Romney will officially enter the 2012 race next week

Holly Bailey

Mitt Romney will officially launch his long-expected bid for the 2012 GOP nomination next week in New Hampshire.

Per the Union Leader's John DiStaso, Romney will announce at a "noontime" barbecue at a private home in Stratham, N.H., next Thursday. The move comes almost two months after Romney announced his so-called exploratory effort in a video also shot in the key early primary state.

New Hampshire is critical to Romney's 2012 chances. Since losing the state primary in 2008 to John McCain, Romney has invested lots of time and energy lining up GOP supporters in the Granite State and even purchased a home there.

The big New Hampshire push has paid off for Romney, according to early 2012 polls. A CNN-WMUR poll released earlier this week found Romney with a 23-point lead in the state.

But as was the case in 2008 when Romney was the early frontrunner for the nomination, the former Massachusetts governor is coming under scrutiny for his past positions, including on the hot-button GOP issue of health care reform. GOP rivals have tried to link the health care plan Romney passed as governor to President Obama's controversial health care law.

But in a speech earlier this month, Romney insisted he wouldn't apologize for the law. The health-care dispute is sure to be prominent at CNN's 2012 GOP debate scheduled for June 13 in New Hampshire--the first official GOP showdown that Romney is scheduled to attend.

Romney will be the first of several expected 2012 announcements in June. Michele Bachmann indicated Thursday she'll announce her White House bid in Iowa next month--though she didn't specify the date. Meanwhile, Rick Santorum's campaign announced Thursday he'll officially enter the race June 6, at an event in Pennsylvania.

(Photo of Romney in NH: Mary Ann Chastain/AP)

Other popular Yahoo! News stories:

Tiffany's denies it lobbied Gingrich's wife or offered the couple special treatment
Fox News: "We are not changing Sarah Palin's status"
Clinton: U.S.-Pakistan relations at "turning point"