As caucusgoers gathered Tuesday night in Iowa, Mitt Romney's presidential campaign here tries to maintain its focus on the first in the nation New Hampshire primary. In the campaign office on Elm Street, a cadre of young, college-aged volunteers works the phones and snacks on pizza. Except for the communal television which is tuned to Fox News to check in on Iowa, and which only attracts the scattered attention of a few staffers, work goes on as usual.
Tom Rath, attorney general of New Hampshire over three decades ago and a senior Romney adviser, points to a Suffolk University poll released Tuesday morning, which showed Romney widening his lead in New Hampshire to 43 percent, over Ron Paul with 16 percent and Jon Huntsman at 10 percent. “I think our vote is firming [up] here,” says Rath.
Rath says the results of Iowa may “up the ante” for Romney in New Hampshire, but the campaign seems to think that voters here won’t let Romney’s narrow finish alongside Rick Santorum in the caucuses influence their choice too much.
Yet Rath also plays down expectations. The campaign expects Romney's lead to shrink over the next week, Rath tells me, but is confident New Hampshire will vote for the former Massachusetts governor.
The campaign is preparing for the coming onslaught from Romney’s GOP rivals this week, developing what Rath calls an “inoculation” strategy that will include plenty of paid ads to counter the criticisms. Those attacks, he says, won’t do much to change New Hampshire voters’ minds about Romney. “They’ve had a long time to take a good luck at Mitt Romney,” Rath says.
But that isn’t stopping Newt Gingrich from ramping up his assault on Romney, with the campaign taking out this full-page ad in Wednesday’s New Hampshire Union Leader. Gingrich himself has already been turning up the heat on Romney, and in his speech following his fourth place finish in Iowa, he called Romney a "Massachusetts moderate."
Expect other Republican candidates to pile on Romney, too. Coming off his surprising performance in Iowa, Santorum is also likely to focus on Romney in New Hampshire. Add Huntsman, who has practically moved here and has been knocking Romney left and right in the Granite State for the last several weeks, and it seems the Romney campaign will have a lot of inoculating to do in the next few days.