Campaign 2012
5:00 pm
Wed November 9, 2011

Mitt Romney Still Looking Like Top Contender in GOP Primary

With 60 days until the NH primary, people are wondering if anyone will be able to catch Mitt Romney.

The strengths of Mitt Romney’s NH campaign are on full display in these 25 seconds.

“Now if I stumble around a little bit tonight, it’s in part because I wrote these notes in the automobile, and I can’t always read what I have written.  But I’m going to try to do my best. And I want to thank both the senators for their introductions, and to the governor, for being here, because each of these individuals is noted for their fiscal conservatism. And I come tonight to talk about fiscal conservatism and fiscal responsibility.”

That was Romney and Exeter. Nothing flashy, but there it is in a nutshell. Let’s parse it.

“Now if I stumble around a little bit tonight, it’s because I wrote these notes in the automobile.”

That’s a twofer. First, it’s formal Mitt Romney trying to seem casual. But he’s also taking a whack at Rick Perry, whose last NH speech was so erratic it went viral on YouTube.  Romney, in any case, didn’t stumble in Exeter. He also never looked at his notes. He’s now such a polished campaigner, he didn’t need to.

Thank you to both senators for their introductions, and to the governor for being here.

Romney was basking in the endorsement of the state’s most august republicans. Former US senator Judd Gregg, and former Governor John H. Sununu. Romney’s been courting key players here since he was Massachusetts Governor. He’s also stumped for NH candidates up and down the food chain in every election. Along the way, he’s built reserves of goodwill and internalized the message most likely to resonate across the NH primary electorate, from hardcore Tea Partiers to independent swing voters.  

I come tonight to talk about fiscal conservatism, and fiscal responsibility. Romney rarely drifts from this focus these days, or from the suggestion that he can cure the county’s economic woes.

"The median income in America has dropped 10 percent during the Obama years, middle income Americans are suffering in this county and i want to help middle Americans have a prosperous and bright future and that is the course for our party and for this campaign."

When Romney was done, State Senator Russell Prescott, a conservative who backed Mike Huckabee in 2008, said with Romney, there are no mysteries. "Mitt Romney has had such a long period of time to prove himself. Everybody has been watching Mitt Romney for four years and everybody has seen him get stronger and stronger and I just got swept up and said this man is the man to be our president. "

Which isn’t to say every Republican backing Romney is  exactly swooning. But given the competition, Romney may not need them to be.

"Just look at the candidates," says Jack Flanagan, a state rep who says he came to support Romney recently- by a process of elimination. "I like Newt Gingrich. I think he’s a bright guy, lot of baggage; Bachmann is very nice woman, but I just don’t think she’s got the depth; Huntsman, bright on foreign policy, just too far left for me on some issues; Santorum, way too far right for me. Who’s left? Perry. Oh, what do they say in Texas? All brim and no hat, " says Flanagan.

The sense that Romney is simply the GOP’s most plausible option is also reflected in every poll taken here. Romney’s been averaging about 40% support, more than twice that of his nearest rivals.

"I don’t see mitt Romney doing a slow fade in the weeks before NH," says Dante Scala, a political scientist at UNH.  "I think someone is going to have to go and tear him down from his perch," says Scala.

Scala questions whether the effort would be successful and says it would certainly cost money to give it a serious try – maybe $3 million on ads alone. Without doubt, the well-financed Romney campaign – which has banked  millions and not run a single ad this cycle -- would respond in kind. Under the circumstances, it’s unclear if any Romney rival other than Jon Huntsman, who polls in the low single digits, will conclude that NH is the best place to take Romney on.  And with the primary day just 8 weeks off, time may also become Mitt Romney’s ally.