As former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney begins the official portion of his campaign for the presidency, he is also looking to seal up his support the first-in-the-nation primary state.
The New Englander (and New Hampshire property owner) has been the standout candidate for going on two years now. While his support has fallen, a third of Republican primary voters said he was their candidate in a poll last month.
Romney’s announcement is sure to draw the most attention in national headlines – particularly with the establishment vs. rogue narrative being pushed along by Sarah Palin’s unorthodox summer road trip. But it all feels a little ho-hum for Republican activists.
“Romney is the guy to beat,” said Fran Wendelboe, a former state representative and Republican activist in New Hampshire. But she quickly noted, “I think it’s going to be tremendously difficult to maintain frontrunner status.”
“If he didn’t announce in New Hampshire, that would’ve been viewed negatively,” said Alan Glassman, the Belknap County Republican chairman and a member of the state party’s executive committee.
New Hampshire will be crowded with other candidates this weekend. Rick Santorum, Michele Bachmann, and Herman Cain have already met with state voters this week. Rudy Giuliani will be headlining a fundraiser at a private fundraiser on Thursday. Giuliani’s picked up some momentum from a CNN poll released last Friday, though it should be noted that Romney, Palin, and Ron Paul were all within the margin of error. John Huntsman will be among the candidates joining a “Lincoln Day” boat rally.
And Palin’s whereabouts this weekend? Word is she's planning a clambake in New Hampshire on Thursday.
“I don’t consider it to be anything concerning,” Glassman said of Palin’s unorthodox approach. “I’m not surprised that Sarah is doing it this way. She’s very adept at this, and if it generates more interest, so be it.”
But Wendelboe has not been impressed. She’s been keeping a packed schedule, getting face time with Gingrich (“good team working with him”) Trump (“cut me a good deal,” she said he told his team about hiring her, and Bachmann (“I was amazed at how tiny she is!”).
“You know, there’s this attitude in New Hampshire that already they think Palin has avoided us or ignored us, anybody who has been thinking about a political future would have stayed engaged and made an appearance or two,” Wendelboe said. “I really think she needs to make a special effort. This certainly hasn’t endeared her.”
“It’s like we don’t exist,” she said.
That’s an insult that may be hard to overcome for even New Hampshire’s most conservative voters, particularly with Bachmann and Santorum putting in the time.
“If they’re here and she’s not, they’ve going to go with the people who are here,” said University of New Hampshire political scientist Dante Scala.
But he notes, there’s still time to launch a nation campaign and a grassroots effort in New Hampshire. That could start with a series of bus stops through the state this week. And while it may take some of the spotlight off of Romney’s moment in the short run, Scala said that could work for him just fine.
“If Palin proved to be a potent candidate, as opposed to political celebrity, I think that would help somebody like Romney. I think New Hampshire voters would seek out the most anti-Palin candidate possible.”