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Mitt Romney fishes for votes in New Hampshire

Add this to the long list of Mitt Romney trivia: He isn’t much of a fisherman.

“Everywhere I throw a hook, nothing comes up,” the presumptive Republican presidential nominee joked as he made small talk with some local fishermen Monday morning in this New England harbor city.

But as he toured three fishing boats docked at the Piscataqua River in Portsmouth, the former Massachusetts governor and business executive tried to demonstrate that even if he doesn’t catch lobster or cod, he understands the plight of those who do.

Romney lamented the government regulations — set in place decades ago, but continued under President Obama — that New Hampshire fishermen told him were crushing their ability to turn profits.

“We heard today about fishing regulations,” Romney said as he addressed a small rally at Portsmouth Fish Pier. “Regulators [are] just multiplying like proverbial rabbits and making it harder and harder for enterprises to grow and to understand what their future might be.”

Obama campaign spokeswoman Lis Smith responded by accusing Romney of “dishonest attacks against the president.”

“Mitt Romney continues to distort the truth about President Obama’s record of reducing burdensome business regulations,” Smith said. “While initiating an overhaul of the regulatory system that cuts red tape and will save businesses $10 billion over the next five years, President Obama has also approved fewer new regulations than President George W. Bush did during the same time period in his term.”

In Portsmouth, there were some awkward moments as Romney stepped on and off rusting fishing boats wearing an oversized black work shirt and jeans. Posing for a picture with one fisherman, Romney asked about the origin of his boat’s name.

“Who’s Alanna Renee?”

“The wife,” the fisherman told Romney. “You always have to name it after the wife.”

“Not the girlfriends? Former girlfriends?” Romney replied, laughing.

“No,” the fisherman said.

Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.), who is pushing legislation that would loosen industry regulations, served as a sort of ambassador for Romney in Portsmouth.

“This is a great and noble trade,” she said. “It is the heart and soul of New Hampshire’s economy, but more importantly, it is who we are. Maybe the bureaucrats in the Obama administration don’t understand that, but thank God Mitt Romney does.”

For Ayotte, Monday’s campaign stop amounted to a tryout as a possible vice presidential nominee. The freshman senator, a former state attorney general and mother of two young children, has been touted as a possible running mate.

As Ayotte delivered her talking points about Romney’s economic know-how and ability to fix a “broken” Washington, she said, “Help is on the way.” When supporters chanted, “Mitt! Mitt! Mitt!,” Ayotte responded more tentatively, saying quietly, “Mitt. Mitt. Yes.”

When reporters asked whether she would submit to being vetted by Romney’s team, Ayotte said, “I just don’t see that happening.”

“I feel right now really working on behalf of New Hampshire in the Senate is my focus — and making sure that I can do whatever I can to get Mitt Romney elected president,” she said, adding: “I’ll do whatever the campaign wants me to do to help make sure that we win in November.”

Ayotte has one prominent booster, former New Hampshire governor John H. Sununu, a frequent campaign surrogate whom Romney affectionately called “the bulldog.”

“I think she’s on the list that’s being seriously considered,” Sununu told reporters. “She’s a tough conservative, she knows that you balance budgets by cutting spending, not by raising taxes, she’s a hard campaigner, she’s made a huge impression in Washington in the time that she’s been there, and she understands how to appeal to voters. So she’d be a great addition to the ticket.”

Reporters pressed Sununu on whether Ayotte, 43, has enough experience to meet Romney’s top qualification for the job: that the nominee be ready to step in as commander in chief in a catastrophe.

“We have a president that had absolutely zero experience, so Kelly Ayotte as an attorney general and service in the Senate probably has 10 times the experience Obama had when he ran,” Sununu said.

Obama had been in the Senate for four years when he was elected in 2008, twice as long as Ayotte.

Philip Rucker is a national political correspondent for The Washington Post, where he has reported since 2005.

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