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Romney’s Mass. Health Law Defense Plays Well Among Key N.H. Voters

Likely Republican presidential hopeful and former Gov. Mitt Romney, center, talks with business leaders in Nashua, N.H., on May 3. (AP)

Likely Republican presidential hopeful and former Gov. Mitt Romney, center, talks with business leaders in Nashua, N.H., on May 3. (AP)

MANCHESTER, N.H. — Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney delivers Thursday what his campaign is billing as a major address on health care.

It’s an issue that has dogged Romney this year as he seeks the Republican presidential nomination. Republicans oppose President Obama’s universal health care coverage law. Because Romney pushed for Massachusetts to become the first state with universal coverage, he’s now having to defend his record. But his defense is going over well among one key group: New Hampshire GOP voters.

The Health Care Question

Wherever he goes,  Romney gets asked the same question.

“Governor, given the benefit of hindsight, would you still sign the health care bill that you signed into law when you were governor of Massachusetts?” the moderator of a Tea Party forum here in Manchester asked Romney.

“I was hoping I’d get that question,” Romney said. “Let me tell you, in my state, like in most states, there are a lot of problems in health care. You got people who, if they change jobs, lose insurance and can’t get reinsured. You got people who have preexisting conditions that can’t get insurance. You have something else you are concerned about, people who don’t have insurance at all.”

What Romney has been saying in New Hampshire so far has foreshadowed what he’ll say Thursday: That in Massachusetts, for instance, people would show up at emergency rooms without insurance.

“And guess who they expect to pay: You, the taxpayers,” he said. “In my state, we were spending hundreds of millions of dollars giving out free care to people who could have afforded to take care of themselves, and so I went to work to try and solve a problem, and it may not be perfect. By the way, it is not perfect. Some parts of that experiment worked. Some parts didn’t. Some things I’d change. One thing I’d never do, by the way, would be to impose a one-size-fits-all plan like ‘ObamaCare’ on the nation. It’s wrong. It’s unconstitutional. And it won’t work.”

Romney is promising that if he’s elected president, he would work to repeal the national health care law and on his first day in office, he would give every state a waiver to the law. That means each state could devise its own plan to cover everyone.

Poll Numbers Suggest Forgiving GOP Voters

Romney’s message is going over well with voters here. In the latest Suffolk University/WHDH-TV poll, he has a 25-point lead among likely voters in the New Hampshire Republican primary.

“We asked a question about whether or not Mitt Romney’s involvement in passing health care in Massachusetts would hurt his electability,” pollster David Paleologos said, “and people said overwhelmingly it would have no effect. That was an important finding for us because the general consensus is that his position on health care will hurt him, but when we asked the question, 53 percent said, ‘No effect.’ ”

And this is even though Paleologos found that most likely voters in the New Hampshire GOP primary oppose the national health care law.

“What they were saying in the poll is that they thought that national health care should either be repealed or modified, ” Paleologos said, “so they’re making a distinction in New Hampshire between what Romney did and Romney’s high popularity there, and not blaming him for Massachusetts health care. ”

Paleologos found something else surprising: For likely voters in the New Hamsphire primary, health care is a non-issue, overshadowed by jobs and the economy and the national debt.

And what people in New Hampshire think makes a difference in who becomes the next Republican presidential candidate. New Hampshire was where John McCain made his comeback four years ago. And it could be even more important this year. Fergus Cullen, a former chairman of the New Hampshire Republican Party, believes that Iowa’s Republican caucuses and the South Carolina primary have become the preserve of Christian fundamentalists, and therefore, not so reflective of the rest of the country.

“The New Hampshire electorate, I think, is more broadly representative of the Republican party as a whole,” Cullen said. “And the fact that the New Hampshire primary is open to independents is also critical, because without independent support, you can’t get elected in a general election.”

Clearly, the Romney campaign believes he needs to make Thursday’s speech in Michigan. Other candidates may well try to hammer Romney on health care. But if New Hampshire voters are any indication of what’s about to come, Romney’s support for universal health care in Massachusetts might well turn out to be a non-issue in the race for the Republican nomination.

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