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TILTON, N.H. — Mitt Romney brought South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley with him to a spaghetti dinner here Friday night, as he sought to keep his supporters energized in the lead up to Tuesday's first in the nation GOP presidential primary.
The former Massachusetts governor let Haley have the floor before making his closing argument to a full school dining hall in this central New Hampshire enclave where Romney's father, then-Michigan Gov. George Romney (R), once spoke, and where his campaign signs appeared more visible than those of his competitors. Granite State campaign events tend to be at least a little bit combative, but those in attendance here Friday evening were mostly Romney voters.
Retiree Criss McGee, 62, said she "definitely" expected Romney to win on Tuesday. "For me, I've been watching more of the debates and every single debate I have more confidence in him," she said, discussing the difference between the New Hampshire frontrunner in this campaign versus the 2008 race.
The Republican candidates are scheduled to debate twice before Tuesday's vote — tonight and again on Sunday morning. Today and tomorrow Romney will be joined on the stump by top surrogates New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty.
Haley stuck around after Romney left to sign autographs and take pictures with voters. It was clear that the South Carolina governor was enjoying her first trip to New Hampshire, and she indicated to reporters that Romney winning big on Tuesday could give him a leg up in the Palmetto State, although she conceded that the first Southern primary of the GOP nominating contest would be competitive.
"The momentum is already there; New Hampshire could really bring it home. South Carolina is excited about him," Haley said. "He's No. 1 in the polls, but New Hampshire is key, because people want to know that that momentum is continuing."
Romney delivered what has become his standard stump speech, but one well received by voters who are largely concerned about economic growth, the deficit and government spending. He vowed to reverse course from the Obama administration. In fact, the former Massachusetts governor did not mention his Republican opponents, instead keeping his focus on President Barack Obama.
Despite Romney's big lead in recent New Hampshire polls — an NBC News-Marist poll out Friday night showed Romney with a 20-point lead — the GOP frontrunner said he wasn't taking victory for granted. He asked supporters for their help in the final weekend to help him close the deal, something he failed to do four years ago when he lost the primary to Sen. John McCain (Ariz.).
New Hampshire voters typically decide whom to vote for late and have often delivered upset victories to candidates thought to be too far behind to win.
"I know some pollsters say I'm doing real well," Romney said. "Let me tell you, those polls, they can just disappear overnight. What you say to a pollster is a bit like going on a date. It's like, well, I might try this, but getting married, that's something else. So, we need to make sure that you're working real hard and I'll keep working real hard."