New Hampshire in Focus

Robert Costa, who has written some of the best work on potential Vice President Rob Portman, takes a look at the 4 electoral votes that could swing the election in New Hampshire:

Four years ago, President Obama easily won the Granite State, but after major Republican gains in 2010, Romney’s campaign is optimistic about its chances in New England’s flinty, independent neighborhood. Over the past few months, they have opened multiple offices and call centers across the state.  Romney’s participation in the past two New Hampshire primary elections has given him a large, sprawling base of support and a network of top-flight political operatives, such as Jim Merill. Twelve years ago, Merrill managed George W. Bush’s successful New Hampshire general-election campaign.

Tom Rath, a Romney adviser and a former New Hampshire attorney general, thinks Romney’s fiscal conservatism and suburban appeal will play as well this year as it did for Bush more than a decade ago. “Romney’s temperament and views make him the kind of Republican who wins here,” Rath says. Bush’s 2000 victory, however, was narrow, as was Democrat John Kerry’s New Hampshire win in 2004. Veteran Republican consultants expect the Obama–Romney race to resemble those two tight contests more than Obama’s 2008 sweep, when the Illinois Democrat won all ten counties.

Current state of affairs

In the polls, Romney has recently closed the gap. The latest New Hampshire poll, published by WMUR, shows Obama leading Romney, 49 percent to 45 percent; but back in WMUR’s April poll, the president led Romney by nine percentage points. Obama’s approval rating in the poll was below 50 percent, a sign of vulnerability. Romney’s competitive standing does not surprise Democrats, who have been organizing in New Hampshire for more than a year, and the Obama campaign has opened 14 field offices. Vice President Joe Biden has made high-profile visits, and President Obama stopped by Durham, N.H., in late June.

2010 vs 2012

Two years ago, New Hampshire Republicans won a Senate seat, both of the state’s two congressional seats, record majorities in the state house and state senate, and complete control of the state’s influential executive council. Coupled with Romney’s ground game, the Republican political machine is strong and ready to kick into gear. Romney’s team is focused on generating big Republican turnout in Rockingham and Hillsborough counties, two well-populated areas in the south, and traditional GOP pockets near the coast.

New Hampshire microcosm

As with its national strategy, Romney’s state campaign is underscoring the candidate’s economic message in its outreach and mailings. New Hampshire may have a 5.1 percent unemployment rate, Romney aides say, but it is still a state in transition, moving away from its heavy-industry past. In the final stretch, the Romney campaign will make a hard pitch to “undeclared” voters, who are approximately 40 percent of the state’s electorate. From Bush’s 2000 win to Bill Clinton’s razor-thin victory in 1992, these voters decide elections and whether a campaign snags 270 electoral votes. “This feels a lot like 2004, when a guy from Massachusetts was able to win 51–49,” says James Pindell, WMUR’s political director. “Romney’s not a true favorite son, but he’s insulated from many of the national attacks because people have really gotten to know his record over the past several years.”

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