Just a few things to add (and yes, a "birdie" delivered the report in my in box too so I'll assume the poll numbers are right for now): 1) The RCP averages have shown a decline in Romney's lead recently from nearly 12% to under 5% so this is not an isolated poll. 2) Romney is on the air in NH with paid TV ads. The others are not on TV although Rudy has radio ads up. So the poll movement happened while Romney still enjoyed a TV ad monopoly. 3) This has nothing to do with Thompson's entrance that I can see- McCain and Rudy are the ones taking the votes away. 4) Did Romney's recent debate performance, considered one of his weakest, and McCain's strong one contribute to this? Perhaps NH voters do actually watch debates. 5) Romney is stressing a strong social conservative message and recently has been emphasizing the gay marriage issue in Iowa. This may not mesh well with fiscally conservative NH voters with a streak of libertarianism.
Liz Mair raises a number of good points in her column today about the Mountain West. The Democrats are making headway in this traditionally Republican region. The individualistic culture of the area may make it less than fertile ground for big government conservatism. But the Interior West's libertarianism can be overstated. Daniel McCarthy is on to something when he calls it just the Semi-Libertarian West.
To take one example: Montana Gov. Brian Schweitzer is often cited as an example of the new, less government-happy Democrats who can appeal to Moutain Westerners. Mair notes that the Democratic presidential candidate Schweitzer prefers is Bill Richardson, who received a higher grade from the Cato Institute than 20 Republicans. Yet Schweitzer himself received an F while Richardson only got a C. In Richardson's case not bad for a Democrat (or in this era, a big government Republican either) but nothing to write Ayn Rand about.
Tabin -- I wish I could agree and be done with this horrible apparition "Liberaltarianism" that stalks me without interruption through dreams and waking life. But Mike Gravel's unpopularity correlates less to his libertarian streak, I think, than to the tiny portion of public exposure he enjoys, and the large portion of that exposure that he dedicates to diatribes which can generally be described as unpolished.
The big picture I gleaned from Brink's magnum opus is that the failure of libertarianism as a political movement reveals precisely how staggering its successes have been as a cultural movement. Even gay pride parades are openly discussed among their former enthusiasts as passe, pointless, simply annoying. As I have been saying all along, liberaltarianism is mainly driven by a comprehensive agreement between liberals and libertarians on sexual mores, which are the virtually exclusive content of the code phrases "culture war" and "social issues."
Even if they have a philosophical libertarianism in common, a committed anti-Communist who called for rollback rather than containment has a very different role in Republican politics than someone whose support is animated almost entirely by an approach to radical Islamism that can be most charitably described as strategic retreat. I'd expect Justin Raimondo to be this dumb (fun fact: Raimondo's hero, Murray Rothbard, was one of the only libertarians who endorsed LBJ in '64 on peacenik grounds), but I'm a little disappointed in Brian Doherty.
Since my brief against "liberaltarianism" was based around the negative liberty/positive liberty distinction, I thought I ought to comment on Jonah Goldberg's argument that some libertarians have started to emphasize positive liberty, albeit not of the state-enforced variety. I think Jonah's more or less got Nick Gillespie's number. Here's Gene Healy summarizing a debate on the viability of libertarian-conservative marriage that the America's Future Foundation hosted last year: