With a brand new luxury bus to ferry him around, Mitt Romney is kick-starting a three-day pre-Christmas bus tour of New Hampshire - a state that his campaign has always seen as a must-win.
But as he makes his way to nine towns in the Granite State, which holds its first-in-the-nation presidential primary on Jan. 10, he won't get very far without hearing from his opponents. Jon Huntsman, for one, is not about to let Romney have the state to himself this week.
Huntsman, whose presidential hopes rest on a strong showing there, has a few tricks up his sleeve. The first comes today in the form of a conference call to showcase "Romney's record of destroying jobs in New Hampshire while running Bain Capital," as the Huntsman campaign puts it.
The Huntsman team has cleverly timed the call to occur at about the same time Romney's bus will be rolling through Claremont, N.H. - a town where, according to a campaign press release, "Bain Capital laid off a hundred Granite Staters." (It won't be the first time Huntsman has raised questions about Romney's work at Bain.)
Buts it's not only Huntsman who is trying to steal some of Romney's Granite State thunder. The opponent who stands most squarely between Romney and the GOP nomination - Newt Gingrich - will also be popping into the state today to receive the endorsement of the speaker of the New Hampshire House of Representatives.
Not to be outdone, the Romney campaign has countered Gingrich's endorsement with two more of their own - former New Hampshire House Speakers Harold Burns and George Roberts. They are in addition to three other ex-N.H. House Speakers to back Romney. (Apparently there are more than enough former N.H. House speakers to go around.)
Romney's connections to New Hampshire are well-known. His campaign is based in neighboring Massachusetts and he owns a sprawling home near the shores of Lake Winnipesaukee.
And it's no accident that while many of his opponents are focused on Iowa this week, Romney has chosen a different path. As The New York Times notes today, Team Romney is acutely aware of how Romney's second place finish in the primary all but doomed his presidential hopes four years ago.
"Determined to avoid that outcome in the final phase of a volatile primary campaign - and uncertain of how he will perform in Iowa - Mr. Romney is putting an unmistakable emphasis on New Hampshire, where aides and advisers are zealously guarding his commanding lead in the polls from a number of serious threats." http://nyti.ms/uqEF1H
ROMNEY'S CLOSING ARGUMENT. Mitt Romney delivered his closing argument to Republicans last night in Bedford, N.H., calling on voters to reject President Barack Obama's "failures" and "misguided policies," and opt for a leader - him - who will "save a vision of America," ABC's Emily Friedman reports:
"We are Americans. And we will not surrender our dreams to the failures of this president," Romney said to a crowd of more than 150 who had packed into the Bedford Town Hall. "We are bigger than the misguided policies and weak leadership of one man. America is bigger than President Obama's failures." Romney, wearing jeans and a sport jacket, was juxtaposed with a highly produced event - professional cameras shooting what appeared to be a campaign ad, teleprompters and lights. As his wife Ann looked on, Romney spoke passionately to the New Hampshire crowd, reminding them of their importance in the upcoming election. "Here in New Hampshire, in Iowa, South Carolina, Florida, Michigan - across America - we are at the beginning of a democratic process that those early patriots risked all to secure," Romney said. "This is the moment when we reject failure and commit to make the disappointments of the past few years only a detour, not a destiny. We believe America can do better. Because we believe in America." http://abcn.ws/sCiWmc
ROMNEY RIDING AROUND IN 'THE REAGAN.' The view from inside the motorcoach Romney will use to barnstorm New Hampshire this week (and Iowa next week): The 24-seat motor coach is 45 feet long, 8.5 feet wide and 14 feet tall and will be hard to miss on a quiet country road in the Granite State (or on one in Iowa, where the bus will head next week). The design on the side of the bus, which includes the Romney campaign logo as well as the words "conservative," "businessman," and "leader," was created by the campaign staff in Boston and applied in Nashville, Tenn. The vehicle itself was manufactured in Pembina, N.D., by Motor Coach International. Fitting for a candidate who speaks often of his admiration for President Ronald Reagan, the model of Romney's bus is dubbed "The Reagan" by the manufacturer. This particular model features WiFi, three granite tables, luxury mood lighting and a porcelain commode, not to mention a wide array of televisions, according to the company's website.
DAY ONE: Today Romney's bus rolls through Keene, Newport, Hanover and Ashland, N.H. The former Massachusetts governor will be joined by Sen. Kelly Ayotte, former U.S. Sen. Judd Gregg, Rep. Charlie Bass and former New Hampshire Republican congressional nominee Jennifer Horn, who will make her endorsement today.
