New Hampshire is supposed to be the friendly backyard for the presidential campaign of former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney.
Rudy Giuliani’s supporters are hopeful that they can turn it into a graveyard.
“I don’t know if the word is cratering or just plain not developing the kind of traction he should be developing,” said William Zeliff, a former New Hampshire congressman and Giuliani supporter, referring to Mr. Romney’s recent loss of support in the key primary state. “He is not making any progress and, if anything, he is slipping,”
“It would be a major, major loss for Romney,” added Mr. Zeliff. “And whether he could recoup or not, I would doubt it.”
“If Romney doesn’t take New Hampshire, wouldn’t that be quite embarrassing?” said Rhona Charbonneau, a former chair of the New Hampshire Republican State Committee and a Giuliani backer. “It would be a send-off.”
By closing in on Mr. Romney in New Hampshire polls, in which Mr. Giuliani now trails by less than four points in most surveys, the Giuliani campaign has put itself in a position to achieve the first goal of its two-part plan to win the nomination.
After disposing of his main rival in New Hampshire, their thinking goes, Mr. Giuliani will then be able to coast to victories in the big, delegate-rich states like New York, California, Florida and Michigan. Game over.
“Romney has to do well in New Hampshire or else he is finished,” said Representative Peter King, a Giuliani supporter. Mr. King added of Mr. Romney’s heavy-spending campaign, “Whatever he is doing isn’t working well for him.”
Here’s how Mr. King handicaps the rest of the Republican field. Fred Thompson, while the “main hope of the anti-Rudy Republicans,” lacks the presence he has on television and “does not seem able to strike a responsive chord.” John McCain’s “chances are pretty slim,” and Mike Huckabee doesn’t have “any real chance at the nomination.” A third-party challenger to Mr. Giuliani from the religious right wing would “do more harm to the religious wing of the party” and “would be responsible for Hillary Clinton being president.”
That has left Mr. Romney squarely in the sights of Mr. Giuliani’s surrogates, who have begun depicting the former governor’s campaign as desperate and flailing.
Ms. Charbonneau said she attributed the dip in Mr. Romney’s support to the perception that he lacks convictions, that he “changes along the way, one day he says one thing another day he says another,” she said. She also said Mr. Romney had been humbled by the erosion of his support. “I can remember that Romney wouldn’t go anywhere if there weren’t 200 people in the audience,” she said. “Now he’ll go anywhere, anytime.”
Mr. Zeliff pointed out that Mr. Romney is struggling in New Hampshire despite the impressive amount of time and resources he’s spent there. He is a constant presence on the stump, he has a summer house in Wolfeboro, and he’s a fixture on voters’ television sets. “I mean, Romney has got to be the best customer (local television) Channel 9 has, but I don’t think there has been much of a return on investment,” Mr. Zeliff said.
Former Massachusetts Governor Paul Cellucci said in an Oct. 4 conference call announcing his endorsement of Mr. Giuliani that Mr. Romney’s attacks on Mr. Giuliani’s fiscal record were a result of “some desperation as the polls close in.” Mr. Cellucci added that Mr. Romney’s accusations about flaws in Mr. Giuliani’s fiscal record were “pretty weak arguments from a governor who in four years really had no tax cuts for the people of Massachusetts.”
Mr. Romney’s campaign is not impressed.
“All these assessments are nonsensical,” said Kevin Madden, a spokesman for the Romney campaign. “They are totally devoid of facts and totally devoid of any reason.”
Mr. Madden pointed out that Mr. Romney’s numbers had gone up substantially since early polls of the New Hampshire race, despite not having the advantage of Mr. Giuliani’s name recognition. “Rudy Giuliani by his own account is one of the five most recognizable Americans in the world,” Mr. Madden said.
Mr. Madden, who released a memo on Oct. 8 pointing out Mr. Giuliani’s weak numbers in Iowa and criticizing his nonconservative record on immigration and social issues, also expressed skepticism about Mr. Giuliani’s bifurcated path to the nomination.
“It has to do with a very mechanical delegate count on Feb. 5,” Mr. Madden said. “That’s where the mayor has staked his candidacy.”
Certainly, Mr. Giuliani’s schedule seems to bear that notion out. On Oct. 1, he campaigned in New Jersey and Pennsylvania. On Oct. 3, he had one busy day in New Hampshire, with five campaign events, but then he left to build support in traditionally irrelevant primary states. On Oct. 4, he campaigned in Missouri and Illinois. On Oct. 5 he gave a speech about taxes in Washington, D.C., assailing Mrs. Clinton, and on Oct. 6 he campaigned in Florida. On Oct. 8, as Mr. Giuliani dropped off the radar, his campaign announced the endorsement of Ms. Charbonneau.
And by the admission of one of his key supporters, Mr. Giuliani is hedging his bets against a disappointing showing in New Hampshire. “Running a national primary might be the most sensible strategy, because it gives you a margin of error,” said Barry Wynn, chairman of the Giuliani campaign in the key primary state of South Carolina.
Jennifer Donahue, a senior adviser at the New Hampshire Institute of Politics, a research institute at St. Anselm College, said that Mr. Giuliani’s spread-out campaign schedule was risky.
“I am wondering why Giuliani is not doing the obvious safe move, which would be to secure the base in New Hampshire, to try to take some from Romney because there is an apparent opening for that,” she said. “Instead what we are seeing is Romney try to come in and take some from Giuliani. Romney wants to win this state. Giuliani seems to think he can win the nomination without winning New Hampshire.”
“Giuliani is doing a fly-through campaign,” Ms. Donahue added. “That is not New Hampshire retail politics. You don’t get a base in New Hampshire with fly-throughs.”
And while he’s not there, Mr. Romney has taken every opportunity to chip away Mr. Giuliani’s support. At a forum in Goffstown on Thursday, Mr. Romney brought up New York’s commuter tax, saying, “Could you imagine what would have happened up here in New Hampshire if I, as governor of Massachusetts, said that anybody who commutes to Massachusetts is going to have to pay an extra special tax as a commuter?”
Mr. Romney also painted Mr. Giuliani as a profligate spender of public money.
“He killed the line-item veto,” added Mr. Romney. “It is the single most important tool we have to stop excessive spending, and that was a serious mistake.”
On Oct. 8, the Romney campaign also sent out its first piece of mail in New Hampshire—about Mr. Romney’s fiscal conservatism—as part of what the campaign said was a total of nearly $2 million in advertising there so far.
But Mr. Giuliani’s supporters have seemed unconcerned about Mr. Romney recent efforts, almost to the point of smugness. Mr. King, the congressman, said that Mr. Romney’s attacks were simply a sign of panic. And he urged Mr. Giuliani not to deviate from the plan.
“Whatever they are doing is working,” he said.