Romney's exit boosts Walker's odds in 2016 New Hampshire presidential primary

Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker (R-WI) participates in a panel discussion at the American Action Forum in Washington, January 30, 2015. REUTERS/Yuri Gripas

BOSTON (Reuters) - Former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney's decision not to make a third White House run in 2016 has boosted Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker's chances with Republican voters in New Hampshire, home to the first presidential primary, according to a poll released on Wednesday.

Some 21.2 percent of Republican voters and independents polled by Reach Communications for NH1 News who said they would likely vote in the state's presidential nominating primary said they would vote for Walker. That gave Walker a solid lead over former Florida Governor Jeb Bush, who had the support of 14.4 percent of likely voters.

The finding from the Feb. 2-3 poll of 1,012 respondents, conducted days after Romney said he would not make a third run at the White House, marked a sharp change from a poll two weeks earlier that showed Romney favored by about 29 percent of likely voters, a commanding lead.

This week's poll, which had a 3.1 percentage point margin of error, showed Kentucky Senator Rand Paul, retired surgeon and Tea Party favorite Ben Carson and New Jersey Governor Chris Christie rounding out the top five candidates.

Walker, who has commanded national attention for taking on powerful unions in his home state, plans to make his first visit of the 2016 campaign season to New Hampshire next month. He will speak at a Republican organizing meeting.

(Reporting by Scott Malone; Editing by Dan Grebler)