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MANCHESTER, N.H. — The Granite State junkies are starving.
The nation’s first presidential primary may be one year away, but their hunger for action fills the stuffy booths of the Red Arrow Diner, the renovated barn at the Bedford Village Inn and the hallways of the Grappone Conference Center.
New Hampshire’s top Republican activists report that the next cycle is off to the slowest start in decades. The private meetings and phone calls needed to build a grass-roots network simply haven’t happened yet — at least not to the extent that the Granite State political class has grown accustomed.
“You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to figure out who the top 100 activists are in New Hampshire — the people they should be calling if they’re really serious about running for president. And those calls, to the best of my knowledge, aren’t being made,” said Ovide Lamontagne, a Manchester attorney and former Senate candidate who is among New Hampshire’s most powerful conservative voices. “We’re in a perpetual state of political activity in New Hampshire. This is our state sport. People are anxious to get involved.”
The slow start is more than a simple annoyance.
Lamontagne and several others told Roll Call last week that many local activists literally can’t wait for the field to develop. They have already begun to abandon previous alliances in favor of former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum and former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty — the two likely GOP candidates who have been most active in New Hampshire so far.
It’s no secret that former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney — a 2008 presidential candidate who enjoys strong name recognition and has a vacation home in Wolfeboro — is the early favorite to win New Hampshire’s Republican primary. Significant pieces of his 2008 machine remain. But given Romney’s pronounced absence from New Hampshire to date, some of his former supporters are starting to defect.
Just ask Claira Monier.
Ready for Action
She was absolutely glowing, a silver-haired flurry of smiles and energy, standing in an updated barn topped with a metallic cow weather vane that played host to Pawlenty’s Politics and Eggs premiere last week.
It wasn’t that Monier is excited about Pawlenty. She has already decided against supporting the Minnesotan. It was that the New Bedford Inn was oozing politics, even before 9 on a freezing Tuesday morning.
“I like the action,” she said with an infectious grin, just before tugging on her pink winter parka. “Nobody’s been doing anything in the New Hampshire primary.”