MILFORD, N.H. — Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney is headed back to New Hampshire for four days of campaigning. Romney makes the trip as his fortunes are taking an unexpected twist in the two states where voters first select a Republican presidential candidate.
Romney was not expected to do well in Iowa, but his poll numbers there are rising as those of former Speaker Newt Gingrich plummet. Romney is now a close second in Iowa, behind Texas Rep. Ron Paul*. In New Hampshire, Romney is doing very well. As expected after all the time he's invested there, he's in first place. And his chief rival, Gingrich, is sinking in the polls. But two other candidates are coming up: Paul and former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman. So for the rest of the week, Romney is working to make sure he stays on top.
The Romney campaign is running a TV ad that stars the working-class town of Milford. The candidate talks to residents about the state of the economy.
You see Romney in a barn jacket in the rotary at the heart of Milford, and in two businesses there, Dick's Barber Shop and the Red Arrow Diner. The message is that Milford is hurting and Romney can help.
To find out about what people in Milford think of the ad, its message and Romney, I went to the Red Arrow Diner, and ran into poet Bruce Einsidler-Moore. He thought the ad paints an overly gloomy picture.
"First of all, not everybody in Milford is unemployed," said Einsidler-Moore, sitting on a counter stool.
"Romney? No. Isn’t going to happen. I’ll stay home before I vote for him."Gary Dwyer, of Mount Vernon
"It seemed like a lot of people were struggling," Einsidler-Moore said. "Even though people are struggling in the town, it's not everybody struggling. The state of New Hampshire is in pretty good economic state compared to most states. Still, people are unemployed, but it's not as dramatic as that ad seems to be."
Einsidler-Moore thinks the Romney campaign chose Milford because it is a working-class town. The ad never mentions President Obama, but it is an appeal to working-class voters disappointed in him.
Sitting at a table is Gary Dwyer. He lives in Mont Vernon, a town next door. He wears a baseball cap that says "Paratrooper" on it. He is a veteran of Vietnam, where he served with the 101st Airborne. He hasn't seen the ad, but he met Romney when he campaigned in New Hampshire four years ago.
"It's almost like the guy'll say anything to get elected," Dwyer said. "He's got a ton of money. What'd he own? Big part of Staples or something? Trying to get the presidency, and he doesn't come across genuine. He just comes across like he's doing an ad. And I don't trust him. I really don't."
Dwyer is an independent voter. The only Republican candidate that impresses him is Huntsman.
"Romney?" Dwyer asks, answering his own question. "No. Isn't going to happen. I'll stay home before I vote for him."
Milford is a town that Romney lost to Sen. John McCain four years ago. McCain won the primary and went on to win the nomination.
In front of the barber shop in Romney's ad, Mark Hill stopped for a smoke. The warehouse manager agreed with Romney's claim that times are hard in this town. He used to work for Wal-Mart and things were good. But he lost that job in 2009. Now, he works for another company part-time.
"The economy's not good whatsoever," Hill said. "Jobs are not paying very well. A lot of them are part-time. You can't get insurance. I'm having a very tough time finding work."
Moments later, in the same spot, Carolyn Halstead stopped to call someone she's meeting. This independent voter is no fan of Romney either.
"I don't like the fact that he put in health care for Massachusetts," Halstead said. "I do feel that states have better control over their health care than the federal government does, so I can see him saying it was right for Massachusetts, but that doesn't mean I trust him."
She finds Huntsman and Paul interesting.
Sounds like Romney needs to do more work winning over voters in this town.
Correction: An earlier version of this post identified Ron Paul as a former Texas congressman. He is a current Texas congressman.
This program aired on December 20, 2011.