By Adam Reilly
Dec. 15, 2011
SALEM, N.H. — Mitt Romney got some good news Thursday: According to a new Rasmussen poll, the former Massachusetts governor leads the GOP presidential field in Iowa for the first time. In New Hampshire, however, Romney’s lead has been dwindling. And based on WGBH News’ trip to the Republican hotbed of Salem, Romney still has work to do before he closes the deal up north.
Where are all the yard signs?
Salem, N.H., a commuter town just over the Massachusetts border, is a Republican hotbed. Four years ago, John McCain beat Barack Obama by a landslide. But a few weeks before the New Hampshire primary, there wasn’t much Republican enthusiasm on display. The yard signs were few and far between, and voters seemed underwhelmed.
Victoria, who declined to give her last name, said she wasn’t impressed by the GOP field at all.
“I don’t think any of the candidates really have the strong outlook and power the country needs at this point,” she said.
In particular, Romney seemed out of touch to Victoria: “His challenges to people for $10,000 — it’s almost as if he’s flaunting his wherewithal. And that’s not going to cut it right now with the American people in this economy.”
Believe it or not, she said she’ll probably vote for Romney — but she’ll do it grudgingly.
Pressed for his likely choice, contractor Al Moran was at a loss.
“I’m definitely not wild over the guy in the White House now and his policies. But I’m looking at the Republicans saying, can we get somebody a little better?” he said.
"People are very much involved"
Still, Salem GOP chairman David Garcia said it’s a mistake to read too much into those warning signs. Despite the lack of signage and some grumbling, he insisted that there’s plenty of enthusiasm in Salem for the entire Republican field.
“I found there is a lot of energy in the Republican base for this primary season and it’s very gratifying to see,” he said. “People are very much involved.”
Garcia said too much has been made of Romney’s recent struggles — and that New Hampshire voters are really just milking the primary process for all it’s worth.
“Since we are the first-in-the-nation presidential primary, people take a little more responsibility, let’s say, in who they choose,” he said. “Everyone holds back so they can go to all the events, hear the candidates in person, shake their hands and make their final decision near the end.”
WGBH News did find a few voters who’d already made up their minds and were passionately backing one candidate. For what it’s worth, most of them were Romney supporters.
Said one woman, “I know that he can make a difference, and I know he can bring, I think, respect and honor back to the presidency.”
Given how crucial New Hampshire is to Romney’s presidential hopes, he needs that excitement to spread between now and January 10.