The final days of the New Hampshire campaign have been a tale of five candidates with competing priorities.
Romney is looking for a big win to send him to South Carolina with the momentum of a frontrunner; Santorum wants to prove that his surprising top finish in Iowa was not a fluke; Paul, who has been running second in most Granite State polls, wants to show that he remains a threat despite a disappointing third-place finish in Iowa; and Gingrich and Huntsman are counting on New Hampshire to bolster their national viability.
Romney, the prohibitive frontrunner here since Day 1, moved over the weekend to close the deal, something he failed to do four years ago, when he came from in front to lose to Sen. John McCain (Ariz.). Romney, who owns a home in central New Hampshire and has logged countless hours on the trail, implored supporters at every campaign stop not to take his high poll numbers, and victory, for granted and grow complacent.
The Romney campaign appears confident that the support it has cultivated among identified voters will hold, leaving his team to focus on turnout. In an effort that appeared unmatched by Romney’s competitors, his campaign on Saturday sent out its last mail piece and unleashed a volunteer army of 750 to knock on an estimated 10,000 doors and make 150,000 person-to-person phone calls, with additional calls set to be made by a paid contractor.
Romney supporters say their candidate has made great strides since the 2008 race, and they sounded confident of a win on Tuesday.
“The difference this time: He shows more confidence, he dwells more on the economy, which is what our problem is,” said Brendan Laffey, a 73-year-old retiree from Center Harbor who traveled to Tilton on Friday evening to see Romney. “He shows that he’s more presidential. He shows that he’s more of a leader than any of them, really, to get things done, that he can implement things. I saw Gingrich last night — a great man, brilliant person — but I don’t believe he can implement what he talks about. Romney can.”
A Second Look at Santorum
Santorum’s tendency to speak unscripted on the stump — and his staunch social conservatism that puts him at odds with most voters here — offers a sharp contrast to Romney’s disciplined focus on President Barack Obama and the economy.
With one week between Iowa and New Hampshire, Santorum did not have time to build an organization that could rival Romney’s, despite raising about $1 million a day since his near victory in the Hawkeye State. But Santorum drew large crowds at every stop, and Granite State voters, who sometimes have a habit of turning against frontrunners, were giving the former Senator a second look.
Rebuffing suggestions that his brand of conservatism was politically problematic in New Hampshire, which has a strong libertarian streak and where independents can influence primaries, Santorum repeatedly invoked Ronald Reagan, who in 1980 lost Iowa to George H.W. Bush but proceeded to win here.