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N.H. GOP gets back-to-back look at 2012 hopefuls

N.H. GOP gets back-to-back look at 2012 hopefuls
Possible 2012 presidential candidate speaks during a We the People candidates forum Saturday in Manchester, N.H.

MANCHESTER, N.H. — With back-to-back events featuring multiple presidential hopefuls, it's been something of an instant-replay kind of weekend for New Hampshire Republicans.

Barely 12 hours after five possible candidates spoke Friday at a dinner in Manchester, three of them showed up less than 10 miles away for a second gathering Saturday morning. Though Rep. Michele Bachmann started from scratch with her speech, former Gov. Tim Pawlenty and former Sen. Rick Santorum largely stuck to the highlights they delivered the previous night, when they were joined by former Gov. Mitt Romney and businessman Herman Cain.

That was probably the point, said Wayne Lesperance, a political science professor at New England College who said multi-candidate events are more about helping candidates refine their stump speeches than winning over voters.

"There's not this crowd of undecideds wandering around these events thinking, 'Gosh, I just don't know who to vote for,' and then these speeches will bring them over," he said.

So-called "cattle calls" also give candidates who've taken concrete steps toward launching a bid a way to further distinguish themselves from those who haven't, and most importantly, they put candidates in front of key players who can share their Rolodexes and open their checkbooks, he said. Santorum, for example, was sure to mention that he has visited the state 15 times, while one of Pawlenty's campaign videos played before he spoke.


All three White House hopefuls warned that this is the first generation in danger of not passing along a better America to the next.

"I should probably be at my son's Little League baseball game," Santorum said. "But I'm not going to be the generation of Americans who hands off to my son Peter— who's playing baseball right now— a country that is less than what I got."

Pawlenty said he senses worry all over the country that the next generation will lack the opportunities he and his peers have had.

"We need to as conservatives, as concerned citizens, as patriots who see this clearly, make sure we rise up and say 'America's place is not to follow China or to be second place or have the government suffocate and strangle the American spirit. America's place is to lead the world in everything," he said.

Bachmann said the current generation is "consuming the very sustenance of the generation that's not even born."

"In my opinion, that's one of the greatest moral offenses of our day: That we will have to answer to ourselves and that generation, what did we do when we had the chance?" she said.

She described learning about the Holocaust as a child and wondering if her mother did anything to stop it. The next generation will ask similar questions about what their elders did to prevent them from facing a tax burden that could end up amounting to 75 percent of a worker's income, she said.

Andrew Smith, director of the UNH Survey Center, said such events also are interesting because they show how candidates relate to each other — he wondered ahead of time whether the candidates would all focus their criticism on President Barack Obama or whether any would take a swipe at Romney, considered the front-runner (they chose the former). But at this stage, the gatherings are more valuable to the organizers than the candidates, he said.


"It's more for the organizers to point out who they are, what their interests are and to get the candidates to talk about things that are interesting to them ... so they're part of the debate going forward," he said.

Friday's dinner was sponsored by the Americans for Prosperity Foundation and focused on economic issues and job creation. Saturday's event was sponsored by We The People, a nonprofit group founded by former congressional candidate Jennifer Horn, who followed up the candidate speeches with a roundtable discussion with South Carolina Sen. Jim DeMint and Iowa Rep. Steve King.

In late March, hundreds of conservative activists attended an event King organized in Des Moines featuring Bachmann, Cain, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour. Both were aimed at helping conservatives shape the debate as Republicans begin looking for a candidate to run against Obama.

Though Gingrich was a no-show in New Hampshire, Smith said it was too early in the campaign season for that to matter.

"When you get to the big media events that are televised nationally, then it starts to make more a difference who comes and who doesn't," he said, citing 1999, when George W. Bush skipped a debate in New Hampshire.

"The press coverage of that was he wasn't ready for prime time," he said. "That hurt him, and I think that may be one of the reasons he did not win the primary here in New Hampshire."

Horn said the fact that both events were filled to capacity showed that New Hampshire voters want to check out the candidates in multiple venues.

"People have been looking at them for months. A lot of times what candidates miss is that the primary doesn't start when they decide they're ready, it starts as soon as the voters are concerned enough that they start looking and vetting and paying attention," She said. "Folks are looking for multiple opportunities. They want to see their candidates over and over again, they're looking for consistency, they're looking for details."

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