In recent months, it seemed like no Republican candidate would be able to challenge Mitt Romney in the New Hampshire Primary.
The former Massachusetts governor -- who summers in the Granite State -- topped 40 percent in two recent polls, while his closest challengers failed to even break into double digits.
But that started to change a bit following the June 13 debate at Saint Anselm College.
Tea party favorite Michele Bachmann's strong performance vaulted her into a second place tie with Ron Paul in a Magellan poll of New Hampshire Republicans conducted in the week after the debate. And she's continued to generate a lot of buzz in New Hampshire, as evidenced by her highly attended appearance at a Raymond house party on Tuesday morning.
A University of New Hampshire Survey Center poll due out this week is likely to also show that Bachmann has catapulted into second place behind Romney, according to Andy Smith, the center's director.
"I wouldn't be surprised if the polls start to indicate that," said Dante Scala, a UNH political science professor. "She generated significant positive buzz out of the debate. The consensus was that she and Romney were the big winners. It was especially important for her because there are a lot of candidates in the race vying to be the candidate for the very conservative voters.
"On the moderate side, you had Romney, and now you have Huntsman," Scala added. "I think Bachmann helped herself a good bit. Now the question will be going forward, does she intend to build upon that here."
Already, this week, Bachmann appears poised to spend a lot more time in Iowa and South Carolina than in New Hampshire. Whether that will change in the months to come remains to be seen.
"I know she's staffing up in the state and so forth," Scala said. "The big question for her will be how will she allocate her time -- here or Iowa? She's got the Ames Straw Poll in Iowa in mind. That necessarily means she's gonna spend a lot of time over the summer there instead of here, because there's really no equivalent here. The big question going into the fall is how will she allocate her time."
In 2008, Scala said, Mike Huckabee found himself in a similar situation. He saw a real advantage in Iowa, which he pursued successfully. But he wasn't able to capitalize on it in New Hampshire, Scala said, because he hadn't built the groundwork here.
"Will she try to divide her time here and in New Hampshire, or will she be an Iowa-only candidate?" Scala said. The bottom line, he said, is that Bachmann doesn't have to win in New Hampshire to be a contender for the GOP nomination. But if she can place a strong second, that would go a long way.
"As far as New Hampshire goes, will she be viewed as that anti-Romney candidate here, or will she be viewed as the candidate of Evangelicals, in which case, New Hampshire voters might have something of an allergic reaction to her and her candidacy," Scala said. "We haven't seen a Republican do well in Iowa and in New Hampshire for quite a long time. Whether she'll be able to break that, we'll have to see."
State Rep. Bob Elliott, R-Salem, attended Tuesday's event in Raymond, and came away as a Bachmann believer.
"I don't know where this woman gets her magnetism from," he said. "She's Sarah Palin, plus she's got a deeper intellect. She goes right to the point and gets it done."
Elliott said he's still undecided on who he'll support in the primary, but Bachmann made an impression.
"Right now I'm narrowing it down to Mitt Romney and Michele," he said.
Raymond Selectman Peter Buckingham also liked what he heard from Bachmann on Tuesday.
"I was very impressed," he said.
An independent, Buckingham said Bachmann wasn't on his short list of candidates before he heard her speak, but "she is now."
But, he was quick to point out, "I haven't heard the others yet."