”

Santorum continued that if marriage was an inalienable right, one “could imagine all the different types of marriages that would happen.” He added, “It’s not discrimination not to grant privileges, it’s discrimination to deny rights.”

“Everyone has a right to live their life,” Santorum concluded. “That doesn’t mean they’re entitled to live their life. That doesn’t mean that they’re entitled to certain privileges that society gives for certain benefits the society obtains from those relationships.”

Santorum’s remarks are consistent with his support for a Federal Marriage Amendment and his plan to restore “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” Following Santorum’s remarks, several members of the audience responded with boos.

Joe Solmonese, president of the Human Rights Campaign, blasted Santorum for espousing anti-gay views in a state that is known for its libertarian leanings.

“Rick Santorum’s anti-gay hate is not going to perform well in New Hampshire,” Solmonese said. “His reception there is indicative of just how poorly he will fare with mainstream voters as the primaries progress.”

Solmonese continued that Santorum’s position are not just inconsistent with the views of the majority of people in New Hampshire, but also most Americans.

“Rick Santorum’s views are out of step with the majority of Americans across demographics and faiths,” Solmonese said. “He is basing his campaign off of bashing an entire community of his fellow Americans. That may serve him well with certain constituencies, but it’s something most Americans will not stand for.”

Despite Santorum’s rise, Paul remains the candidate in second-place. Although he enjoys a following among libertarians and younger voters — as well as some LGBT people — his views on gays and AIDS have recently come under scrutiny.

In his 1987 book, “Freedom Under Siege,” Paul wrote that a victim of AIDS is “frequently a victim of his own lifestyle.”

On Jan. 1, Paul defended this position during an interview when FOX News’ Chris Wallace asked the candidate if he still holds these views. The candidate suggested the U.S. government shouldn’t fund AIDS treatment efforts.

“Sexually transmitted diseases are caused by sexual activity, and when it’s promiscuous its spreads diseases,” Paul said. “So if a fault comes with people because of their personal behavior — and in a free society, people do dumb things — but [it] isn’t to be placed as a burden on other people, innocent people. Why should they have to pay for the consequences? That’s a sort of a nationalistic, or socialistic, attitude.”

Asked whether people with AIDS should be denied health care coverage, Paul said no, but added that insurance companies and markets should determine the best way to handle such cases.

Carl Schmid, deputy executive director of the AIDS Institute, said Paul’s remarks demonstrate he’s “way outside the thinking of any compassionate rationale human being” and “irrational” because only 13 percent of AIDS patients receive care from private insurance companies — the rest is government subsidized care.

“Congressman Paul does not seem to understand the preventive benefits of people with HIV being in care and treatment,” Schmid said. “When people are not in care the virus will spread even more. If we followed his irresponsible remarks the HIV situation would actually be worse.”

Yet another candidate that many will be watching in New Hampshire is former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman, Jr. Many observers say a strong showing for Huntsman in New Hampshire, where he has been focusing his campaign, will make or break his path going forward.

But according to the data from University/7News Poll, Huntsman is polling at bottom of the pack. He had support from 8 percent of respondents, although that’s greater than his standing on a national scale.

Huntsman has a strong following among gay Republicans. The candidate supports civil unions and has advocated for a general notion of moving toward equality. Still, said he thinks the anti-gay Defense of Marriage Act “serves a useful purpose.”

R. Clarke Cooper, executive director of the National Log Cabin Republicans, is among those saying Huntsman’s showing in New Hampshire will determine his later moves.

“By foregoing Iowa, Jon Huntsman heavily committed to the ground game in New Hampshire to produce significant voter support,” Cooper said. “How well he performs there will help determine next steps in South Carolina and Florida.”

Cooper has been selected by the Huntsman campaign to represent the candidate as a delegate during the Republican National Convention. Log Cabin hasn’t made an endorsement in the presidential race.

Chris Johnson is Chief Political & White House Reporter for the Washington Blade. Johnson attends the daily White House press briefings and is a member of the White House Correspondents' Association. Follow Chris

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