Potential Presidential Hopefuls Head To N.H.

Michele Norris talks with Josh Rogers, statehouse political reporter for New Hampshire Public Radio. They discuss how the Republican presidential field is being received by New Hampshire voters — and whether there is much anticipation for the scheduled announcement Thursday that Mitt Romney is officially announcing his presidential bid.

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MICHELE NORRIS, host:

New Hampshire is hosting its own collection of Republicans these days, hopefuls for the party's 2012 presidential nomination. Mitt Romney, former governor of Massachusetts, will announce his candidacy there tomorrow, following Ron Paul's lead last month. Also in New Hampshire tomorrow is former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani and former senator from Pennsylvania Rick Santorum plans his official campaign launch next week from New Hampshire. By the way, Sarah Palin's bus tour will likely pass through New Hampshire sometime soon.

Keeping track of all this is Josh Rogers. He's the statehouse reporter for New Hampshire Public Radio, and he joins us now.

Welcome back to the program.

JOSH ROGERS: Good afternoon, Michele.

NORRIS: Josh, it seems awfully busy up there right now.

ROGERS: Well, today, it's peaceful, but it's been a busy week. Yesterday, Michele Bachmann was in town. Rick Santorum, Herman Cain. Last week, Tim Pawlenty was up here, as was Jon Huntsman. Huntsman will be back on Friday. Rudy Giuliani. And tomorrow, certainly, a big day for Mitt Romney. And maybe Sarah Palin. We don't know, so it's certainly been busy.

NORRIS: Now, you mentioned Mitt Romney. He's announcing tomorrow at a farm somewhere in the state. I'm curious about what you're hearing about his appeal there in New Hampshire. He is seen as the frontrunner in several national polls. Is the state a speed bump or a springboard for someone who hails from the neighboring state, Massachusetts?

ROGERS: Well, I guess, we'll find out being the frontrunner up here can be tough at this time of year, but all the polling done locally indicates that Mitt Romney is in a good position.

A poll taken two weeks ago by the University of New Hampshire showed that 33 percent of likely Republican voters would support Romney, and that's more support than the next four candidates combined. But just 4 percent in that poll said their minds were set, and 87 percent of likely Republican voters said they had no idea who will they'll ultimately support. And one number in that poll that might be troubling for Romney is that fully half said they weren't even somewhat satisfied with the field, so we're long ways away.

Mitt Romney certainly has pluses: name recognition, he lives here, in Wolfeboro, part time. He'll certainly have money. He's led every poll taken by the University of New Hampshire since 2009, but, you know, the tensions between Romney and, you know, the Republican base are evident.

NORRIS: I'm curious with Michele Bachmann visiting and Sarah Palin likely on her way - two Tea Party favorites - I'm curious about the influence the Tea Party movement has there in New Hampshire and how that will play in presidential politics.

ROGERS: Well, and it remains an open question. I mean, certainly, symbolically, the Tea Party is riding high here. We had a changing of the guard at the state Republican Party. The past chairman had been John H. Sununu, former governor and White House chief of staff. The chairman now is Jack Kimball who is, as he described himself, of the Tea Party. He ran for governor and didn't make out of the primary.

But after the big wins, Republicans pretty much swept everything here, a lot of them Tea-Party inspired at the local level. We now have a New Hampshire House speaker with a Gadsden flag on his wall.

But how that translates into a presidential race where it's not simply getting through the primary, a Republican primary and then having Republicans carry in kind of an anti-Democratic wave. You know, we have independents going to vote in the primary. They make up about 40 percent of the electorate, which is more than the actual Republican Party. So we don't really know.

And you can see the candidates that are moving through here are trying to strike a balance between harnessing the energy of the sort of Tea Party and more insurgent conservative activists and more traditional Republicans, you know, to say nothing of all those independents.

NORRIS: Just quickly, what are the issues that resonate most in your state?

ROGERS: Well, it's a lot of economic issues. Social issues tend to be downplayed here. A lot - we're hearing a lot from the candidates on debt, deficit, the economy, you know, hard choices that the country faces, entitlement reform, perhaps slackening some regulation of businesses.

I mean, it's fairly standard Republican fare and also a lot of stuff about how this will be the most important election in history. We get that every election cycle, but that's really being stressed. And a lot of talk from the more rightward candidates that, you know, we run the risk of losing America as we know it without a different commander in chief.

NORRIS: Josh Rogers, good to talk you. Thanks so much.

ROGERS: No problem, Michele.

NORRIS: Josh Rogers is the statehouse reporter for New Hampshire Public Radio.

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