Manchester, N.H. — “We’re not going to lose in New Hampshire.” So says Mitt Romney’s state coordinator, Jason McBride.
Stuart Stevens, the Romney campaign’s TV ad-maker, expresses similar confidence. Asked if Romney might finish second in New Hampshire, his answer is an unhesitating “no.”
Whether that confidence is well-founded may determine the fate of the candidate who has been the on-and-off frontrunner in the race for the Republican presidential nomination.
There are four contests in January — the Iowa caucuses, and then the primaries in New Hampshire, South Carolina, and Florida. Romney currently trails Newt Gingrich in polls in three of the four. Only in the Granite State does he cling to the lead he has held in every poll there since April 2010.
If New Hampshire follows the pattern of past primaries, Romney should be headed for a win. In 2008, he only narrowly lost the state, 37 percent to 32 percent, to John McCain. He’s been running ahead of that 32 percent in almost all polls this cycle.
He has been building an organization replete with field directors and voter-identification efforts since last May. An absentee-ballot drive is getting underway.
McBride is confident that this organizational effort will deliver. “At the end of the day, the ground game is going to matter.”
Romney has the support of seven of the ten county sheriffs, dozens of state legislators, and legions of Republican activists. Romney signs vastly outnumber those of other candidates on lawns and along highways.
His ads are on the air on Manchester’s Channel 9 and will start airing soon on Boston stations.
The efforts of other candidates who have followed the traditional playbook so far seem to be falling short. Polling suggests that Ron Paul may double the 8 percent he won here in 2008.
Jon Huntsman may also break into double digits. He has concentrated his efforts in New Hampshire and has put together an organization with six full-time field representatives and a 140-person leadership team.
The former Utah governor’s numerous campaign events attract serious and attentive audiences. But they tend to draw about 75 to 150 people, as compared to 250 for Romney.
By way of comparison, the campaigns for Rick Perry and Michele Bachmann are invisible here. Rick Santorum has an office with two paid staffers but has attracted just a handful of volunteers.
Under the old rules, then, Romney seems to have constructed an impregnable firewall in New Hampshire, able to withstand the surge — McBride calls it a “bubble” — for Newt Gingrich that has been sweeping much of the country.
But do the old rules still apply? Sam Pimm, hired a week ago to manage Gingrich’s voter-identification and get-out-the-vote efforts in the state, is not so sure. He helped train candidates that enabled New Hampshire Republicans to gain 122 seats in the 400-member state House in 2010.