ANYONE FOR A THIRD PARTY? "It won't be easy, at least not for three top-mentioned possibilities, Ron Paul, Donald Trump and New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg," ABC's Greg Holyk notes. "The latest ABC News/Washington Post poll finds that each would have significant challenges were he to undertake the task of mounting a third-party candidacy. Among them: Americans divide evenly in basic favorable versus unfavorable views of Paul, unchanged from last month, and Paul faces serious questions even in his own party both on his personal qualifications and the policies he'd pursue if elected Trump, while more popular than Paul among Republicans, and the best known of the three, is the least popular overall. More Americans view him unfavorably than favorably, by 48 percent to 40 percent - never a good position for a public figure. Bloomberg is much less known - 44 percent of Americans haven't formed an opinion of him - and, like Paul, gets just an even split among those who have. He's most popular among liberal Democrats, a group that comprises only 12 percent of the public overall. That's not to say third-party candidates can't cause mayhem. In an ABC/Post poll released earlier this week, Mitt Romney and Barack Obama were dead even among registered voters, 47-47 percent. But when Paul was added as a theoretical independent candidate, he pulled 21 percent support, mainly out of Romney's hide, putting Obama 10 points ahead." http://abcn.ws/soPze9
A PAYROLL TAX GAME OF CHICKEN. "Just 11 days before 160 million Americans face a payroll tax increase, the fight has become a matter of which side blinks first. Congressional Democrats and President Barack Obama are betting Republicans concede out of fear they'll get blamed for a middle-class tax increase," reports Politico's Carrie Budoff-Brown and Seung Min Kim. "House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and his rowdy Republican Conference are pressuring Democrats to come back to the negotiating table - but right now, they're negotiating alone. And Senate Republicans are surprisingly silent on the whole thing, having washed their hands of this year-end mess by backing the two-month payroll tax extension and jetting town. The hardened positions suggest the impasse will stretch on for at least a few more days - and possibly even into the new year, when American paychecks will shrink by 2 percent if there's no deal. The White House seems remarkably confident four days before Christmas, waiting to see if enough pressure builds for Boehner to ultimately cave and agree to a two-month extension - perhaps with the hope of negotiating a year-long deal in the new year. So now, Congress stands where it has at several other critical moments this year when the government was in crisis - stuck in absolute gridlock while the American people turn on its members with record disapproval ratings." http://politi.co/twuLwh
ON THE TRAIL: NEWT LASHES OUT AT MITT. Newt Gingrich wouldn't back down yesterday on the negative attacks plaguing his campaign in Iowa and slowing his momentum in the polls, ABC's Elicia Dover reports. Gingrich went after Mitt Romney's super PAC, even questioning Romney's involvement with the organization, saying Romney was being "misleading" about having no ability to stop his super PAC from sending out negative ads against Gingrich. Today on MSNBC's "Morning Joe," Romney said he could "land in the big house," if he communicated with the super PAC supporting him. "His comments today are palpably misleading, clearly false and are politics in its worst form," Gingrich said. "All he has to do is simple, he can say 'I condemn any further negative ads, I would ask that PAC to run only positive ads.' And anything short of that is baloney." Gingrich read quotes from Romney to the crowd from the former Massachusetts governor's appearance on "Morning Joe." "I'm not allowed to communicate with the super PAC in any way, shape or form," Gingrich read Romney's words to the crowd. http://abcn.ws/uHshxL
RICK PERRY: NEGATIVITY IS IN THE ' EYE OF THE BEHOLDER.' ABC's Arlette Saenz reports from DeWitt, Iowa: Texas Gov. Rick Perry said he didn't view the attacks he and his opponents lob at one another as "negative" as long as the statements are true. "I've run a lot of races before, so as long as no one's misstating the facts, then I don't consider that to be negative. I think it's always in the eye of the beholder, frankly," Perry said to reporters outside his bus Tuesday. "If somebody is saying something that's truthful, even though one person might consider it to be negative, I don't get concerned that that's doing anything other than just expressing the truth of the matter." Perry has attacked Newt Gingrich, Mitt Romney and Ron Paul on the stump in the past week and has launched a series of negative television ads directed toward Gingrich and Romney, most recently releasing an ad Monday that classified Gingrich as a K Streeter and Romney as a Wall Streeter. http://abcn.ws/tLdQFs
NOTED: HIS BOOTS WERE MADE FOR WALKING. Rick Perry was in his Justin Roper work boots yesterday and ran into Steve Olsen, an Iowa state legislator who was wearing the same style of shoes. Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, who was campaigning with Perry, wore his brown cowboy boots.
