Peterborough, N.H. — Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney takes a break from the frenetic last-minute campaigning in New Hampshire and on Thursday heads for South Carolina, where he is trying to establish a beachhead among conservative voters.
But Romney was in New Hampshire Wednesday. The animated crowds that came to see him infused this glowing village of Peterborough with life as they poured out of the immaculately restored Town House.
Inside, Romney demonstrated that he has found his voice in this campaign. He was funny, confident, buoyant — perhaps even a little light-headed from lack of sleep.
Romney fed off the crowd, and the moment: an endorsement by the 2008 Republican nominee, John McCain, and an eight-vote victory eked out in Iowa. Romney was able to laugh at how close it was.
“I want to say a couple things: one, fresh from that huge landslide victory in Iowa,” Romney joked. “Talk about a squeaker. Talk about a squeaker. Do you think maybe we can do a little bit better in New Hampshire? Maybe? Yeah!”
Romney is far ahead in the polls in New Hampshire.
Among the 300 or so people who turned out to hear him was Karen Eckilson, who came four years ago when so many people came to hear McCain that the crowd spilled out into the street and she stood outside for three hours in the cold. It wasn’t quite like that Wednesday, but Eckilson says it was pretty close, and she thinks that maybe she’ll vote for Romney.
“I was actually thinking of Huntsman, but I don’t think he can make it,” Eckilson said. “I don’t think he’s electable — poll numbers.”
And a Suffolk University poll finds that Eckilson is not alone. Voters seem to be moving away from the former Utah governor and Texas Rep. Ron Paul toward being undecided again, as they reconsider their choices after the Iowa caucuses.
The crowd in the Peterborough Town House was smaller than the crowd that had turned out to hear Huntsman in the same place the night before, but it was much more enthusiastic.
Romney didn’t talk about his primary opponents; instead he focused on President Obama.
“And 25 million Americans out of work is a pretty clear testament that his policies have not worked,” Romney said.
Romney is counting on New Hampshire voters seeing him as a known quantity. He told the crowd that they watched him being governor of the state next door.
Voters at the event in Peterborough and an earlier one in Manchester said that after the Iowa caucuses, they’re also thinking about former Sen. Rick Santorum, of Pennsylvania, and former House Speaker Newt Gingrigh. But the excitement, the energy in the crowd Wednesday night, made it seem that Romney is well on his way to victory here next week.