By Rhiannon Pabich and William Frothingham/BU Washington News Service
TAMPA—Former state Attorney General Tom Rath, a long-time power in New Hampshire politics, has attended eight Republican national conventions. This time is different, he says.
“New Hampshire has to be going to work right away. We can’t take a break,” he said in an interview as the 2012 GOP convention wrapped up. “There’s a sense of urgency here, a sense of immediacy that I haven’t felt quite as intensely at the other conventions.”
Rath’s comments reflect the status of New Hampshire – once regarded as a reliably Republican constituency — as one of the swing states likely to help determine the outcome of this fall’s election between President Obama and newly anointed GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney.
Former Gov. John Sununu agreed that New Hampshire “is a battleground state” this year. But he also pointed to the 2010 off-year election as reason for optimism, characterizing the results two years ago as a “huge Republican sweep [that] shows that New Hampshire still cares about being responsible fiscally.”
Four years earlier, the Democrats had captured control of both houses of the New Hampshire legislature for the first time in nearly a century. That was two years after the Democratic presidential nominee, Sen. John Kerry of neighboring Massachusetts, narrowly carried the New Hampshire – and two years before Obama easily won the Granite State by a 54-45 percent margin.
Sununu, who assumed the chairmanship of the state Republican Party during the 2010 election campaign, said he stepped back into politics to combat the “irresponsibility and incompetence of Democrats in New Hampshire.” That year, Republicans regained control of both chambers in Concord, and currently hold 18 of the 24 seats in the state Senate.
“[Democrats] were ruining the state the way Obama is ruining America,” Sununu said in a phone interview Thursday morning. “They had built up huge deficit, they had overspent and overtaxed, and I just couldn’t let that happen anymore.”
The current state GOP chairman, Wayne MacDonald, pointed to an 11 percent spending cut with no increase in taxes by the current Republican-controlled legislature. He added has had “a decent amount of success, [but] not as much as we’d like, in part because we have a Democratic governor who has vetoed a lot.”
Rath, a New Hampshire delegate at this week’s Tampa gathering, credited Sununu – who spent nearly three years as White House chief of staff under President George H.W. Bush — with educating the GOP on how the Granite State affects the presidential election. “He’s really emerged as our lead attack dog,” Rath said.
Staff and volunteers at eight campaign locations, deemed “Victory Centers,” have coordinated the campaign effort on the ground, pushing Romney’s message through phone calls and door knocking.
Tommy Schultz, the New Hampshire Victory Communications Director at Republican National Committee, said he believes the message is working – citing recent polling conducted by the University of New Hampshire Survey Center.
The July and August polls marked what Schultz called a “huge improvement” for Romney, who trailed Obama by 9 percentage points in April. A survey released Aug. 13 put the Obama edge at 49-46 percent, within the survey’s 4.2% error margin.
Sununu is among those Republicans who believe the polls are over-weighted for Democrats. He predicted a Romney victory in New Hampshire, and said an examination of polls that are weighted properly show that Romney is already ahead.
Luckily, he added, “Romney’s already begun to do what he needs to win the state.” He noted that the former Massachusetts governor “loves to come to Wolfeboro, so he can do events for us on the way” to his 11 acre estate on Lake Winnipesaukee.
Added Rath, “The ability to get the candidate regularly is definitely a big deal for us.”