RIVALS TAKE AIM AT RON PAUL. "Its been a tough couple of days for Ron Paul. With a bump in the polls has come an onslaught of blistering criticism and a closer scrutiny of his record. Paul is now dealing with daily barbs from his GOP rivals, especially Michele Bachmann, who is accusing Paul's non-interventionist foreign policy as being weak when dealing with the threat of Iran obtaining nuclear weapons," ABC's Jason Volack reports. "On Monday, Bachmann directly challenged Paul, calling the potential of him becoming president "dangerous" and charging that he would "wait until the United States had a city taken out by a nuclear weapon." The comments follow up on a heated exchanged during a recent debate in which Bachmann called Paul's non-confrontational policy on Iran 'dangerous.' … GOP rival Rick Perry has also openly criticized Paul for his penchant for earmarks. 'Dr. Paul is still birthing earmarks as we speak,' said Perry, who added that Paul 'had earmarks over the past two years approaching a half a billion dollars.' And even Newt Gingrich, whom Paul has heavily criticized for serial hypocrisy in two negative ads, is asking Iowans to ask the candidates to 'stop the negative campaigning.'" http://abcn.ws/v5FRKm
NOTED: Paul told the Boston Herald on Tuesday that he's counting on a victory in Iowa to vault him past the GOP front-runners and into the winner's circle in New Hampshire. "I'm on the verge of saying it's in the bag," the Texas congressman told the Herald, referring to the Granite State's Jan. 10 primary. "Iowa has something big to do with it. If we win or get a close second we can build our credibility. There's this thing that's very real in politics called momentum." http://bit.ly/rIgxsF
BACHMANN VS. SANTORUM IN IOWA. A dispatch from ABC's Shushannah Walshe (author of "Good Morning Iowa"): Both Rick Santorum and Michele Bachmann made appearances at a Christmas party fundraiser for a congressional candidate on Tuesday evening in Bettendorf, Iowa, and despite similar platforms and a similar electorate they are hoping to persuade in these final two weeks, the contrast between the two could not have been starker. Santorum mingled and lingered, relishing the time with likely caucus goers. He spoke for almost 30 minutes and took questions from the audience for another twenty. Upon leaving he stood in the driveway with his daughter and two staffers for a few minutes before they got in their car to leave. Bachmann was at the end of the small street in her bus, but the two candidates never crossed paths. By the time Bachmann's campaign bus drove up the street with Christmas music playing there would be no run-in, or even a holiday greeting between the rivals. The hosts waited outside Bachmann's bus to greet her for several minutes until she bounded off the bus and into the party with four of her five biological children in tow. She was immediately enveloped into the crowd who gave her a warm welcome. http://abcn.ws/rVahiE
GOP PRIMARY HEADED FOR A 'RUBICON OF DOWNTIME.' "Romney will be in the game for the duration of the primary season. Paul is prepared to go a long way as well, if not the distance, although most conservatives see his support as strong among his core voters but with little growth potential beyond that group," The Huffington Post's Jon Ward writes. "Iowa's function may be to winnow down the rest of the field to just one candidate who will be the alternative for the many conservatives who don't like either Romney or Paul. That could still be Gingrich or Texas Gov. Rick Perry. It's less likely that Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) or former Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Pa.) will fill that role, although one of them could conceivably win Iowa. But in the most likely of scenarios, with Gingrich or Perry coming out of the first few states along with Romney and Paul, the alternative candidate will have to hold on for a long time to make it to a part of the race in which he can hope for significant victories. That's because the calendar is so back-loaded that the race for delegates - 1,143 are needed to win the nomination - will very likely not be decided until mid-spring at the earliest. There are two reasons for this. First, every state with a primary in the first three months will award some of its delegates proportionally. (In the past, many of these states awarded delegates in a winner-take-all fashion.) And second, most of the states with the largest numbers of delegates are scheduled to vote later in the process, in April and beyond. Just 115 delegates are at stake in the four January states, and another 230 delegates will be allotted in seven states - some of them only symbolically in caucus votes - during the five weeks between Florida's Jan. 31 primary and Super Tuesday on March 6." http://huff.to/uT8wU5
WHO'S WINNING THE IOWA BUS RACE FOR THIRD PLACE? As the shuffling polls in Iowa begin to settle two weeks before the caucus, three Republican candidates are zigzagging across the state hoping to capture enough votes to get noticed in the nominating contest. So how can we tell which candidates are getting the most out of their bus tours? ABC's Matt Negrin offers a guide to the strengths and weaknesses of the three road runners: Michele Bachmann, Rick Perry and Rick Santorum: http://abcn.ws/tSdd8f
- Mitt Romney will kick off his three-day bus through New Hampshire this morning, with stops in Kenne, Newport, Hanover and Ashland.
- Newt Gingrich will receive endorsements from both Iowa Speaker of the House Kraig Paulsen and New Hampshire Speaker of the House Bill O'Brien at the Iowa State Capitol this morning. Later in the afternoon, Gingrich will join Speaker Bill O'Brien again later in the afternoon to announce the endorsement from Manchester, NH. Gingrich will make a final stop in Arlington, VA for an evening rally, where he will be joined by his wife, Callista Gingrich.
- Rick Perry will be joined again by Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal on his bus tour, with stops in Muscatine and Mount Pleasant, Iowa.
- Michele Bachmann will also continue her bus tour through Iowa with stops scheduled in Muscatine, Wapello, West Burlington, Fort Madison, Keosauqua, Fairfield, Mount Pleasant, Washington, Tipton and Cedar Rapids.
- Ron Paul will hold town hall meetings in Fort Madison, Mount Pleasant, Washington and Bettendorf, Iowa.
- Rick Santorum will hold "Faith, Family and Freedom" town halls in West Burlington and Fairfield, IA. Later in the evening, he is expected to attend a Christmas house party in Iowa City.
- Jon Huntsman will hold conference call this morning on Mitt Romney's jobs record. He is also scheduled to will make an appearance on "The Late Show with Letterman Show."
-ABC's Joanna Suarez
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