Mitt Romney spent his Monday focusing vote-rich southern New Hampshire. He started at a chamber of commerce breakfast Nashua, where a comment he made about choice in health care,
“I like being able to fire people who provide services to me,”
became a late-breaking flashpoint. Democrats and republicans rivals Newt Gingrich, Rick Perry and Jon Huntsman all piled on. So much so that at Romney’s next stop in Hudson he called a press conference, his first since the Iowa caucuses, to defuse the matter.
“I know free enterprise is on trial and we have a president who really doesn’t believe in the rights of people to do that but I believe in the rights of people to get rid of an insurance company that they don’t want.”
Romney also clarified another comment that’s become an unwelcome headache as he looks to mobilize the vote he’s been working years to build, that during a business career that made him a millions he himself feared being fired.
“I think people imagine that I came in at the top of Bain and company the consulting firm or the Boston consulting group I started at the bottom, and like anybody who starts at the bottom, you wonder if you don’t do so well, whether you are going to be able to hang on to your job, you know, will you be one of those who is laid off?”
The question now is will Mitt Romney hang on to what every polls suggests remains a commanding lead in the state where he’s never been anything but the clear frontrunner.
I’m Amy Quinton with the Rick Santorum campaign in Derry.
The former Pennsylvania Senator greeted voters here during lunch hour at Mary Ann’s Diner, a popular campaign spot for the candidates.
Derry residents Ken and Jackie Hepworth had just come from Santorum’s earlier meeting in Salem where they say they were impressed by his candor.
But like the almost 30 percent of undecided voters in New Hampshire, the two haven’t made up their mind in this primary.
“They’re all pretty good it’s nice to have a nice option this year, sometimes you really have no choice, they’re all good speakers, I think Santorum is the most realistic, he’s the down to earth guy, he’s the guy you can believe and whatever he says I think he’ll do it, or he’ll try to do it.”
The latest WMUR poll shows Santorum in a race for third with Jon Huntsman.
But Santorum is pleased with the progress he’s made in a state where only 23-percent of the electorate self-identify as evangelical Christians.
Santorum is hoping his message of social conservatism will resonate with voters.
“I think they have, we’ve moved up from two to three percent in the polls to in the pack of folks that have spent a lot more time and money than we have here and that’s a good place to be.”
Windham resident Bill Sterner says he’s leaning toward Romney but likes the momentum that Santorum has coming off a near win in Iowa.
“we’ll make our decision as we come nearer to poll time, very traditional”
For Sterner, there’s only one important issue this primary.
“Beating Obama, that’s number one, two, three, four and five.”
I'm Sam Evans-Brown with the Gingrich campaign at PSNH in Manchester.
The room here is packed but according to the workers at the door, the ratio of media to others is about ten to one.
Podium: (fading up) … so with that let me introduce Speaker Gingrich, speaker.
Former Speaker of the house Newt Gingrich stumped before PSNH employees at the utility’s headquarters.
Gingrich discussed his tax plan, his energy plan and his plan to overturn president Obama’s health care reform.
It wasn’t until the tail end of the speech that Gingrich took aim at Republican front-runner, Mitt Romney.
Gingrich: Governor Romney is in fact legitimately and authentically a Massachusetts moderate.
Gingrich trails Romney, with some polls putting him in fifth place.
Even so John MacDonald, a PSNH’s vice president, is considering casting his vote for Gingrich.
Macdonald: It’s coming down to the wire, it really is. I don’t know a lot about Mr. Santorum, but I think it’s a neck and neck race between Mr. Gingrich and Mr. Huntsman for me, and right having come off a very good meeting with Mr. Gingrich, I’d give him a slight edge.
At a later appearance in Dover, Gingrich announced that his campaign will begin airing negative attack ads, reversing an earlier promise to stay positive.
Dan Gorenstein here in Eagle Square in downtown Concord with the Huntsman campaign where the Governor has just come and told supporters that he’s feeling a last second surge. He feels like he has a real good shot at second place here, and feels momentum building for him in these final hours.
“Everyone tells you what the order of the universe is supposed to be politically, and then the good people of New Hampshire step up and they cast a vote based upon a message that works, and real leadership. Ladies and gentlemen we are going to turn conventional wisdom upside down tomorrow night. Are you with me? (screams).”
In Concord the day for the primary, there was a real sense of optimism among the small but loyal crowd.
Plenty of people were buzzing about Huntsman’s exchange between with GOP front-runner Mitt Romney in Sunday morning’s debate.
He told Romney that he was proud to serve as Ambassador to China in the Obama Administration.
He went on to say that he’ll continue to put country above party.
Republican State Representative Jim Waddell says that’s the kind of message that distinguishes Huntsman from Romney.
“If I say that my ideology means more than my country moving forward, which Mitt Romney said, well I want the economy to go ahead, I want the country to go ahead, I want manufacturing to increase. And I think country comes first and ideology comes second.”
Huntsman put pressure on himself today.
He told reports he wants to build a head of steam coming out of New Hampshire, proving that he’s electable.
While Romney’s so far ahead, the question is whether Huntsman can leapfrog Texas Congressman Ron Paul for 2nd.
19-year old campaign volunteer Jake Wagner feels the momentum.
And he guesses, it’s good timing.
“You know you’ve seen in this campaign so many candidates have gone up and down, up and down. Huntsman remains the only candidate without a strong surge. Finally we think it’s here.”
On top of that, Wagner says the ace up Huntsman’s sleeve; retail politics.
The former Utah Governor’s been practically living here in New Hampshire the past four months.
I’m Jon Greenberg with the Ron Paul campaign outside the Timberland main office in Stratham. Paul spoke here a few minutes ago to about 120 employees. He said there isn’t much time left to persuade anyone.
“But we feel good about the campaign, how it’s been going. A lot of times, the media, they keep asking me ‘what’s your strategy,” Paul said. “Well, actually, my strategy has always been the same. And it’s an intense interest in what I consider very important, and that is a message about individual freedom.”
Paul has gotten further with that message in this campaign than he did four years ago. He’s doing better in the polls and on the campaign trail, he attracts large and enthusiastic crowds. The crowd at Timberland was not as receptive.
The applause was sparse and questions like this one suggested employees here were not quite ready to embrace the free market world that Paul envisions.
“Many in congress, Republicans in congress, now our own state legislature, want to roll back regulations to make us more competitive so we can compete in the world marketplace better. That to me sounds like a race to the bottom.”
Paul stuck to his guns.
“I need to ask one question. You mean there are no regulations here that are harmful?”
Paul said you can use other means to solve the problems regulations are intended to address. He seemed to connect a bit better with his audience when he talked about dealing with Iran through diplomacy, rather than economic sanctions or implied military action.
If this wasn’t exactly the sort of crowd Paul would like to face the day before the primary, he’s likely to find a warmer welcome at his next event. This evening, he has a town hall meeting in Exeter.