By Juliet Eilperin and Alec MacGillis
Washington Post Staff Writers
Sunday, January 6, 2008
SOMERSWORTH, N.H. -- The small crowd waited for nearly an hour in the windowless basement. When Rudolph W. Giuliani finally arrived, immaculate in a dark suit that showed no trace of the deep snow and slush outside, he spoke for 10 minutes and answered questions for 10 minutes more. And that was it -- the Gateway Family Restaurant on Route 108 had had its glimpse of America's Mayor.
Just days before the New Hampshire primary, Giuliani's less-than-intense focus on the state -- one political observer here called it a "drive-through campaign" -- has him lagging far behind former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney and Sen. John McCain (Ariz.) in recent polls.
Only a few months ago, New Hampshire seemed much friendlier terrain for the former mayor of New York -- a state where Republicans care about low taxes and national security, his favorite topics, and less about social issues such as abortion or candidates' personal lives, ideal for a pro-choice, twice-divorced candidate. Former New Yorkers also make up a reassuring part of the electorate.
Last fall, when Giuliani and McCain were roughly tied in surveys here, Giuliani's campaign bought a substantial amount of television airtime in the state, capitalizing on its large fundraising advantage over McCain. But early last month it cut back on the time it had reserved, and since then McCain's numbers have risen as Giuliani's have dropped, a sign that many of the security-conscious voters they are both pursuing have shifted to McCain.
The Giuliani campaign says deemphasizing New Hampshire is part of its broader plan to focus resources on big states that vote later in the process, such as Florida, an unusual strategy that risks missing out on the media limelight of the early primaries.
But rival campaigns say something else is at work in Giuliani's decision to pull back in a state for which he is seemingly suited: his reluctance to engage in the intensive voter-to-voter campaigning that the New Hampshire primary demands, preferring a more national-style campaign dominated by television advertising and airport tarmac interviews.
"He doesn't like to work, and it requires work," said Sen. Judd Gregg (R-N.H.), who is supporting Romney. "You can't succeed in New Hampshire the way you can in New York, just do PR and some radio shows. People expect you to go out and meet people and answer questions. He's been here, but it's been a casual exercise, to be kind."
Giuliani rejects the notion that he has not given his all in New Hampshire, noting that he has spent just over month in the state since launching his candidacy. (By contrast, McCain has spent nearly twice as much time here, a total of 60 days, as of Sunday.) "We have spent a lot of days in New Hampshire," Giuliani told reporters after speaking to Segway Inc. employees in Bedford on Thursday morning. "Given our proportional strategy, we're doing pretty well."
But Giuliani's brand of retail campaigning, compared with that of other candidates, is less geared toward maximal interaction with New Hampshire voters. The contrast is most stark with McCain, who despite his 71 years often packs three long "town hall" type meetings into a single day. Romney also loads his schedule with lengthy "Ask Mitt Anything" forums.
Giuliani has taken it lighter. Recent trips included a town hall meeting in Plymouth followed by a photo op at a ski resort; a town hall meeting in Hopkinton, followed by a house party at the Manchester mayor's house and stops at a restaurant and a cafe in the eastern part of the state; and a visit that included only one public appearance, a brief question-and-answer session at a printing-press company in Durham. He was considering spending last Monday and Tuesday in the state but decided to spend the new year's holiday in New York instead.
Both McCain and Giuliani visited the Tilt'n Diner in Tilton recently, but Giuliani made the rounds in 10 minutes, compared with McCain, who spent half an hour and posed for photos with any customer who asked. The diner's manager, Cindy Bates, who now backs McCain, said New Hampshire voters want to be able to scrutinize candidates and ask, " 'Are you telling me the truth? Are you genuine? Do you believe what you're saying?' That comes across face to face in a way that doesn't come across on television."
When Giuliani stays longer at a stop, such as the roughly 40-minute forum he had with Segway employees, he makes gains with voters. Dave Sinclair, an independent who lives in Brookline, said he was "very impressed" with Giuliani's candor and may vote for him, though he wished the candidate had spent a little more time answering questions.
Steve Duprey, a former chairman of the New Hampshire Republican Party and a top McCain supporter here, said Giuliani misunderstands the kind of campaigning that is required in New Hampshire. It is a charge that was also leveled against George W. Bush in 2000, when he made scattered appearances in the state and took few questions from voters, only to see himself pummeled in the primary by McCain.
"I don't think he had any conception of the level of work needed to campaign in New Hampshire," Duprey said of Giuliani. "In New York, you can do those kind of events, 20-minute drop-bys, and you get on all the TV stations in the city." Duprey said he finds Giuliani's lack of investment in the state perplexing, even as it has clearly helped his own candidate. "He could've done very well here. You take the economic conservative, 'live free or die, don't tell me what to do' -- that was a tailor-made audience."
Giuliani campaign officials disagree, saying New Hampshire was going to be tough for their candidate from the outset. "With Mitt Romney spending millions and being governor of a neighboring state and John McCain having won by almost 20 points here last election, we always realized the difficulty of New Hampshire," said campaign manager Michael DuHaime. "That said, the mayor has a base of support here and around the country that will carry us to a delegate lead and the eventual nomination."
Not everyone here is bothered by Giuliani's approach to the campaign trail. Cecile McGrane said after the Somersworth event that she liked that it was "short and sweet." "It's just right," she said. "Otherwise, I'd be getting up and leaving."
Unfortunately for Giuliani, though, McGrane is from Maine.