As the New Hampshire primary nears, we’re going to spend time getting to know voters there. We opened in the small town of Mont Vernon. Here, we visit Rochester, a city on the Maine border.
ROCHESTER, N.H. — On Thursday, Mitt Romney campaigns in New Hampshire, where he’ll meet with voters in Portsmouth, Derry and Rochester. The former Massachusetts governor is this state’s front-runner, but there’s surging interest among Tea Partiers in Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann.
The monthly meeting of the Rochester 9/12 Project in the Salmon Falls Church here is the place to be for campaigns trying to get Tea Partiers excited about their candidates.
It’s where Nick Trainer, a field representative with former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty’s campaign, found himself Monday night. He was making a pitch for his candidate when he found out what a tough crowd this could be.
“Any idea when he’s going to stop throwing bombs at Bachmann?” asked one participant.
“Um, I don’t think that that was a bomb … on ‘Meet the Press’,” Trainer replied.
Here’s what Pawlenty said about Bachmann on “Meet the Press” that left some in the church unhappy:
Her record of accomplishment in Congress is nonexistent. It’s nonexistent, and so we’re not looking for folks who just have speech capabilities. We’re looking for people who can lead a large enterprise in a public setting and drive it to conclusion. I’ve done that. She hasn’t.
From a back pew, Don Medberry came to Bachmann’s defense and put Pawlenty’s man on the spot.
“She has businesses, so she has executive experience, so that’s in the eyes of the beholder,” Medberry said. “That’s enough for me.”
“Bachmann is No. 2 right now, and she’s getting better and better. She’s resonating and resonating.”
“OK,” Trainer said. “And as for his comment about her congressional record, she really doesn’t have too many congressional accomplishments since she’s gotten there. She’s spoken strongly about issues, but the governor’s campaign is about results, not rhetoric, and that’s the way he feels on the issue.”
“Well, I think what you need to do is take a lesson from [former President] Reagan — just keep your mouth shut about the other part of the party and keep goin’,” Medberry said.
“That’s exactly right,” agreed another participant.
Bachmann has surged to second place in the latest University of New Hampshire poll to become Romney’s leading challenger in the state. Outside the church, Medberry explained why he thinks it’s a mistake for any Republican candidate to put her down at this point.
“Bachmann is No. 2 right now,” he said, “and she’s getting better and better. She’s resonating and resonating. What’s the best thing we see in the Democrats? The Democrats have over us their message. It resonates, because they just continuously say the same thing over and over and over again.”
Medberry and many others in New Hampshire increasingly see Bachmann as the best candidate to make the case against President Obama.
In Medberry’s opinion, Romney is not a good messenger for Republicans.
“He adjusts his story for the crowd that’s going to fit,” he said. “To me, that’s what a Democrat does. The thing that bothers me is he switches, switches channels. He’s a switcher.”
One of Medberry’s fellow Tea Partiers at the church calls the group the bouncers of the Republican Party. They want to make sure they keep people not in line with their beliefs out of the running for the nomination. Right now, Bachmann is quickly becoming their favorite.
And that could spell trouble for Romney. He’s counting on New Hampshire and its independent voters to help him win the nomination.
Every campaign has sent someone to the Salmon Falls Church or let the group meet the candidate. But not Romney’s — yet. The Rochester group has asked the Romney campaign to send someone. They say they’re looking forward to talking to him.
Correction: An earlier version of this story’s headline may have made it seem that the New Hampshire Tea Party supports Bachmann. The organization does not endorse candidates.