MANCHESTER, N.H. — As weary candidates — and an equally drowsy press corps — made their way to New Hampshire ahead of this state’s first-in-the-nation primary next Tuesday, it was clear that the battle for the Granite State will be a very different animal than the fight for Iowa.
Despite coming in a close second to Mitt Romney in Iowa, Rick Santorum is now in the awkward position of explaining why voters here should not assume the GOP nomination has already been decided.
“Everyone says, ‘Oh this race is over. Only one candidate can win. A lot of folks are trying to tell you this is the guy that’s going to win,” Santorum said at a campaign stop last night in Brentwood, N.H. referring to Mitt Romney. “You fight to be first. You have a responsibility in doing that, and that is to lead, not pay attention to what the polls or pundits say. How many people say pundits were right over the last six months about what was going to happen in this race? None, like seriously wrong. They’re worse than weathermen.”
But speaking of awkward, rather than holding a triumphant rally to celebrate his Iowa win, Mitt Romney landed in New Hampshire yesterday and kicked off the final days of the campaign here with a low-energy town hall meeting that featured an endorsement by his 2008 primary opponent, John McCain, and a series of tough questions from the audience — including one from an Occupy Wall Street protester. (Veteran political columnist Roger Simon called it “the event from hell”: http://politi.co/wmKuqi)
“My question to you is,” Romney told the crowd, “can we do better here in New Hampshire? Do you think we can get more than an eight-vote margin here in New Hampshire? I am going to try. Think we can get there? I sure hope so.”
Romney, who polls show holds a significant lead in New Hampshire, is leaving the state for about 24 hours today to hold a series of campaign events in South Carolina, an indication that it will be the state to hold the next truly competitive primary.
And after weeks of vowing to run a positive campaign the new Newt Gingrich was on full display in the Granite State yesterday berating Romney as “timid” and “moderate.”
“I’m not in any way confused about my beliefs,” Gingrich said at a campaign event in Manchester. “There’s an enormous difference between somebody who has spent their entire career as a Reagan conservative and somebody who has spent their entire career as a Massachusetts moderate.” http://abcn.ws/yFQCbE
We’ll here much more of the “Romney as moderate” argument from Santorum and Gingrich, in particular, this week, but will any of it matter? With just five full days until the primary and the gap between the former Massachusetts governor and his closest competitors here is so wide, it’s hard to see how anyone can catch him.
Then again, just a few weeks ago, how many were predicting that Santorum would come within inches of defeating him in Iowa?
PAGING DR. PAUL. As ABC’s Jason Volack reported, Ron Paul headed home to Texas after his third-place finish in Iowa for two days off the campaign trail. And Paul’s absence in the Granite State hasn’t gone unnoticed by the one of the state’s major newspapers, the Concord Monitor, which questions why Paul, who has been campaigning here for years and is polling in second place, would choose to take a brief hiatus from the road. Seems Paul’s own staff has questions too. They paper describes Paul’s New Hampshire campaign manager as “exasperated and frustrated.” http://bit.ly/xe5txq
JON HUNTSMAN GOES ON THE AIR. Jon Huntsman, whose campaign hinges on a strong showing in New Hampshire, launches his first television ad here in Granite State today, ABC’s Shushannah Walshe reports. Called “Restoring Trust.” It’s a positive ad with the campaign’s closing message. It’s a $200,000 buy and you can watch here: http://jon2012.us/x5YIta
SANTORUM’S ANTI-ROMNEY ARGUMENT IN ONE QUOTE: “You may not agree with me on every issue and I suspect you don’t, but I can tell you that I agree with me on every issue,” Rick Santorum said in a dig at Romney. Here’s the story: http://abcn.ws/zZbvaB
ABC’s Jake Tapper reports for “Good Morning America” on how Rick Santorum’s Iowa finish has changed the GOP presidential landscape: http://abcn.ws/ygm0CA
GOP ELITES CIRCLE THE WAGONS AROUND ROMNEY. “Because of the divided nature of the opposition and Romney’s organizational and financial advantages, GOP elites made the case Wednesday that there was no clear way he could be stopped,” writes Politico’s Jonathan Martin. “‘I thought Newt [Gingrich] could’ve been a threat for a while, but [the insurgents] have not been able to unify,’ said one former Republican national chairman. A veteran House Republican who is ostensibly neutral said: ‘I sort of think it’s over, right?’ ‘South Carolina and Florida are the nails in the coffin, which is why the right is so mad — they see it coming but the dominoes are falling just right for Mitt as they did for [John] McCain,’ said the House member. ‘The party establishment does not want this intra-warfare much longer so we can focus on just Obama rather than the oddballs on the stage that can’t even remember the DOE or EPA.’” http://politi.co/wX6pd
