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Mitt Romney bus tour: second chance at first impression in New Hampshire

Mitt Romney has launched a three-day bus tour in New Hampshire, in part, to erase his aloof image. He's giving more interviews and shaking more hands – and getting a bump in the polls.

By Staff writer / December 22, 2011

Republican presidential candidate, former Mass. Gov. Mitt Romney shakes hands with Dennis Legere while campaigning in a Berlin, N.H. neighborhood, Thursday Dec. 22, 2011.

Charles Krupa/AP

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Nashua, N.H.

Mitt Romney’s three-day bus tour across northern New Hampshire this week may be rural voters’ last chance to meet up close with the man who’s been campaigning here for years in the hopes of becoming president.

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Dubbing it the “Earn It” tour, the former Massachusetts governor is reassuring Granite Staters that he doesn’t take their votes for granted, even though he’s led in the polls for months.

With just over three weeks left before the Jan. 10 first-in-the-nation primary, Mr. Romney is projecting the confidence of a front-runner while at the same time redeeming himself from a reputation of having kept both the press and voters at arm’s length during much of the campaign.

“After we’ve had a series of flavor-of-the-month candidates pop up ... he’s trying to seal the deal in New Hampshire now that it looks like Newt Gingrich’s star is on the wane,” says Chris Galdieri, a politics professor at St. Anselm College in Manchester, N.H.

Romney has taken a few moments to respond to Mr. Gingrich’s suggestion that he's gone negative in Iowa, largely funded by Romney supporters. Perhaps Romney’s most quoted moment yesterday, during a stop in Keene: “If you can’t stand the relatively modest heat in the kitchen right now, wait until Obama’s Hell’s Kitchen shows up.”

This morning, he declined Gingrich’s challenge to meet in a one-on-one debate.

Mr. Romney launched the bus tour with a speech designed to show he’s the clear contender against President Obama. And at stop after stop, he’s emphasized his business experience and plans to shore up the economy.

A Newport, N.H., woman yelled out to him yesterday, asking if anyone has been able to get close enough to ask him anything. So he invited a question from her, the Lost Angeles Times reports.

Her question: “I don’t know if you’re conservative enough to hold the line against Democrats.... Can you reassure me you actually are?” Romney cited his record of balanced budgets and avoiding tax increases while governor of Massachusetts, the Times reports.

Many Republican and independent voters in New Hampshire still may not be thrilled with Romney, “but they are starting to realize the other table doesn’t have a lot of merchandise on it,” says Patrick Griffin, an unaligned political strategist and senior fellow at the New Hampshire Institute of Politics at St. Anselm College.

By giving more media interviews, letting voters know about his views on a host of policy issues, and sticking around campaign events long enough to shake their hands, “he’s a new guy in this race,” Mr. Griffin says. “I call it the 'Contrition Tour'.”

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