MANCHESTER, NH — If you were to guess the location of a Mitt Romney campaign event, what would it be?
A corporate office? A country club?
Try both. This morning in New Hampshire, the former Massachusetts Governor appeared at the Timberland world headquarters in Stratham, New Hampshire, and then moved to the Nashua Country Club in Nashua. His appearances in both locations, along with multiple events by Senator John McCain also held today, illustrate why Romney will likely get beaten by his main competitor in tomorrow's primary election.
Romney has held campaign events at corporate headquarters before; a campaign official today could identify at least three, including today's at Timberland. The crowds are always sizable, said the official, and the campaign doesn't need to work to turn out attendees since they are already at the site for their day jobs. But if Governor Romney is anticipating a conservative and business-friendly audience, he's mistaken.
For beginners, Timberland is a progressive company, committed to social responsibility. It uses soy-based inks and 100 percent recycled post-consumer waste fiber boxes. People attending today's event passed solar arrays out front and displays in the lobby that demonstrated how the company takes advantage of recycling opportunities (next to a giant pile of plastic bottles was a sign explaining that Timberland uses recycled plastic to make the lining of its boots). The company houses and sponsors the non-profit organization City Year.
So when I headed into the event's auditorium, I suspected Romney wasn't hitting his target audience. Before the event began, I surveyed people and found I was right. Of the 17 people I spoke with, two said they were committed to Romney, one said she was leaning toward him, and the other 14 said they were "learning more about him," which could mean they were considering him or just playing hooky from work.
Ten of the 17 called themselves independents, four said they were conservatives, and three said they were liberals. Not the right mix for someone who has tried to position himself to the right of his opponents on issues like national security, immigration, and gay marriage. After Romney finished speaking, he turned to the crowd for questions. People were slow to rise to their feet. Eventually, three people did ask questions, one of whom was distributing leaflets on Israel beforehand and used her question to promote her agenda. The same lack of excitement characterized Romney's crowds in Iowa a few days before he lost to Mike Huckabee in that state's caucuses.
Afterwards, I poked my head into the cafeteria and found five City Year employees, all young men and women. I asked if any of them were more likely to vote for Romney after the event. I got grimaces and awkward giggles. Most stared at the table. None responded.
I traveled from the Timberland offices to the Nashua Country Club, where Romney's audience was composed of the sorts of folks who chose to wear suits and blazers even though they were taking the afternoon off from work. Here, Romney probably found the pro-business audience he was seeking at Timberland. He repeatedly made reference to his history at Bain by saying, "I spent my life doing what you do." He wasn't referring to carpentry.
Romney made two main points at these events. The first is that he is the candidate of change in the Republican field. Twice at Timberland he said, "Washington. Broken." Later he added, "I'm the candidate that's going to fight for change. I will change Washington. I spent my life changing things." Barack Obama won Iowa on a message of change, said Romney, and he beat three senators with years of experience. If the Republican nominate McCain, Romney repeatedly predicted, Obama will do to him what he did to Biden, Dodd, and Clinton. (Romney has co-opted Obama and Edwards' rhetoric thoroughly. Today, he promised to "get the lobbyists out of the way.")
The second point of emphasis for Romney was his "To Do" list. After the Iowa caucuses, Romney broke out a long banner with the twelve things he hopes to accomplish as president. Though they incorporate just about every goal of conservative governance, they did not include balancing the budget, a major mistake in a state where both Republican and independent voters are famed for valuing fiscal restraint. Sure enough, at town hall event Sunday, a voter rose and asked Romney why balancing the budget wasn't on the list. Today, it had been taped on at the bottom. Two additional blank spaces were left, in case voters suggested Romney do anything else.
It was, after all, a "To Do" list. To do's are like chores, not principles.
John McCain's events today were drastically different. McCain routinely appears at outdoor events in front of city halls, town centers, and main squares. He did so today in Nashua, Keene, Concord, Manchester, and Exeter. Though people at these events frequently have to wait in the cold for McCain, easily as many turned out today as did for Romney's events in posh digs.
Also interesting is the fact that McCain doesn't seem to care that he can't control the environment at his outdoor events. At his rally in front of the State House in Concord, Ron Paul fans turned out in equal numbers of the McCain folks, and held up as many signs. The Iraq Veterans Against the War bus was parked next to the event, and peace protestors were common. At the event in front of the Exeter Town Hall, people stood holding signs saying, "Stop McCain's Amnesty." (When I asked these people who had sent them, they declined to say. When I asked them who they planned to vote for, they all identified Mitt Romney.)
McCain focused heavily on foreign policy at his event in Exeter. "I will get Osama bin Laden if I have to follow him to the gates of hell," he said. "We are succeeding in Iraq," he said later, adding that if he is president, the troops with "come home with honor, not in defeat. Not in defeat!" Even if it takes a thousand years.
He also said that a McCain victory in New Hampshire would prove that "an honorable campaign" that doesn't try to "buy an election" through negative advertisements could win.
The standard attendee at McCain's events is as committed as the most committed attendee at Mitt Romney's events. McCain supporters take signs home by the fistful and some have built massive contraptions onto their cars to outfit them with McCain paraphernalia. With the exception of one young man who said he was also considering Obama, all the attendees in Exeter that I spoke to before and after the event said they were committed to McCain. "I was with Romney until I heard McCain speak earlier [last year], now I'm with McCain," said Jim Waddell, a retired schoolteacher from Hampton, NH.
If Mitt Romney gets beat in New Hampshire on the heels of his Iowa loss, even though he spent more money in both states than his competitors, it will prove one thing: any state that gets prolonged exposure to Mitt Romney doesn't want to vote for him.
Photos: Top, Mitt Romney campaigns at the Nashua Country Club; Second, Romney's To Do list, with "BALANCE THE BUDGET" taped on; Third, a John McCain supporter tries to block one of many Ron Paul supporters at an outdoor McCain rally; Fourth, McCain campaigns at Exeter Town Hall; Bottom, protesters at McCain's Exeter event gather for a group photo—all said they are voting for Romney.