KUNM

Looking For Boost, Candidates Hit The Ground In N.H.

Dec 20, 2011
Originally published on December 20, 2011 4:09 pm

With three weeks to go before the New Hampshire primary, presidential campaigns are working at full speed to reach out to voters.

Political strategists say a good ground game — a campaign's ability to identify voters and get them to the polls — is worth 3 points at the ballot box. That's a boost any candidate would want.

Earlier this month, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney kicked off a canvassing drive that his campaign called "Earn It With Mitt" this way: "You guys are going to knock on doors. We're going to make calls. We're going to get the job done and keep America the greatest nation in the history of the Earth!"

The goal that day was to knock on 5,000 doors by sundown. With his small army of volunteers — some local, some imported from Massachusetts — the campaign hit its target with relative ease.

On Wednesday, Romney embarks on another "Earn It With Mitt" production, a three-day bus tour of the state. Along the way, Romney will be joined by many of the local officials who back him.

"We are making a very multilayered effort to make sure that the voters see and hear our campaign," said Jim Merrill, Romney's top New Hampshire consultant. "And when they go to vote on Jan. 10, we've given them the best opportunity possible to learn about Gov. Romney and choose him as their nominee."

Romney has nine full-time staffers in New Hampshire, and workers from his Boston headquarters visit frequently. For Romney, the only acceptable outcome is a solid victory.

Huntsman's High Stakes

But the candidate who may have the most riding on ground organization in New Hampshire is former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman.

"We've done 127 public events in this state. Nobody's working it nearly as hard as we are," Huntsman said Monday night in Manchester.

He's staked it all on New Hampshire, basing his entire campaign in the state. Huntsman hammers home the importance of winning New Hampshire in every campaign speech.

"When New Hampshire speaks, everybody pays attention. That's a big deal," he said.

Gingrich Tries To Rally After Late Start

The guy who has been the big deal recently, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, also returns to New Hampshire on Wednesday. About 1,000 people attended Gingrich's last local stop one week ago.

Since then, his poll numbers nationally and in Iowa have dropped. Gingrich got a late start organizing in New Hampshire, but adviser Bob Smith, the former U.S. senator, said the idea that Gingrich lacks a ground game in the state is no longer valid.

"We were criticized early on for not having it. Well, we didn't open the office until October — late October — but you saw an example with 1,000 people," he said. "I mean, you don't get 1,000 people turned out without some organization. So that's changing now."

Paul's Volunteers Take To The Phones

Texas Rep. Ron Paul spent two days in the state this week, but his phone bank has been going on for months.

Paul's support is nothing if not motley. And it includes the Yakovs, a family of Israeli immigrants who became citizens just 18 months ago. Merav Yakov said Paul is the only politician she has ever supported and, she added, her family has placed 10,000 calls for Paul. If true, that means each family member has made more than a dozen calls on average every day since August.

"Ron Paul is really a messenger — he's a good messenger, but the message is what's important," she said. "We believe in the message and we are just full-blown behind it. We are not going to miss a day here."

Words every New Hampshire campaign would want to hear — and never more than within weeks of the primary.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

With the New Hampshire primary approaching, presidential campaigns there are at full speed.

New Hampshire Public Radio's Josh Rogers reports on how the leading candidates are reaching out to voters.

JOSH ROGERS, BYLINE: Political strategists say a good ground game - a campaign's ability to identify voters and get them to the polls - is worth three points at the ballot box. That's a boost any candidate would want.

MITT ROMNEY: You guys are going to knock on doors. We're going to make calls. We're going to get the job done and keep America the greatest nation in the history of the Earth.

(SOUNDBITE OF CHEERING)

ROGERS: That was former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney earlier this month, kicking off a canvassing drive his campaign called "Earn it with Mitt." The goal that day was to knock on 5,000 doors by sundown. With his small army of volunteers - some local, some imported from Massachusetts - the campaign hit its target with relative ease.

Tomorrow, Romney embarks on another "Earn it With Mitt" production, a three-day bus tour of the state. Along the way, Romney will be joined by many of the local officials who back him.

Jim Merrill is Romney's top New Hampshire consultant.

JIM MERRILL: We are making a very multilayered effort to make sure that the voters see and hear our campaign, see and hear our message. When they go to vote on January 10th, we've given them the best opportunity possible to learn about Governor Romney and choose him as their nominee.

ROGERS: Romney has nine full-time staff in New Hampshire and workers from his Boston headquarters visit frequently. For Romney, anything but a solid win in New Hampshire will be perceived as a loss, but the candidate who may have the most riding on ground organization here is former Utah governor, Jon Huntsman.

JON HUNTSMAN: We've done 127 public events in this state.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #11: Wow.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1: Amazing.

HUNTSMAN: Nobody's working it nearly as hard as we are.

ROGERS: That was Huntsman last night in Manchester. He's staked it all on New Hampshire by basing his entire campaign here and, unlike his rivals, he's released a long list of town chairman. Huntsman hammers home the importance of winning here in every campaign speech.

HUNTSMAN: When New Hampshire speaks, everybody pays attention. That's a big deal.

ROGERS: The guy who's been the big deal recently, former House speaker, Newt Gingrich, also returns to New Hampshire tomorrow. About 1,000 people attended Gingrich's last local stop one week ago. Since then, his poll numbers nationally and in Iowa have dropped. Gingrich got a late start organizing in New Hampshire, but advisor Bob Smith, the former U.S. senator, says the idea that Gingrich lacks a ground game here is no longer valid.

BOB SMITH: We were criticized early on for not having it. Well, we didn't open the office 'til late October, but you saw example of 1,000 people. I mean, you don't get 1,000 people turned out without, you know, some organization. So that's changing now.

ROGERS: Texas Congressman Ron Paul's New Hampshire campaign phone banks are busy. Paul spent two days here this week. His phone banking's been ongoing for months.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: Ron Paul actually would beat Obama, but that wasn't true of the other candidates.

ROGERS: Some volunteers work from scripts, but other Paul supporters took the liberty to improvise.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #2: Ron's plan would allow me to use those pieces of silver as money and, at first, it would only be - there'd be very few people, a very small piece of the population knows enough about how money works to save this stuff and to put the money into...

ROGERS: Ron Paul's support is nothing if not motley and it includes the Yokoffs(ph), a family of Israeli immigrants who became citizens just 18 months ago. Marab Yokoff(ph) says Ron Paul's the only politician she's ever supported and says her family's placed 10,000 calls for Paul. If true, that means each family member has made more than a dozen calls on average every day since August.

MARAB YOKOFF: And, hopefully, it's really a messenger. It's a good messenger, but the message is what's important. We believe in the message and we are just full-blown behind it. We are not going to, you know, miss a day here.

ROGERS: Words every New Hampshire campaign would want to hear and never more than within weeks of the primary. For NPR News, I'm Josh Rogers in Concord, New Hampshire. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.