MANCHESTER, N.H. — It’s show time in the state that hosts the nation’s first presidential primary.
Less than 12 hours after the Iowa caucus started the 2012 nominating process, Republican candidates shifted their attention here. Volunteers manning phone banks and political action committees placing radio and TV ads stepped up their games. Campaign signs crowd business districts and residential neighborhoods, sometimes jockeying for position.
"The enthusiasm is building," said John McMahon, one of 30 volunteers calling supporters and undecided voters from Mitt Romney’s campaign office, reminding them to vote on Tuesday.
At the airport, a large neon-orange banner reading "First in the Nation" greets visitors, courtesy of former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum’s campaign workers.
Romney, the former Massachusetts governor, enjoys a comfortable lead here with support from 43 percent of likely primary voters and strong backing among women, according to a poll released yesterday by Suffolk University in Boston.
Congressman Ron Paul of Texas placed second in the poll with 16 percent, followed by former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman with 10 percent. Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann and Texas Gov. Rick Perry trailed, but Santorum’s hard campaigning in Iowa bumped his support among those surveyed to 5 percent. About 13 percent remain undecided. The poll has a margin of error of 4.4 percentage points.
"The poll is a good news-bad news story for Romney," said David Paleologos, director of the university’s Political Research Center.
"He has consistently polled No. 1 all year long and is in a commanding lead over Ron Paul, who is competitive only among younger voters," Paleologos said. "The bad news for Romney is that he is now expected to win big, and if he only wins by 6 or 8 (percentage points), people could say he had a weak showing and it could work against him."
McMahon, 23, of nearby Bedford said voters with whom he has spoken cause him to believe Romney is gaining even more support.
"We feel pretty good here," agreed Jason McBride, Romney’s state political director. "Romney’s message on jobs and the economy have resonated."
Romney’s support in a state neighboring his home state prompted some analysts to brush off this primary’s importance. Perry will skip campaigning here and instead began an 11-stop tour of South Carolina, hoping to make a good showing in its Jan. 21 GOP primary.
Skipping New Hampshire hasn’t been a successful strategy for GOP candidates in the past, said Mark Rozell, political science professor at George Mason University. In 2008, two candidates, former Sen. Fred Thompson of Tennessee and former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, "found themselves largely absent from the campaign narrative" after their absences.
The New Hampshire electorate is less socially conservative than Iowa’s; slightly more than 20 percent identify themselves as evangelical, compared to about 40 percent in Iowa, according 2008 election exit polls. Fiscal conservatives are more influential, as are independent voters, said Rozell. Nearly one in four New Hampshire voters is unaffiliated with a political party.
Pittsburgh Tribune-Review Political Reporter