In N.H., am­biva­lence on Rom­ney abounds

The Washington Times Weekly - - Politics - BY SETH MCLAUGH­LIN

MANCH­ESTER, N.H. | On pa­per, Mitt Rom­ney is the fa­vorite to win next year’s GOP pri­mary in New Hamp­shire — he ran a re­spectable sec­ond here in 2008 to even­tual nom­i­nee John McCain — and as the 2012 cy­cle be­gins, he’s the clear front-run­ner in a crowded field of would-be con­tenders.

So why do so many grass-roots vot­ers say they still have doubts about the for­mer gov­er­nor from neigh­bor­ing Mas­sachusetts less than a year be­fore the first-inthe-nation pri­mary?

Gran­ite State Repub­li­cans have lin­ger­ing con­cerns about the Mas­sachusetts health care leg­is­la­tion Mr. Rom­ney signed and doubts about his com­mit­ment to pro-life and gun own­er­ship is­sues. Some even ques­tion the depth of his ap­pre­ci­a­tion for the legacy of Ron­ald Rea­gan.

Gary Brown, a 56-year-old busi­ness­man, said he likes Mr. Rom­ney’s busi­ness ex­pe­ri­ence but gives him the dreaded tag of RINO,” or “Repub­li­can in name only.”

John Moscillo, a 39-year-old real es­tate agent, said Mr. Rom­ney re­minds him of a “used-car sales­man” and “will tell you what you want to hear.”

State Rep. Laurie P. Pet­tengill, a 2008 Rom­ney vol­un­teer who rode the tea party wave into the New Hamp­shire State­house last year, said the for­mer Mas­sachusetts gov­er­nor “doesn’t res­onate.”

“I love the guy, but I just think that the av­er­age Amer­i­can doesn’t con­nect with him,” Ms. Pet­tengill said. “I think to a lot of peo­ple he says what they want to hear, and it doesn’t come from his heart.”

Mr. Rom­ney has gone only so far as to form an ex­ploratory com­mit­tee, and New Hamp­shire pri­mary vot­ers are open to al­ter­na­tives. They are cu­ri­ous to hear more from for­mer Min­nesota Gov. Tim Paw­lenty and In­di­ana Gov. Mitch Daniels.

Lib­er­tar­i­ans are en­er­gized by Rep. Ron Paul of Texas, so­cial con­ser­va­tives like for­mer Sen. Rick San­to­rum of Penn­syl­va­nia and tea par­ty­ers are ex­cited about Rep. Michele Bach­mann of Min­nesota. Oth­ers shower com­pli­ments on Rep. Paul Ryan of Wis­con­sin and New Jer­sey Gov. Chris Christie and en­joy Don­ald Trump’s no-holds-barred style.

Repub­li­cans say it’s nat­u­ral to be at­tracted to a new face, es­pe­cially when Mr. Rom­ney is so fa­mil­iar. As chief ex­ec­u­tive in Mas­sachusetts, he dom­i­nated New Eng­land po­lit­i­cal news cov­er­age for four years.

Hurt­ing Mr. Rom­ney the most are the lin­ger­ing con­cerns from 2008, when he spent much of his time ex­plain­ing the record he amassed in Mas­sachusetts, one of the most lib­eral states in the coun­try.

“He has work to do, and he has to re­ally de­cide where he is on those is­sues and how to talk to them,” said state Sen. Tom De­Blois, a Repub­li­can who sup­ported Mr. Rom­ney in 2008. “I’m sure he will de­velop that as time goes on.”

Still, polls show Mr. Rom­ney is the man to beat. A re­cent WMUR Gran­ite State Poll by the Univer- sity of New Hamp­shire found that nearly 70 per­cent of likely Repub­li­can pri­mary vot­ers hold a fa­vor­able opin­ion of Mr. Rom­ney and 36 per­cent would sup­port him, putting him ahead of the rest of the field.

“I think peo­ple in New Hamp­shire see him as a vi­able and re- spectable Repub­li­can,” said Rep. Frank C. Guinta, a Repub­li­can for­mer mayor of Manch­ester and one of the state’s two U.S. House mem­bers.

His­tory sug­gests that Mr. Rom­ney has rea­sons to be con­cerned. In mid-May 2007, he topped the Repub­li­can pri­mary field in New Hamp­shire, ac­cord­ing to the RealClearPol­i­tics.com av­er­age of polls. He held that lead for more than seven months un­til a week be­fore Repub­li­cans went to the polls and de­liv­ered a 6-per­cent­age-point vic­tory to Mr. McCain, an Ari­zo­nan.

