Romney Begins Bus Tour Through N.H.

With the Iowa caucuses coming up on Jan. 3, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney has turned his attention to New Hampshire, which holds its primary on Jan. 10. Tuesday night, Romney began a four-day swing through the state, where he still holds a commanding lead in public opinion polls. Wednesday, he began a bus tour that lasts through Friday. It's a relatively extended bout of retail campaigning for Romney.

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LYNN NEARY, HOST:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Lynn Neary.

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

And I'm Robert Siegel. Former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney is crossing New Hampshire this week. He's visiting nine cities in three days, trying to frame his candidacy for voters in an early voting state that he needs to win. NPR's Ari Shapiro is travelling with the presidential candidate as Romney makes his case.

ARI SHAPIRO, BYLINE: This morning, roads all over New Hampshire were slick with black ice. Police closed some of the highways and officials warned people to stay off the roads if possible, but Mitt Romney's big blue bus had a breakfast date in Keene, New Hampshire.

MITT ROMNEY: If you can't stand the relatively modest heat in the kitchen right now, wait until Obama's Hell's Kitchen shows up.

SHAPIRO: By the time he had met voters and done a TV interview, the roads were clear and the bus was on its way to the second stop of the day. Downtown Newport looks like something out of a classic Christmas movie. There's an old clock tower, a church steeple and wreaths everywhere. This is a quilter's workshop.

GAIL PECK: Yes. I'm Gail Peck and I own the quilt shop.

SHAPIRO: Peck voted for Obama four years ago and she's disappointed with his performance.

PECK: I think a lot of the candidates have better vision before they get there and then when they get there, they find out it's not a one-man show. They've got to get the machine to get behind them, and that's the trick to politics.

SHAPIRO: And is it possible that the Republicans could win your vote this time?

PECK: Yes, absolutely. I've always voted Republican and I changed the last election. And so I'm going to really review everything and try and make my best decision.

SHAPIRO: The primary's just a few weeks away.

PECK: I know. I know. Get through the holidays and then my work begins.

SHAPIRO: These are the kinds of voters Romney is trying to win over this week. Just down the road from the quilting shop at Village Pizza, the crowd was far more enthusiastic.

(SOUNDBITE OF APPLAUSE)

SHAPIRO: While the candidate was schmoozing, former White House Chief of Staff John Sununu watched approvingly from the sidelines. Sununu has endorsed Romney and he gave a customer in the packed restaurant a bit of insight as to why the campaign shows such a claustrophobic venue for this event.

JOHN SUNUNU: You always want it bursting at the seams, right?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE SPEAKER: I met you in Concord.

SUNUNU: Otherwise the press will say there were two empty spaces.

SHAPIRO: Romney sat down to a slice of pizza at a few different tables and chatted with voters. Most of their questions were not exactly hard-hitting. He confirms that, yes, he does occasionally pull the cheese off his pizza to stay thin and yes, he does run three miles a day, though it's mostly on a treadmill these days. One woman asked whether he's really conservative enough to stand up to Democrats in Congress. Romney said look at his record as Massachusetts governor with a Democratic legislature.

ROMNEY: I made sure that our kids going to school were taught in English. We had English immersion put in place when I was governor. We also had our state police trained to enforce national immigration laws. I think if you look at my record in Massachusetts, you'll be convinced that I'm a conservative businessman who's had the chance of helping turn a state around.

SHAPIRO: Romney tried to stay positive in these stops. The only person he attacked was President Obama. He did not name any of his Republican rivals, but ads funded by an independent super-PAC supporting Romney have relentlessly attacked former House Speaker Newt Gingrich. In Keene, Romney said there's nothing he can do about that.

ROMNEY: I would love to be able to coordinate, to manage what the PAC says and to run its ads and to tell it what to do and what not to do. I'm not allowed to do that.

SHAPIRO: But Romney's own surrogates are not holding back either. Former White House Chief of Staff Sununu spoke to reporters just a few feet from where Romney sat down to pizza.

SUNUNU: Listen, I had to deal with Newt Gingrich as Chief of Staff. He is absolutely untrustworthy.

SHAPIRO: Gingrich has been spending this week in Iowa as have most of the other candidates. It's a state Romney is staying away from for the time being. He wants to lower expectations for his performance there while he nails down votes in his own backyard. But his ads are still blanketing Iowa's airwaves, showing that while he's putting a ton of muscle into the New Hampshire primaries, he has not entirely taken his eye off the Iowa caucuses either. Ari Shapiro, NPR News, Hanover, New Hampshire.

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