NPR logo Romney Asks New Hampshire Voters To 'Take Good Look' At Candidates

Mitt Romney

Romney Asks New Hampshire Voters To 'Take Good Look' At Candidates

Mitt Romney, the former governor of Massachusetts, criss-crossed neighboring New Hampshire Wednesday with events in Keene, Claremont and Lebanon. He planned to be in Exeter and Dover on Thursday.

He's doing so as his rivals for the GOP presidential nomination play it a bit more low-key now that the post Ames Straw Poll frenzy has died down.

Romney, however, got some bad polling news as he went from stop to stop today. The first new Gallup poll since Texas Gov. Rick Perry jumped into the race 11 days ago had Perry suddenly on top of the heap with 29% support from Republicans and Republican-leaning independents.

After a roundtable with businessmen in Claremont, Romney downplayed the new poll to reporters, saying his campaign always knew Perry would be a formidable candidate and that he and his team aren't paying attention to polls.

Romney is in 2nd place but well back at 17%. Texas Congressman Ron Paul (13%) and Congresswoman Michele Bachmann (10%) are the only other two in double-digits in the poll.

The poll means that a label that Romney has worn from the beginning of the race, that of "frontrunner," is no longer his to claim. His strategy in the initial months of the campaign has been to ignore his GOP challengers and focus his attacks on President Obama.

It's a common approach to campaigning for a candidate in front of the pack. Now Romney will likely be forced to take aim at Gov. Perry, even as he keeps up the attacks on the President.

But at a town hall at a recreation center in Keene, N.H. today none of Romney's rivals came up by name.

When one member of the audience asked what kind of sacrifice Romney would ask of the American people during these difficult economic times, Romney began his answer: "Let me tell you what sacrifices I'd expect from people in the room. Your willingness to to focus on the political process and take a good look at the people running for office."

It's the closest he came to mentioning his Republican opponents in the presidential race.

Other sacrifices he said he'd look for are for people to "stand up for the challenges of life" and to strive for "greatness" and "excellence". He stressed that he would not ask people to sacrifice by sending more money to their government.

Romney was also asked about the Massachusetts health-care bill he signed into law as governor. It was a model for what Republicans derisively call "Obama-care", the health care law the President pushed for and signed last year.

One questioner in Keene wondered why Romney wouldn't admit that he'd made a mistake.

Romney stood by the law. He said it's not perfect but added that he stands by the law and its mandate. But he said he would no impose such a law on the nation, that the law wouldn't necessarily work for Mississippi or many other states.

The people of Massachusetts have the right to hold a referendum to repeal their law if they don't like it, he added. But right now, he noted, they still support it 3-1.

Romney said "I'm not gonna back away from the fact that I signed that bill." But he also promised to dismantle the Affordable Care Act.

Afterward, I asked the man who asked the question, 50-year old Mike Kapiloff of Keene, an insurance adjuster, if he was satisfied. He said he was.

Kapiloff called Romney's answer a good one, adding that he's "impressed." So that's at least one mind Romney changed on his latest New Hampshire tour.

But others, especially members of the Tea Party movement, are not so easily won over. As the latest polling data from Gallup demonstrates