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Goodbye, Tampa. Hello, New Hampshire

Tom Rath is a longtime Romney advisor and delegate from New Hampshire. (Lisa Tobin/WBUR)

TAMPA, Fla. — With the Republican convention wrapped up here, national attention turns to Charlotte and the Democrats. But for Mitt Romney, attention returns to the swing states, like New Hampshire, where polling (PDF) shows President Obama leading by three points.

This week in Tampa, former New Hampshire Gov. John Sununu, a fierce supporter of Romney, insisted the polling by WMUR-TV had oversampled Democratic voters and that Romney will win New Hampshire by two to three points.

Tom Rath is even more optimistic. The New Hampshire delegate and longtime Romney adviser is predicting that his candidate will beat out Obama by three to five points. We sat down with him this week to discuss why, in a state where just four years ago Obama handily defeated John McCain, Rath believes the election will now break in Romney’s favor.

Tom Rath: The biggest change, really, numerically, has been the emergence of “undeclared” as a very substantial part of our voting registrations. Over one-third of the people in New Hampshire are now undeclared, which means they can choose between either party both in the primaries and obviously in the general election. As that’s become stronger; the sort of party discipline that may have marked New Hampshire way back when is gone.

This is a state that is purple, loves being purple, and I think will stay purple.

Do you think that New Hampshire is shading a little more red again, that those undeclared voters you’re talking about will tend to vote Republican?

Yes, because I think the issue that motivates most of those voters is the economy.

In every poll, the first question they ask is: “Is your state headed in the right direction or the wrong direction?” and “Is your country headed in the right direction or the wrong direction?” On the state answer, it’s about 60/40 right direction. On the national question, it’s about 30 percent right direction, about 70 percent wrong direction.

That’s a very tough issue universe for this president.

With New Hampshire a purple state as you describe it, how has it warmed up, or not, to the very conservative vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan?

He doesn’t have the on-the-ground knowledge of the state yet, but he’s somebody that the state has become very enthusiastic about — the Republican Party has. I think he’ll do fine up there. He is by his nature an inclusive politician. The district he runs in, in Wisconsin, is very liberal and very [Democratic] — and he wins, and I think because of his personal skills.

And New Hampshire values truth-telling, and leveling with us, and don’t sugar coat it, and don’t pretend something can be something when it’s not. Ryan, I think, really excels at that.

You’ve worked with Mitt Romney for quite some time now. Has he been forced to become more conservative because of the evolution within the Republican Party? Is he the same Mitt Romney that you knew seven years ago?

I believe he is, in terms of his skill sets, in terms of his approach to problems, in terms of his natural reaction to problems. I think he has been forced to talk about issues that maybe he wasn’t talking about 10 years ago.

But what about politically, has he moved to the right policy-wise?

I think, perhaps he’s always been there, but there’s more exposure of that piece of him than there might have been, say, when he was running for governor.

The other night on the floor when you were talking about Romney and his summer home in New Hampshire, you said, “Wolfeboro, the next summer residence of the next president of the United States.” How much is that worth at the polls? Is the fact that New Hampshire may have a summertime president there, is that worth a point? Is it worth two?

We’ll take anything it’s worth, because he’s not moving. He’s made it very clear his family likes it there. The area up there around Wolfeboro, which is a gorgeous part of the state and it’s been their home for 30 years, loves having him. It would be a huge plus to the state.

If you could change one thing about him as a candidate, what would it be?

He’s a very good candidate. I think he’s as persistent a candidate as I’ve ever had. He’s learned to suffer fools a little more easily, which is what you have to do in this business.

I think the hardest thing for all these people, for Mitt Romney, is he takes it personally. This means a great deal to him, and it means a lot to Ann and the family. It’s very hard to go through this sometimes. You’ve got some great nights and you’ve got an awful lot of bad ones.

He bruises easily, he’s not emotional about it, but he knows when it hasn’t gone well. That’s important to him, but as someone who’s a staffer, you want to take that pain away from him.

How important are New Hampshire’s four electoral votes in this close race?

In 2000, when George Bush beat Al Gore and we spent all that time worrying about Florida — if Al Gore had carried New Hampshire, Florida wouldn’t have meant anything.

Our four electoral votes are extraordinarily important as you count to 270. I think each party, as they’ve counted to 270, needs New Hampshire in that. And so for us to get them, I think New Hampshire is as important a state — I think it’s one of the five, six, seven, eight, maybe, states — that are going to decide this election.

And Romney is coming back and coming back and coming back. Ryan was there twice just a week ago, two separate visits; I mean, they understand how important it is and the president does too. We had a great primary this year, we’re going to have a great general election.

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