Manchester, N.H. • Mitt Romney’s New Hampshire headquarters was for the most part quiet on Tuesday afternoon just hours away from when the campaign’s six months of gearing up goes into overdrive.
“It really does feel like the calm before the storm,” said Romney’s state director, Jason McBride.
With the Iowa caucuses over, all eyes now turn to the Granite State, the second contest of the presidential campaign where the social issues so prominent in Iowa shift to fiscal concerns.
The two states have been the first tests of presidential campaigns for decades but voters in this New England state are more focused on scrutinizing a candidate’s positions on taxes, spending and economics than they are about same-sex marriage or abortion.
“Here in New Hampshire we are a state that is a largely defined on taxes and spending as issues both at the state and federal level,” says Rich Killion, a Republican strategist who is neutral in this year’s race. “Even if [voters] go off on things like health care, they’re going to get tied into fiscal implications.”
Iowa’s caucuses, which demand that a voter be present at a certain time to make his or her choice, also differ markedly from New Hampshire’s primary, where voters can cast ballots throughout the day. The dissimilar processes lend themselves to sometimes-at-odd results: where Iowa draws very active party loyalists, independent New Hampshire voters can join in the selection.
Romney, who owns a home in New Hampshire and has visited many of its small communities since he first started hinting at a presidential bid about five years ago, has honed his message to voters here and walks into the state a double-digit front-runner, according to recent polls.
New Hampshire, during the past decade, has produced the “champion of the center right,” a Republican who is fiscally conservative, strong on national defense but doesn’t focus on issues like gay marriage and abortion, according to Dante Scala, associate professor of political science at the University of New Hampshire.
For most of those 10 years, New Hampshire’s pick was Sen. John McCain, Scala says; “Now it’s Mitt Romney.”
Former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman “would love to be that guy,” Scala adds, “but as long as Romney stays strong, it’s difficult to see how he dislodges him.”
At the Romney headquarters on Manchester’s main drag — the same headquarters he used four years ago — signs paper the walls highlighting their candidate: “Mitt means jobs,” “Romney rocks” and “New Hampshire for Mitt.” Volunteers dial number after number trying to identify possible voters. Campaign pamphlets and door hangers await an army for delivery.
“We are all teed up,” says McBride, taking a brief break between calls.
Down the street at the headquarters for Huntsman’s campaign, volunteers making voter calls create a loud buzz that can be heard throughout the basement location and scores of signs await placement. A volunteer’s pet dog even sports a Huntsman sticker as it frolics amid the noise.
Huntsman, who on Tuesday held his 150th event in New Hampshire since announcing his campaign, said he’s ready for the national focus to switch to where his has been for quite some time.
“This will be the ballgame here because this is a primary,” Huntsman said. “This will be a broad-base turnout of Republicans and independents and even some Democrats, and it will be a result that will speak to the issue of electability, which I think is going to be critically important in the final stretch.”