N.H. Primary Nears; GOP Candidates Storm The State

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It was a busy day for presidential politicking in New Hampshire Monday. Former Mass. Gov. Mitt Romney and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich traded barbs over Romney's proposed $10,000 bet with Texas Gov. Rick Perry, as well as Gingrich's consulting fees earned working for mortgage giant Freddie Mac.

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Let's take a look at the early contests that are suddenly looming large for Republican candidates. First to New Hampshire, where the primary is just a month away. Yesterday brought some of the sharpest exchanges yet between former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich. New Hampshire Public Radio's Josh Rogers reports.

JOSH ROGERS, BYLINE: Mitt Romney started his day in the back of Chez Vachon, a French-Canadian restaurant in Manchester. He sat down with "Fox and Friends." A major topic: Romney's challenging Texas Governor Rick Perry to a $10,000 bet during Saturday's debate in Iowa. Romney's been called out of touch by Democrats and Republicans alike.

MITT ROMNEY: This was an outrageous number to answer an outrageous charge from him. And it's been proven wrong time and time again. He keeps raising it. And I said OK, let's put something outrageous out there. It's like saying, hey, I'll bet you a million bucks, X. Y or Z.

ROGERS: Romney was also asked if he thought Newt Gingrich should return the at least $1.6 million he earned as a consultant to taxpayer-backed mortgage giant Freddie Mac.

ROMNEY: Well, I sure do. He was on a debate saying that politicians who took money from Freddie and Fannie should go to jail. I mean, which is outrageous in itself. But he says he was in a consulting business. He was in the business of connecting folks with government.

ROGERS: After his interview was over, Romney worked the room table by table, displaying his fluency in French and talking haircuts with a barber. He also tangled with Bob Garon, a gay Vietnam veteran. Garon took exception to Romney's opposition to same-sex marriage. After they clashed, Garon sized up Romney.

BOB GARON: The guy ain't going to make it. He is not going to make it, because you can't trust him. I just saw it in his eyes.

ROGERS: That may have been the strongest reaction Romney generated on this day, but Garon wasn't the only person Romney provoked. During a campaign stop in Londonderry, Newt Gingrich was asked about Romney's call for him to return his consulting fees to Freddie Mac. The former House speaker was blunt.

NEWT GINGRICH: I would just say that if Governor Romney would like to give back all the money he's earned from bankrupting companies and laying off employees over his years at Bain, that I would be glad to then listen to him. And I'll bet you $10, not 10,000, that he won't take the offer.

ROGERS: Gingrich was less bellicose when he met former Utah Governor Jon Huntsman in a Lincoln-Douglas-style debate. The two men seemed to agree on almost every subject and showered each other with compliments. Huntsman called Gingrich a great historian. Gingrich praised Huntsman's expertise on China. The discussion was so placid that one of its liveliest moments came when Huntsman noticed his young daughter falling asleep.

JON HUNTSMAN: Well, I can see my daughter nodding off over there, which means I've already gone off too long anyway.

GINGRICH: That's a good sign.

HUNTSMAN: By the way, she's also my senior foreign policy adviser, so that's not a good thing.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

ROGERS: No one nodded off at the day's final political event, a Gingrich town hall meeting sponsored by a local Tea Party group. It drew hundreds to a high school auditorium.

GINGRICH: How many of you agree that the problem is bigger than Obama, that it's also judges and bureaucrats and lawyers?

UNIDENTIFIED PEOPLE: Yes.

ROGERS: Gingrich took questions on red meat issues ranging from the flat tax and the Second Amendment to Sharia law and eliminating the EPA. Afterwards, Gingrich was swarmed by supporters. Jared Kenney emerged from the crowd holding two Gingrich lawn signs and an autographed photo. He says Gingrich delivers something the other candidates don't.

JARED KENNEY: I think it's his connection with history. I think that's the biggest thing with me. And he seems to give answers. The others seem to give stories. So, I like him.

ROGERS: Even so, Kenney says he hasn't completely made up his mind. He's not alone. Most primary voters haven't made their final choices. They've got four weeks left to do so.

For NPR News, I'm Josh Rogers in Concord, New Hampshire.

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