Romney hopes ’volume’ campaigning will secure standing in NH

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Republican presidential candidate, and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney speaks at Elliot Hospital in Manchester, N.H. Thursday Oct. 25, 2007. Romney said Thursday he would be willing to use a military blockade or "bombardment of some kind" to prevent Iran from gaining a nuclear weapon.
AP photo/Cheryl Senter
Mitt Romney (R)
Former Governor, MA
Born: 03/12/1947
Birthplace: Michigan, CT
Home: Belmont, MA
Religion: Mormon
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MANCHESTER — Walk into Mitt Romney’s New Hampshire headquarters and you see a blend of high technology and old-fashioned political heavy lifting that’s become a hallmark of his primary campaign.

On one shelf, for example, sit rows of neatly stacked cell phones, standing by for the staff to set up a phone bank — anywhere volunteers can be assembled.

“Someone says they can get eight people in Grafton County, we’re there,” said Rich Killion, a campaign adviser.

Romney is hardly the only Republican presidential contender competing here. Rudy Giuliani is stepping up his campaigning in New Hampshire, John McCain won the last time there was a competitive GOP primary here and Ron Paul has money and surprisingly strong support.

But it’s Romney, the former governor from next-door Massachusetts, who is hoping hardest that a victory in the Iowa caucuses followed by a strong showing in New Hampshire primary will propel him toward the GOP nomination.

Polls show Romney maintaining a lead here, and if he doesn’t win, it won’t be for a lack of effort.

He will return to the state Friday for three sets of campaign appearances over four days. His staff expects him to spend roughly half of his time in New Hampshire during December, buoyed by nightly visits to his vacation home in Wolfeboro.

Romney has already spent more time than any other candidate campaigning in the lead primary state, and he’s been advertising on local TV virtually nonstop since April.

“It’s all about volume,” said Jim Merrill, Romney’s state coordinator. “We’re trying to meet as many voters as possible. New Hampshire voters always make up their minds late in the process, so we want to be here when they do.”

A St. Anselm College poll in mid-October showed Romney leading the pack with 32 percent, followed by Giuliani at 22 percent and McCain at 15 percent. A Marist College poll at the beginning of October pegged Romney at 27 percent, Giuliani at 21 percent and McCain at 17 percent.

A mid-September CNN/WMUR-TV poll had the race even, with Romney at 25 percent and Giuliani at 24. A similar CNN/WMUR poll in July had Romney at 33 percent and Giuliani at 18 percent.

The Romney campaign believes it sent a message last week to the state’s all-important fiscal conservatives by winning the endorsement of Sen. Judd Gregg, a former governor and the state’s most senior Republican.

“He brings us the ability to point to someone who knows the federal budget process and knows the government and can say to others, ‘This is the best person, I think, for president,’” said Tom Rath, a former New Hampshire attorney general who is a senior adviser to Romney.

However, there are several unknown factors for Romney.

One is how his standing will be affected once his rivals begin to match him dollar-for-dollar with advertising. Paul, a Texas congressman, is already on TV and radio thanks to fundraising that included a record $4 million one-day Internet haul earlier this week.

Romney on Thursday sought to prove he won’t lose the air war, at least at this point. He launched a new television ad touting his opposition to illegal immigration, ahead of a weekend spent campaigning on the issue in the Granite State. The on-air and in-person push is certain to help Romney in a state where airtime is relatively inexpensive and Romney is a familiar face.

Another question is whether the front-running Romney will be targeted by a “527,” one of the special interest groups that derive their name from a provision in the federal tax code. One such group, “Swift Boat Veterans for Truth,” questioned Democrat John Kerry’s Vietnam War accomplishments in the 2004 general election, boosting President Bush.

A third issue is whether Giuliani, the former mayor of New York, or McCain, the senator from Arizona, will take a run at Romney with negative advertising. The Romney campaign has tested what it terms “comparative” advertising against all its rivals, as it insists those rivals are also doing, but says such spots will be used only if they go after him first.

Would that mean trying to reach social conservatives by highlighting his 38-year marriage in contrast to divorcees like Giuliani, McCain and former Tennessee Sen. Fred Thompson?

“We’re allowed to say that,” Rath replied, singling out Romney’s long marriage. “It’s the second part we’re not allowed to say — and we’re not going to.”