Romney tries to close the deal in New Hampshire

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CONWAY, N.H. -- Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney Thursday sought to tighten his grip on the front-runner status he enjoys here, trying to close the deal with voters in a state where his rivals have failed to present a formidable challenge to New England's favored son.

The second day of Romney's "Earn-it" bus tour across New Hampshire, in which a cadre of local officials flanked him, was as much about attacking President Obama as presenting a softer side of Romney to voters who have been left cold by his candidacy despite all the time he's spent in the Granite State.

Romney pontificated on comedian Jerry Seinfeld, his love of chocolate milk and consoled a father who lost his son to a drug overdose in a busy day of campaigning in which he picked up another local newspaper endorsement and the support of former President George H.W. Bush.

With unmatched organizational muscle, Romney sought to persuade voters that he hasn't taken them for granted despite a sizable lead in a state where anything short of victory would cripple his campaign. The former Massachusetts governor who made his first presidential run in 2008 is a known commodity among New Hampshire voters and retains the approval of a sizable -- if static -- swath of conservatives.

Romney displayed the confidence of a front-runner, telling voters he won't be the candidate who promises the "most free stuff."

When a college student asked whether he could relate to the average voter, Romney countered with a warning about what would happen if he lost.

"If President Obama is re-elected you won't be able to get a job," he said.

When a firefighter unhappy with his pension benefits complained, Romney shot back, "You knew what you were getting into."

While Romney is vulnerable to challengers in Iowa, he's more intensely focused on New Hampshire than any candidate besides Jon Huntsman, who lags far behind Romney even though he's devoting all his campaign time to the state.

"You don't often see candidates in this part of the state," former New Hampshire Gov. John H. Sununu told The Washington Examiner, as Romney went door-to-door in economically hard-hit Berlin in the far northern part of the state. "It just shows you how strong his campaign is in New Hampshire. It's what I like to call 'see-you, touch-you campaigning' and he's really in great shape in the state."

Romney joined a game of front-yard football, whistled for a dog to come home and stopped traffic to schmooze with drivers along Berlin's snow-lined streets.

He also basked in the support -- if not an official endorsement -- from Bush, who told the Houston Chronicle, "I think Romney is the best choice for us."

"I am very encouraged of the support of President Bush for my campaign," Romney told reporters. "Obviously, you can tell there is growing momentum for this effort in New Hampshire and across the country."

Some voters, however, weren't overly impressed with Romney's standing in the state.

"Of course, he's going to win here," said Concord's Deb Jacobs. "So what? The story would be if he lost. He's been here for years. And all those other jokers -- you can call them candidates -- have made sure he won't lose."

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Brian Hughes

White House Correspondent
The Washington Examiner