It’s Not The Jet Ski, Stupid

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Republican presidential candidate, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and wife Ann Romney jet ski on Lake Winnipesaukee in Wolfeboro, N.H., Monday, July 2, 2012. (AP Photo)
Republican presidential candidate, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and wife Ann Romney jet ski on Lake Winnipesaukee in Wolfeboro, N.H., Monday, July 2, 2012. (AP Photo)

If Mitt Romney loses New Hampshire, it won’t be because of his Jet Ski.

Lake Winnipesaukee isn’t Martha’s Vineyard and a Jet Ski isn’t a mahogany-hulled runabout, the vintage watercraft favored by the wealthier seasonal inhabitants of the 72 square miles known in central New Hampshire as “the People’s Lake.”

The media, less familiar with the freshwater playground of the presumptive Republican presidential nominee than with the island vacation spot favored by the Democratic president, has been misreading an egalitarian water toy as a symbol of pampered elitism ever since Romney and his wife Ann were photographed on one earlier this month.

Jet Skis aren’t cheap — a new model costs more than $5,000 — but for a reasonable rental fee, a vacationing family can have one delivered for the day to a rustic cabin on the Big Lake. This summer, a sputtering economy has made a vacation week at any lake out of reach for too many Americans. And Romney’s preferred remedies — tax cuts for the wealthy and program cuts for the poor — say much more about his elitism than his Jet Ski.

Because New Hampshire’s four electoral votes could be critical this year, the state is getting the kind of attention (and misinterpretation) usually reserved for presidential primary season. Let’s begin with the lakes. Granite Staters know, for instance, that Winnipesaukee is not Squam, the smaller, more exclusive lake nearby where Katharine Hepburn and Henry Fonda filmed "On Golden Pond," and where public access is rigidly controlled to preserve what is known in the Lakes Region as “the Quiet Lake.” No Jet Skis allowed.

On Winnipesaukee, the loon sanctuary in Moultonborough coexists with the amusement rides at Weirs Beach. The kayak shares the bay with the cigarette boat. Campers at the RV Park have as much access to the lake as the Wolfeboro swells.

At 5 percent, New Hampshire’s unemployment rate is much lower than the national rate of 8.2 percent. But the state suffers from the same political schizophrenia plaguing the rest of the nation. Long one of the country’s most predictably Republican strongholds – the GOP carried the state in every presidential election but one from 1948 through 1988 – it delivered every county to Barack Obama in 2008. Two years later, it threw out a Democratic legislature in favor of wild-eyed Republicans whose first official act was to repeal the law that made it a crime to carry a gun into the State House.

In New Hampshire, political predictions are an even bigger fool’s game than vacation photo analysis.

Voters remember favorably the summer night in 2003 when Romney and his sons jumped on their Jet Skis to rescue a New Jersey family whose boat sank near Romney’s 13-acre waterfront estate. They remember less fondly his imperious, and short-lived, decision as the governor of Massachusetts to install a security rope 250 feet into the lake to protect his privacy.

How New Hampshire will vote in November is anyone’s guess. What’s certain is that the outcome won’t turn on a Jet Ski.

This program aired on July 23, 2012. The audio for this program is not available.