N.H. Home Gives Romney an Edge

The Associated Press
Tuesday, July 10, 2007; 9:13 AM

WOLFEBORO, N.H. -- The real estate adage "location, location, location" applies to politics as well, and Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney is playing that for all it's worth.

The former Massachusetts governor has an 11-acre estate valued at more than $10 million on the shores of Lake Winnipesaukee, allowing him to portray himself to New Hampshire voters as one of them as he seeks to win the state's first-in-the-nation primary.

Campaigning in Manchester last month, for example, Romney said a win these days is persuading his wife to let him sleep with the windows open at their lakeside home.

"This is something of a second home for us. ... My wife and I were there last night. It's one of those great nights. It was windy and cold, when my wife said, 'OK, you can open the windows,'" Romney said. "But it was so windy and you could hear the water from the lake. It was cold in the morning, but it was worth it, I'll tell you."

Romney, who is worth an estimated $190 million to $250 million, rarely passes up a chance to mention his New Hampshire vacation home. His references to his other residences _ a colonial main residence in the comfortable Boston suburb of Belmont and a lodge near the ski resort community of Park City, Utah _ are few.

The abodes of most New Hampshire voters, however, have little in common with the candidate's residence.

Set back a half-mile from the road and up a long and narrow driveway, the Romneys' three-story estate is shielded from would-be gawkers. Romney bought most of the property in 1997 for less than $3 million from hotel executive and fellow Brigham Young University alumnus Butch Cash. Romney later bought another lot for about $85,000 to get a little extra room.

The main house _ a 5,400-square-foot contemporary _ has six bedrooms. A 2,700-square-foot boathouse sits on the 760 feet of lake frontage. Its 2,600-square-foot stable has been converted into a guest house.

The beige home is only a mile from the town's main street _ and its police station _ but is hidden by thick trees and an unmarked driveway. For a man who could be the next president, the estate at the tip of Clark Point could easily serve as a remote, Winnipesaukee White House.

"It would be like Kennebunkport," said town administrator David Owen.

Fifty miles away, in Kennebunkport, Maine, is the Bush family compound. When George H.W. Bush was president, residents often complained of the onslaught of security, staff and press when he visited. It's a specter that faces Wolfeboro and its 7,000 permanent residents and tens of thousands of summer visitors.

Wolfeboro is used to celebrities. It hosted Monaco's Prince Rainier and Princess Grace, and Taiwan's Madame Chiang Kai-shek had an estate here. The author Kurt Vonnegut vacationed here, and actress Drew Barrymore spends summers here.

Romney is finding new uses for his estate. Part of a CBS "60 Minutes" interview with the family was filmed there, a photographer used the dock for a Memorial Day photo shoot _ when Romney refused to take off his suit jacket _ and aides used it for debate prep in June.

"It's rare my dad has any time to do anything other than campaign these days, so he took advantage of having a few spare hours before the debate prep team showed up by boating on Lake Winnipesaukee," said Tagg Romney, the eldest of Romney's five sons.

Wolfeboro bills itself as the oldest summer resort town in the United States and does its best to maintain a quaint image. The First Congregational Church on Main Street planned what it called an old-fashioned ham-and-bean supper. A trolley _ named Molly _ takes visitors from one end of Main Street to the other.

The town is a Republican bastion. In 2004, Democrat John Kerry won New Hampshire, but President Bush carried Wolfeboro by 2,343 votes to 1,798. Registered Republicans outnumber registered Democrats by a more than 2-to-1 margin.

"I wish we could do more and more events near Wolfeboro," Tagg Romney said. "It's been fun to meet the people who live in the same community that we do and talk to them. They share a lot of the same concerns."

© 2007 The Associated Press