NPR Story
2:00 pm
Tue December 20, 2011

How GOP Candidates Are Reaching Out To N.H. Voters

With three weeks to go before the New Hampshire primary, presidential campaigns are working at full speed to reach out to voters.

Political strategists say a good ground game — a campaign's ability to identify voters and get them to the polls — is worth 3 points at the ballot box. That's a boost any candidate would want.

Earlier this month, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney kicked off a canvassing drive that his campaign called "Earn It With Mitt" this way: "You guys are going to knock on doors. We're going to make calls. We're going to get the job done and keep America the greatest nation in the history of the Earth!"

The goal that day was to knock on 5,000 doors by sundown. With his small army of volunteers — some local, some imported from Massachusetts — the campaign hit its target with relative ease.

On Wednesday, Romney embarks on another "Earn It With Mitt" production, a three-day bus tour of the state. Along the way, Romney will be joined by many of the local officials who back him.

"We are making a very multi-layered effort to make sure that the voters see and hear our campaign," said Jim Merrill, Romney's top New Hampshire consultant. "And when they go to vote on Jan. 10, we've given them the best opportunity possible to learn about Gov. Romney and choose him as their nominee."

Romney has nine full-time staffers in New Hampshire, and workers from his Boston headquarters visit frequently. For Romney, the only acceptable outcome is a solid victory.

Huntsman's High Stakes

But the candidate who may have the most riding on ground organization in New Hampshire is former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman.

"We've done 127 public events in this state. Nobody's working it nearly as hard as we are," Huntsman said Monday night in Manchester.

He's staked it all on New Hampshire, basing his entire campaign in the state. Huntsman hammers home the importance of winning New Hampshire in every campaign speech.

"When New Hampshire speaks, everybody pays attention. That's a big deal," he said.

Gingrich Tries To Rally After Late Start

The guy who has been the big deal recently, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, also returns to New Hampshire on Wednesday. About 1,000 people attended Gingrich's last local stop one week ago.

Since then, his poll numbers nationally and in Iowa have dropped. Gingrich got a late start organizing in New Hampshire, but adviser Bob Smith, the former U.S. senator, said the idea that Gingrich lacks a ground game in the state is no longer valid.

"We were criticized early on for not having it. Well, we didn't open the office until October — late October — but you saw an example with 1,000 people," he said. "I mean, you don't get 1,000 people turned out without some organization. So that's changing now."

Paul's Volunteers Take To The Phones

Texas Rep. Ron Paul spent two days in the state this week, but his phone bank has been going on for months.

During a visit, some of the busy volunteers worked from scripts. But other Paul supporters took the liberty to improvise.

"Ron's plan would allow me to use those pieces of silver as money, and at first it would only be — it would be very few people, a very small piece of the population knows enough about how money works to save themselves and to put their money into gold and silver," one volunteer could be heard saying.

Paul's support is nothing if not motley. And it includes the Yakovs, a family of Israeli immigrants who became citizens just 18 months ago. Merav Yakov said Paul is the only politician she has ever supported and, she added, her family has placed 10,000 calls for Paul. If true, that means each family member has made more than a dozen calls on average every day since August.

"Ron Paul is really a messenger — he's a good messenger, but the message is what's important," she said. "We believe in the message and we are just full-blown behind it. We are not going to miss a day here."

Words every New Hampshire campaign would want to hear — and never more than within weeks of the primary.

Copyright 2011 New Hampshire Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.nhpr.org/.

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