MANCHESTER, N.H., Dec. 15 (UPI) -- Jon Huntsman's efforts in New Hampshire may be paying off, according to a poll Thursday that had him a strong third in the Republican presidential primary race.
Huntsman surged past Texas Congressman Ron Paul into third place with 13 percent of the likely vote in the latest Suffolk University/7 News (WHDH-TV, Manchester) survey.
Mitt Romney held on to the lead with 38 percent of the vote followed by Newt Gingrich with 20 percent. After Huntsman, the rest of the contenders drew single-digit support. Eleven percent of the voters remained undecided.
Pollsters said Huntsman did well among independent voters in the survey, which came out in the critical pre-holiday weeks leading up to the Jan. 10 primary.
"If independents participate in a big way next January, Huntsman will benefit," David Paleologos, director of Suffolk University's Political Research Center, predicted in a written statement. "While other candidates have focused on the more traditional Republican voters, Huntsman has traction among independents, who could dominate the Republican Primary if mobilized."
Paleologos noted that independents outnumber registered Republican voters in New Hampshire and will be allowed to vote in the GOP primary next month.
Gingrich, however, was also on the upswing since last month's poll. He gained 6 percentage points on Romney, whose lead slid from 27 points in mid-November to 18 points this week.
The telephone poll was conducted Dec. 10-13 among 400 New Hampshire voters who are likely to vote in the primary. The margin of error was plus or minus 4.9 percentage points.