Mr. Rom­ney’s ad­van­tages in­clude his per­sonal wealth and the fact that he has kept his or­ga­ni­za­tion in New Hamp­shire strong. He has ce­mented po­lit­i­cal ties by fun­nel­ing more than $100,000 to lo­cal Repub­li­can Party com­mit­tees and candi-

State Rep. Laurie P. Pet­tengill, a 2008 Rom­ney vol­un­teer who rode the tea party wave into the New Hamp­shire State­house last year, said the for­mer Mas­sachusetts gov­er­nor “doesn’t res­onate.” “I love the guy, but I just think that the av­er­age Amer­i­can doesn’t con­nect with him,” Ms. Pet­tengill said. “I think to a lot of peo­ple he says what they want to hear, and it doesn’t come from his heart.”

dates in na­tional and lo­cal races.

“Give credit where credit is due: Rom­ney’s or­ga­ni­za­tion of ac­tivists and vol­un­teers have stuck to­gether,” said B.J. Perry, di­rec­tor of the state Repub­li­can Party dur­ing the cam­paign sea­son last year. “His peo­ple on the ground here have con­tin­ued to build work­ing re­la­tion­ships.”

Dante J. Scala, a Univer­sity of New Hamp­shire po­lit­i­cal science pro­fes­sor, said Mr. Rom­ney also likely learned from his mis­steps in 2008, when he piv­oted to the right on so­cial is­sues in an at­tempt to woo vot­ers in Iowa who ques­tioned his con­ser­va­tive cre­den­tials. This time, Mr. Scala said, Mr. Rom­ney will play up his busi­ness acu­men as a New Eng­land Rock­e­feller Repub­li­can, a mes­sage that should dove­tail well with New Hamp­shire vot­ers who are in­ter­ested in talk­ing about fis­cal rather than so­cial is­sues.

“I think you have a lot of New Hamp­shire Repub­li­cans who are prob­a­bly say­ing to them­selves, ‘It’s about time we’ve stopped talk­ing about abor­tion and re­li­gious is­sues and we got back to what con­ser­vatism is all about, and that is be­ing tight with the dol­lar,’ “ Mr. Scala said.

Some ac­tivists, though, still have a tough time squar­ing Mr. Rom­ney’s tack to the right on abor­tion and gun is­sues in 2008 against his tack to the left when he ran for the U.S. Se­nate in 1994. Dur­ing that race, he dis­tanced him­self from for­mer Pres­i­dent Ron­ald Rea­gan in a de­bate by say­ing, “I was an in­de­pen­dent dur­ing the time of Rea­gan-Bush, I’m not try­ing to re­turn to Rea­gan-Bush.”

Rom­ney con­sul­tant James Mer­rill brushed aside ques­tions about Mr. Rom­ney’s can­dor. “Mitt Rom­ney is one of the most au­then­tic and able peo­ple that I know,” he said.

Mr. Mer­rill said the cam­paign is fo­cused on 2012, when Mr. Rom­ney’s busi­ness back­ground should at­tract vot­ers most con­cerned about pock­et­book is­sues.

It’s too early to tell whether pri­mary vot­ers think Mr. Rom­ney’s pluses out­weigh his mi­nuses, but the ele­phant in the room is clearly the Mas­sachusetts health care leg­is­la­tion, which con­ser­va­tives view as the pre­lude to Pres­i­dent Obama’s na­tional health care over­haul.

“I think ‘Rom­n­ey­care’ is his down­fall be­cause that was the pre­cur­sor to ‘Oba­macare,’ “ said Gary Gra­han, a 66-year-old grass-roots ac­tivist who de­scribed Mr. Rom­ney as a “flipflop­per.”

At a pres­i­den­tial fo­rum last month, Mr. Rom­ney danced around a ques­tion about the state health care plan by telling hun­dreds of grass-roots ac­tivists that his “ex­per­i­ment wasn’t per­fect” and lev­el­ing crit­i­cism at the pres­i­dent for not seek­ing his ad­vice on how his plan failed. “Some things worked, some didn’t, and some things I’d change,” he said, adding that the “one thing I would never do is to usurp the con­sti­tu­tional power of states with a one-size-fits-all fed­eral takeover.”

The ques­tion will con­tinue to dog the for­mer gov­er­nor, and ac­tivists here sug­gest that their de­ci­sion could hinge on the broader concern that he is not gen­uine.

ASSOCIATED PRESS

Not in­spir­ing an army of fol­low­ers: Polls in New Hamp­shire show for­mer Mas­sachusetts Gov. Mitt Rom­ney is the man to beat in the first-in-the-nation Repub­li­can pri­mar y, de­spite the reser va­tions of some grass-roots ac­tivists in the Gran­ite State.

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