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Mitt at home in New Hampshire

| Saturday, Oct. 27, 2012, 8:54 p.m.
Reuters
U.S. Republican presidential candidate and former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney shakes hands with people along the parade route as he takes part in the Wolfeboro Fourth of July Parade in Wolfeboro, New Hampshire July 4, 2012. REUTERS/Jessica Rinaldi (UNITED STATES - Tags: POLITICS ELECTIONS ANNIVERSARY)

CONCORD, N.H.

The Granite State has meant different things for Mitt Romney and Barack Obama.

For Romney, it is the place where things began: Kicking off his presidential campaign right up the road from here in 2011 with a 250-year-old barn as a backdrop and pots of wife Ann's favorite chili for attendees, he began the theme on which his campaign relies today — leadership on the economy.

For Obama, it was the place that, for a moment, stopped his inevitability during the 2008 primary election season: Fresh from the caucus state of Iowa, where he'd pulled off a stunning win by lining up activists on the left, he found New Hampshire voters would have none of that.

Votes from them require a relationship, something Hillary Clinton built up over the years. She and husband Bill knew how to make a phone call, knew whose kitchens they should visit for coffee, knew to send a quick note marking a milestone in a supporter's life and, above all, knew that eye-to-eye voter contact meant something.

Obama knew only adulation, because his 2008 campaign surrounded him with that. It came to a chilling though brief halt when he lost the New Hampshire primary.

While the then-senator went on to become president, he never learned from the experience.

If he had learned something — anything — about the cost of arrogance, he would not be defending this tiny state's four electoral votes now. Obama, wife Michelle, running mate Joe Biden and Biden's wife, Jill, all will make separate stops this week in the Granite State, burning up cash, time and resources in an attempt to hold four electoral votes that may decide a close finish.

He is at a disadvantage because he and the people surrounding him have never learned the art of connecting with people.

But Romney has.

Rattling off the caricatures that the Obama campaign has used to describe Romney — disconnected, awkward, aloof, unable to relate to the common man — David Carney said none of those have stuck with New Hampshire folks.

“Look, we know Mitt Romney,” Carney explained. “Folks here have known Romney for years, either through his role as governor of Massachusetts or because he has a home here in Wolfeboro.

“They have interacted with Romney when he has taken the grandchildren for ice cream or gone to the hardware store.”

Carney, a GOP strategist working on issue campaigns in other states but for no candidates this time, said he has not seen Republican enthusiasm this high since he started dabbling in politics in 1978.

“Normally, people consider it a chore to knock on doors or make calls or hand out campaign signs,” he said. “Well, not this time.”

New Hampshire voters are accustomed to campaign attention — but usually only in frigid Januaries every four years.

This year, as both candidates head toward an electoral tie, New Hampshire's four electoral votes could make all the difference.

The respected Massachusetts-based Suffolk Poll shows the race as a tie between Romney and Obama. Yet, if you dig down deep into the polling, you find two very interesting things about this race — the undecideds, and the supporters of Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson.

The “Plan B” choice of Johnson's voters is overwhelmingly Romney, while the undecideds slightly lean toward Romney.

Johnson didn't help his case with voters here last week when he encouraged people to “waste” their votes on him; if you know anything about New Hampshire residents, you know they don't waste anything — especially a vote.

Romney has steadily floated above the pettiness of Obama and his team nationally since the first presidential debate earlier this month. That performance helped him win over voters; Obama's performance had the opposite effect.

To win this state on Nov. 6, the president needs to explain his record and have some accomplishment to tout, something he has failed so far to use as a closing argument — although he has a lot to say about Big Bird, binders and something called “Romnesia.”

And the president “has to have this state to win,” says Suffolk University pollster David Paleologos. “It is as important as either an Ohio or a Colorado in terms of deciding this election.”

Salena Zito covers politics for Trib Total Media (412-320-7879 or szito@tribweb.com).

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