N.H. May Be "Win Or Bust" For Romney

By: by David Miller, CBSNews.com political reporter
By: by David Miller, CBSNews.com political reporter

(CBS) Mitt Romney, having suffered a crushing defeat in Iowa - a state in which he led the polls for months and invested millions of his own dollars - is now looking to rebound in New Hampshire, which holds its primaries on Jan. 8. Yet for all the differences between the two states, Romney is facing a situation in New Hampshire not unlike what he saw in Iowa, at a time when a victory there may be his only hope for salvaging his campaign.

Just as in Iowa, Romney, after dominating surveys for months, is now fighting off a stiff challenge in New Hampshire from a rival many pundits had previously written off. But instead of Baptist preacher Mike Huckabee, who won Thursday's caucuses with 34 percent of the vote to Romney's 25 percent, the challenger is John Mcain, whose maverick image made him a favorite of Granite State Republicans eight years ago.

Recent polls show the two men tied, with some even giving McCain a slight edge.

Romney is wasting no time in going after McCain. A new television ad set to air in the state features several New Hampshire residents - all Romney volunteers, the Associated Press reports - making critical statements about McCain's record after initially praising his military service.

"John McCain has been one of those Republicans that have been wrong on tax cuts," says one face in the ad.

"Opposing tax cuts that would have helped our family, supporting amnesty for illegal immigrants, taking jobs away from Americans," says another.

Romney started taking aim at McCain even before the Iowa campaign was finished. On the eve of the caucuses, he was highly critical of McCain's votes against President Bush's tax cuts, which the Arizona senator now supports making permanent.

“I think he was just wrong to vote against the Bush tax cuts twice,” Romney said Wednesday. “He continues to defend that vote. He continues to believe it was the right thing to vote ‘no’ on the Bush tax cuts, despite the fact that the Bush tax cuts helped working families, helped people meet their obligations.”

The ad and Romney's initial statements suggest that the talk of values and morals that formed the core of his Iowa campaign are set to be jettisoned in favor of tax cuts, immigration and other issues with an economic bent. Such issues are normally well-received in New Hampshire, where Republicans are often defined by their fiscal conservatism and support of limited government.

But Romney's moves also suggest he's sticking to the same strategy he used against Huckabee in Iowa - one based on "contrast" ads and critical remarks - even though it appears to have done him little good in the Hawkeye State, a fact McCain seized on in his post-caucus remarks, the Associated Press reported.

"One, you can't buy an election in Iowa," said McCain, who was campaigning in Manchester, N.H., Thursday night. "And two, negative campaigns don't work. They don't work there and they don't work here in New Hampshire."

Beyond the challenge presented by McCain, Romney cannot afford to disregard Huckabee, either. Iowa winners sometimes enjoy a brief "bounce" in New Hampshire, and because that contest is only five days after Iowa, Huckabee might be able to ride his victory there to a stronger-than-expected showing in the primary.

But New Hampshire offers Romney, the former governor of neighboring Massachusetts, some reasons to be optimistic. The state has been kind to New England politicians in the past and Romney's Mormon faith is unlikely to be an issue in a state where a relatively low percentage of Republicans are regular churchgoers, and few are of the evangelical variety that propelled Huckabee to victory in Iowa.

However, the improved environment will come with heightened expectations. If Romney cannot score a win in one of the first two states in the nominating process despite having the largest war chest and most elaborate organization of any of the Republican candidates, his chances of winning the nomination will be put into serious doubt. This will prove especially true in South Carolina, where evangelical Christians make up a large part of the GOP base, looming on Jan. 19.

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