After Iowa, Romney Turns Focus To N.H.

Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney headed to New Hampshire Wednesday. NPR's Ari Shapiro talks to Melissa Block.

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MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

And I'm Robert Siegel. Mitt Romney charted an early flight out of Iowa this morning. He headed to safer territory after edging out Rick Santorum by only eight votes in the caucuses. Romney hopes to secure a more decisive win next Tuesday in New Hampshire, and that's where his plane landed, in Manchester.

BLOCK: Romney went straight from the airport to a local high school where he picked up the endorsement of former Republican presidential nominee John McCain.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN: No one will ever say that Mitt Romney will lead from behind. He will lead from in front, the way that Ronald Reagan did, and not lead from behind which is what this president is doing.

BLOCK: NPR's Ari Shapiro is traveling with the Romney campaign. He joins me now from Peterborough, New Hampshire. And, Ari, of course, John McCain was Mitt Romney's rival four years ago. What's the significance of this endorsement today?

ARI SHAPIRO, BYLINE: Well, you know, this is the guy who won the presidential nomination in the Republican Party and won New Hampshire four years ago, so it's a big endorsement and more evidence, I think, that Romney continues to win the endorsement race in this contest as he has from the beginning of the campaign. It's never clear how much any endorsement really sways voters. The other thing, of course, that is on the Romney campaign's mind is the near tie in Iowa last night, the fact that he was almost defeated by Rick Santorum. Listen to how Romney started his comments in Manchester this afternoon.

MITT ROMNEY: My goodness, what a squeaker? But it sure is nice to have a win, I'll tell you. And the question I have for you is: Can we do better here in New Hampshire? Can we...

(SOUNDBITE OF CHEERING)

ROMNEY: ...yeah, yeah.

SHAPIRO: If you ask the campaign how they feel about Iowa, they'll say a win is a win, but there's no question they would have rather had a wider margin of victory. This near tie just raises some of the same questions that Romney has fought from the very beginning about whether he can appeal to the conservative base of the party, whether there is a ceiling to his appeal within the Republican Party. And he's hoping to overcome some of those obstacles here in New Hampshire.

BLOCK: So hoping for a wider margin than the eight votes they got in Iowa.

SHAPIRO: Than eight votes, exactly.

BLOCK: Yeah.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

BLOCK: What else, Ari, did Romney do at the event today in New Hampshire?

SHAPIRO: Well, you know, this is right in his backyard. It's supposed to be friendly territory, as you said, and yet the audience was not friendly at all. The first question came from an Occupy protester who asked about Romney's statement that corporations are people, then a question came from somebody who asked how Romney could oppose Obama's health care plan when he implemented a very similar plan in Massachusetts. As if that weren't enough, there was then third question from a woman who criticized Romney's aggressive stance on China, saying I'm Chinese, and I feel offended by the way you're talking about China.

And then, she said Reagan trickledown economics did not help me. My tin can is still empty. And the audience applauded. Romney, in his reply, sounded somewhat testy and said: Let me ask you a question. Is there anywhere in the world where the income per capita is better? So he was hoping to come back to New Hampshire to a friendly audience, not what he found.

BLOCK: Interesting. Any Romney supporters in that crowd?

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

SHAPIRO: Yeah. You know, it may have just been bad luck that those are the people he called on. I spoke to half a dozen people before the event, and most of them were typical Romney supporters. A lot of them feel a real disdain for Iowa. One used an old line. He said, look, Iowa picks corn, New Hampshire picks presidents. You have to understand that New Hampshire Republicans and Iowa Republicans are very different from one another. New Hampshire is one the least religious states in the country.

The average New Hampshire Republican primary voter is more pro-choice than the average American. So conservatism just has a different meaning in the Northeast, and it's a meaning that's much more in sync with Mitt Romney's own history. He has tried in the last few years to position himself as a more conservative candidate, but voters here in New Hampshire feel like this is a guy they know. That's one reason he's so optimistic about his chances here, that and the fact that he's doing really well in the polls here.

BLOCK: OK. NPR's Ari Shapiro, who's traveling with the Mitt Romney campaign in New Hampshire. Ari, thanks so much.

SHAPIRO: No problem. Good to talk to you.

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