GOP Candidates Rush To N.H. Ahead Of 1st Primary
LINDA WERTHEIMER, HOST:
It's MORNING EDITION, from NPR News. I'm Linda Wertheimer.
STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
And I'm Steve Inskeep. Good morning. People have been making campaign stops in New Hampshire for months. But now the campaign intensifies for the nation's first primary. Former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney is favored, but other Republican candidates are looking for a strong showing in next Tuesday's voting, and most are crossing the state this week.
NPR's Greg Allen has been following along.
GREG ALLEN, BYLINE: After campaigning non-stop in Iowa for the past week, former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum could be excused if he was a bit slow to get started here. Yesterday, Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich were on the ground in New Hampshire, while people in Iowa were still reading their morning papers. Santorum didn't arrive until Wednesday evening. But when he got here, he found a big crowd waiting.
(SOUNDBITE OF CROWD CHATTER)
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Next president of the United States.
RICK SANTORUM: Well, you've got to help us...
ALLEN: Over the past several months, Santorum has campaigned doggedly: 381 town meetings in Iowa, over a hundred, by his count, in New Hampshire. At some meetings, only a handful of voters showed up. At this town meeting last night in Brentwood, the person introducing him recalled having to buttonhole friends last summer to get them to a Santorum gathering. How things have changed. Last night, some 300 people crammed into the auditorium of a nursing home. More than half of them stood while Santorum talked about his conservative principles and his determination to get to the White House.
(SOUNDBITE OF SPEECH)
SANTORUM: We're going to go out and show, on a very short time frame here in New Hampshire, that we will have what it takes to get the momentum and to raise our numbers up and to see that we're the kind of candidate that the people of New Hampshire can rally behind.
ALLEN: Santorum talked about his plans for tax reform, reduced regulations and revival in the manufacturing sector. He also talked about his concerns about the Obama administration, particularly the president's recess appointment yesterday of Richard Cordray to head the newly-created Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. And although he didn't mention him by name, Santorum had some pointed comments about his chief Republican rival, New Hampshire frontrunner Mitt Romney.
(SOUNDBITE OF SPEECH)
SANTORUM: I love this issue that I hear all the time: Oh well, this certain candidate is the most electable. What would give you that impression? When has that candidate run as a conservative and gotten any votes? Never. So why would you assume that he's the most electable? Is it because he raises the most money?
ALLEN: Santorum says since his photo-finish with Romney in Iowa, fundraising has picked up dramatically. Yesterday, in one day, he said his campaign had raised half as much money as it had in the previous several months.
Santorum isn't the only candidate taking aim at Mitt Romney. Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich is nursing a grudge from the bruising he took in Iowa. Once the leader in the state, he fell to fourth place after an onslaught of negative attack ads placed by a group with connections to Romney. When asked yesterday why he didn't congratulate the former Massachusetts governor for winning in Iowa, Gingrich just raised his eyebrows.
(SOUNDBITE OF INTERVIEW)
NEWT GINGRICH: Other than the fact that Governor Romney ran a relentlessly negative campaign of falsehoods, which earned one of his ads four Pinocchio's from the Washington Post - and the fact is, three out of four Republicans rejected him.
ALLEN: In New Hampshire, Romney has a sizeable lead in the polls, and yesterday, he sought to build on it with a big endorsement from former Republican presidential nominee John McCain, a two-time winner of the primary here.
(SOUNDBITE OF PRESS CONFERENCE)
SENATOR JOHN MCCAIN: This man has the background, the experience, the knowledge, and as you've just observed, the vision - vision for the future of this country.
ALLEN: McCain's nod got the headlines, but another Republican candidate, former Utah Governor Jon Huntsman, said he found it meaningless. Huntsman said it was like Romney's earlier endorsement from Bob Dole, another example of the GOP establishment at work.
(SOUNDBITE OF INTERVIEW)
JON HUNTSMAN: And it seems the more that the establishment piles on - Dole, McCain and all the rest - nobody cares. Nobody cares about this.
ALLEN: The third-place finisher in Iowa, Ron Paul, doesn't campaign here till tomorrow, but he has a fan base here. That's another hurdle for Santorum as he tries to emerge as the conservative champion.
Even for some supporters, like Ann Kimball, Santorum still has to close the deal.
ANN KIMBALL: My hesitancy to throw any support behind him was - was he the one that could beat Barack Obama? And that's always kind of the question that keeps coming back.
ALLEN: Kimball says she'll be watching closely when Santorum and the other candidates mix it up in the next debate scheduled for Saturday night.
Greg Allen, NPR News, Manchester, New Hampshire. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.