In New Hampshire, the GOP Race Gets Tighter

By the Numbers
By Michael D. Shear
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, October 7, 2007

MANCHESTER, N.H. -- For months, former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney has owned this state. A next-door neighbor with a vacation home here, Romney has had a double-digit lead over his fellow Republicans in the nation's first primary state, a hallmark of his highly disciplined campaign for the presidency.

Now, that lead has all but evaporated. The latest polls show him running neck-and-neck with former New York mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani, who has beefed up his campaign staff and flooded the state with direct mail to make up for his infrequent visits. And a revived Sen. John McCain (Ariz.), the darling of New Hampshire in 2000, in nipping at both of their heels.

Romney's drop, which has come despite him spending millions of dollars on television commercials here and years building a ground operation, has turned the Granite State into a tossup three months before the voting takes place.

"It's more competitive than people realize on the Republican side," said Jennifer Donahue, a senior adviser for political affairs at the New Hampshire Institute of Politics at Saint Anselm College in Manchester. "First place is up for grabs with an edge towards Romney. You have McCain and [former Arkansas governor Mike] Huckabee in pretty good shape to be the alternative."

Romney no longer has the airwaves to himself. McCain has launched his first television ads, one of which ends with the candidate invoking New Hampshire's "Live Free or Die" motto. Rivals say they expect Giuliani's first commercials here within weeks. Former actor and senator Fred D. Thompson (Tenn.) has slowly begun assembling an operation and now has three paid staffers in the state. Huckabee, desperate for money to boost his effort, is emphasizing "authenticity" and hoping that it still counts.

With summer gone, the sniping in New Hampshire has intensified, particularly between Romney and Giuliani.

Late last week, as both men crisscrossed the state is search of hands to shake and babies to hug, their campaigns clashed on taxes, one of the biggest issues for Republicans and independents in New Hampshire, where residents pay no income or sales taxes.

Romney accused Giuliani of lacking seriousness on spending because of his opposition to a presidential line-item veto and support for a commuter tax. Giuliani's campaign hit back within hours, with backer Paul Cellucci, also a former Massachusetts governor, attacking Romney for not lowering taxes during four years in office, and saying that "there appears to be some desperation" in his campaign.

The next day, Romney's campaign continued the fight, alleging in a release that "Mayor Giuliani sued Republicans to keep $360 million commuter tax in place." Giuliani's team responded with a release about "Romney's Taxachusetts hypocrisy."

Romney's backers dismiss the importance of his dwindling lead here.

"Till the leaves fall and we've plowed a couple of times, the numbers don't matter," said Tom Rath, a senior Romney adviser.

Romney is counting on a one-two punch that would begin with a victory in the Iowa caucuses just after New Year's Day and continue with a win in New Hampshire, providing momentum to boost his standing nationally.

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