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Mitt Romney was back on the campaign trail in New Hampshire today. It was the former Massachusetts governor's last bit of stumping there before he heads off on a bus tour of Iowa. Polls show Romney with a big lead in New Hampshire, and as New Hampshire Public Radio's Josh Rogers reports, Romney was campaigning like a front runner.
JOSH ROGERS, BYLINE: Mitt Romney's campaign stops today, small restaurants with largely invited crowds, seemed designed to help him lock down his current base of support.
MITT ROMNEY: Now, as I was standing here, you might be surprised to know that I was thinking about one of my favorite songs and I was thinking of "America the Beautiful," for spacious skies, for amber waves of grain.
ROGERS: That was Romney's opener in Londonderry. For a candidate who's faced criticism that he fails to excite the party faithful, Romney went for lofty themes, the Founding Fathers, the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution were all hailed. And citing another lyric from "America the Beautiful," patriot dream that sees beyond the years, Romney sought to contrast himself with President Obama.
ROMNEY: We have a president who has a very different view of what America should be than the view of the patriot dream that sees beyond the years. His view is that we should change America. He said he was going to fundamentally change America and he's about doing that right now. I don't like the direction it's taking. Do you?
ROGERS: Romney didn't mention any of his Republican rivals by name. The closest he got to it was when a voter asked him how he'd curtail extreme rulings by federal judges. Former House speaker Newt Gingrich had said he'd force them to justify their decisions before Congress. Romney said that would be a bad idea.
ROMNEY: What I don't want is to say we're going to create a supreme branch of the government known as the Congress. We have a balance of power. Constitutionally, I don't want one branch, Congress or even the president, to assume power above the other branches.
ROGERS: By the time Romney pulled up his next stop, Geno's Chowder Shop in Portsmouth, the crowd was spilling onto the street. Romney was swarmed as he made his way through the tiny lunch spot, which has hosted Republican candidates dating back to Richard Nixon.
ROMNEY: Hi. How are you today?
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: We're happy to see again.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: Thank you for coming.
ROMNEY: Nice to see you. Thank you for being here. Has everybody had lunch yet?
ROGERS: Romney worked the room doggedly, but he wouldn't bite when a reporter, flanked by one of his top local backers, asked for his view on a nearby Portsmouth naval shipyard, which barely survived the last round of base closings.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: Ruth(ph) and I were talking about how important the naval shipyard is. If you're president, can you promise that you'll protect the shipyard from closure?
(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)
ROMNEY: I can promise I'll do the very best I can for the entire nation. Thank you.
ROGERS: When Romney got outside, he made clear he likes the way this race is shaping up.
ROMNEY: It's fun to be part of a presidential campaign, isn't it? This is really something and I just want to say thanks to the people across New Hampshire.
ROGERS: And why shouldn't he? A recent poll by the University of New Hampshire had him with twice the support of his nearest rivals, but as Romney is lately taking to telling his supporters, he doesn't simply want to win here. He says he wants New Hampshire to send a message.
For NPR News, I'm Josh Rogers in Concord, New Hampshire.
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