NOTED: ROMNEY FUNDRAISERS HUNTING FOR CASH. ABC’s Matt Negrin reports: “Romney’s campaign began reaching out to fundraisers hours after the final Iowa results were known. Bundlers were dialed in to both a national finance call and state calls Wednesday morning, according to a fundraiser on the receiving end. The campaign also planned to fly major supporters to New Hampshire for a victory party the day after the state’s Tuesday primary, which Romney is expected to win, and talk to them in Boston the next day about organizing, said the fundraiser, who requested that he not be named. The campaign also turned its attention to Texas, a major source of Republican fundraising, as Rick Perry announced that he was returning to his home state to reassess his campaign in light of his poor performance in Iowa. ‘We started conversations this morning with regard to picking up some of Rick’s previous backers,’ Fred Zeidman, a Romney fundraiser in Houston, said Wednesday. Those plans were scrapped, though, when Perry announced he would compete in South Carolina’s primary this month.” http://abcn.ws/xdgYzl
RIVALS COULD POUNCE ON SANTORUM’S PAST. “Santorum is beloved among “values voters” for his stand on abortion, gay marriage and other social issues. But his record is rich in polarizing policy positions and questionable associations that support the charge of ‘Washington insider,’” Reuters’Marcus Stern and Kristina Cooke note. For example, his million-dollar-plus 2010 income included payments from a lobbying firm, an energy company engaged in controversial ‘hydrofracking’ and a hospital conglomerate that was sued for allegedly defrauding the federal government. ‘The spotlight is blinding, and if you squint or stumble even slightly, it gets even more intense,’ said Dan Schnur, a former Republican campaign consultant who now heads the Jesse M. Unruh Institute of Politics at University of Southern California. ‘Santorum hasn’t faced it yet, but it’s about to hit him in a huge way.’ … If rival candidates decide to go negative on Santorum – as they have on Newt Gingrich and Ron Paul — they have plenty of material with which to work.” http://reut.rs/yWqAEw
Rick Santorum, Mr. Bipartisan Compromise — and Mr. Pro Wrestling? ABC’s Jake Tapper looks at one of those moments from Santorum’s past: Conciliatory is not exactly the word that comes to mind when one thinks of assertive conservative Rick Santorum. But when running for re-election in 2006 against a tough Democratic challenger – Sen. Bob Casey, D-Penn., who ultimately beat him by 18 points – Santorum sought to portray himself as someone who worked with Democratic colleagues to get things done. In one vivid ad, Santorum stood in a pro wrestling ring to describe what politics should not be. “Too often, this is what it seems like in Washington,” narrates then-Senator Santorum over images of muscular costumed fellows beating each other. “But to get things done, you’ve got to work together.” He continued: “I teamed up with Joe Lieberman to make college more affordable for low income families. And Barbara Boxer and I wrote a law protecting open space.” “I’m even working with Hillary Clinton to limit inappropriate material for children’s video games,” Santorum said as the wrestlers all stop for a moment. http://abcn.ws/xW54iX
ROMNEY GETS TIME MAGAZINE COVER TREATMENT. ABC’s Emily Friedman reports that Mitt Romney is getting the Time magazine cover treatment again this week, this time his headshot appearing beside a headline that reads, “So you like me now?” The headline seems to poke fun at the issue of the magazine that featured Romney on the cover with the headline, “Why Don’t They Like Me?” That December version of the glossy is frequently handed to Romney to sign on the rope line at his events. Romney is used to it now, often laughing when he sees the magazines handed to him and crossing out the “don’t” with a black marker. Here’s a look at the dueling covers: http://ti.me/xMKuvY
RICK PERRY MOVES FORWARD, MICHELE BACHMANN DROPS OUT. Rick Perry said today that he has no plans to end his campaign just yet, one day after a crushing fifth-place finish in the Iowa caucuses, which prompted the Texas governor to announce a brief hiatus for reassessment. “This wasn’t a hard decision,” Perry told reporters yesterday. “This is a quirky place and a quirky process to say the least, and we’re going to go into places where they have actual primaries and there are going to be real Republicans voting.” Meanwhile, Michele Bachmann suspended her presidential campaign after placing sixth in Tuesday’s Iowa Republican caucuses, she announced today. “Last night, the people of Iowa spoke with a very clear voice, so I have decided to stand aside,” Bachmann said at a news conference, flanked by her parents, husband and five children. “I have no regrets, none whatsoever. We never compromised our principles and we can leave this race knowing we ran it with the utmost integrity.” –ABC’s Arlette Saenz & Russell Goldman
BEHIND THE SCENES: VOTE COUNT DRAMA IN IOWA. “A late-night knock on 70-year-old Edith Pfeffer’s door helped resolve the nail-biter of who won the Iowa caucuses,” reports the Des Moines Register’s Jennifer Jacobs. “It was fellow Republican Carolyn Tallett, 70, at the door to tell her the whole world was waiting to know who won Clinton County. Just 18 votes separated the two leaders, Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum, in the first-in-the nation vote in the GOP presidential nominating campaign, and Santorum was up. ‘It was just nuts for it to be this close with 120,000 votes cast,’ Republican Party of Iowa Executive Director Chad Olsen, who oversaw the vote tabulations, told The Des Moines Register on Wednesday. ‘It will probably never happen again in our lifetimes.’ … By midnight, all the precincts’ votes were logged. It all came down to Clinton’s Ward 2, Precinct 2.” Jacobs has more on how the rest of the vote counting played out: http://dmreg.co/y0DvTL
IOWA POST-GAME ANALYSIS:
@jdickerson: Shame for Rick Santorum that he doesn’t believe in cloning. He could use another version of himself in South Carolina.
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