Romney Makes His Case in New Hampshire's Mill Towns

Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney shakes hands with patrons while campaigning at Village Pizza in Newport, N.H., Wednesday. (AP)
Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney shakes hands with patrons while campaigning at Village Pizza in Newport, N.H., Wednesday. (AP)

While most of the Republican presidential candidates are devoting their attention this week to Iowa, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney is making sure he does not take New Hampshire for granted.

WBUR's Fred Thys was there as Romney began a four-day bus tour through the first-in-the-nation primary state Wednesday.

Sacha Pfeiffer: Fred, last night it was Bedford, an upscale town just outside of Manchester. What other types of communities is Romney visiting in these days before Christmas?

Fred Thys: The first night of the trip was to the prosperous town of Bedford. Today's is a trip along the Western edge of New Hampshire, former mill towns where voters have a reputation for being conservative. In 2008, Newport chose then-GOP presidential candidate Sen. John McCain over Mitt Romney.

In the hills around the town the homes are modest. Downtown is struggling. There is a Chinese place, and next door to it, the pizza place where Romney stopped. It offers grinders and calzones and at 11:30 in the morning, people were already eating as they waited for Mitt Romney. At least 50 people had packed the place. Most were Romney supporters, confident that he will win.

Romney appears to hold a sizable lead in New Hampshire. What's his goal this week?

This tour is about bolstering Romney's support in New Hampshire. He is ahead, but this time four years ago he was also ahead, before McCain passed him by to win the primary and the nomination. So Romney is not taking this, his bulwark state, for granted.

Looking at the crowd, Jim Merrill, a senior adviser to Romney, pointed out that there is lots of love for the candidate in working-class towns.

Merrill's family is from this part of the state. He said some old mill towns have done well, some have struggled, and the campaign is taking Romney's message to these towns where it sees voters feeling those pocketbook issues.

How is the message playing?

Very well. Contractor Bill Curless builds houses normally, but nobody's building houses now, so he's remodeling. But it's the holidays, so no one wants to remodel, so he decided to come to see Romney. He said Romney seems like a leader, and he thinks that is what's lacking at this point.

Curless is leaning heavily towards Romney. Others, like Judy Cunningham, are still undecided. She thinks that there's not enough difference between President Obama and Romney.

With whom is Romney trying to connect?

Voters, and they ask him questions. For example, as Romney makes the rounds of the pizzeria, one woman asks him what kind of people he'd surround himself with. He tells her he'll have people who have extensive experience in the private sector, who understand how the economy works.

What about Iowa? Is Romney still competing there too?

Yes, he's planning a three-day bus trip of Iowa.

This program aired on December 22, 2011. The audio for this program is not available.

Headshot of Fred Thys

Fred Thys Reporter
Fred Thys reported on politics and higher education for WBUR.



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