Mitt Romney operation lean in priority state of New Hampshire

By Steve Peoples

Associated Press

Published: Friday, July 15 2011 8:18 a.m. MDT

MANCHESTER, N.H. — The address hasn't changed, but Mitt Romney's Granite State headquarters is not the same place it was four years ago.

Half as many staffers occupy the plain Elm Street office, tucked between the Manchester Music Mill and Van Otis Chocolates. Long tables that once held volunteer phone banks sit empty. And only one person who led Romney's 2008 New Hampshire presidential primary campaign remains.

"In general, the output is leaner and meaner. That's really not a slogan because truly, that's the way it is," said Jason McBride, who is in charge of Romney's New Hampshire campaign this year. "We're doing the same or more with less."

The smaller footprint partly is reflective of a candidate who is universally known here, having spent millions to build a New Hampshire organization that earned a second-place finish in 2008. But the new strategy also helps Romney stockpile cash for what his team says could be a lengthy and expensive nomination battle extending well beyond the first-in-the-nation primary state.

The former Massachusetts governor already enjoys a substantial cash advantage over the rest of the GOP field, with $12.6 million in his campaign account at the end of June.

His New Hampshire operation is significantly smaller than four years ago, with seven staffers and one consultant on the payroll compared with 14 at this point during the 2008 campaign. Even so, the New Hampshire operation is far larger than Romney's efforts in other early voting states, underscoring the emphasis he is placing on a strong showing in the nation's first primary. Romney has just three paid staff in Iowa, two in South Carolina and one in Florida, according to Williams. His national headquarters in Boston employs dozens.

"The fact that they have fewer staff this time than last time I think is less important than what they do with their staff," said Jamie Burnett, who was political director for Romney's 2008 New Hampshire operation but isn't aligned with a candidate this year. "This time it seems that they're acknowledging the fact that New Hampshire is the most important state for them. They have to win it."

Romney's lead senior adviser in New Hampshire, Jim Merrill, downplays any perceived advantage that Romney may have as the former governor of a neighboring state who owns a New Hampshire summer home.

"New Hampshire's very unique. It requires your time and it requires your effort. And it's not to be taken lightly or for granted," he said. "People are wearing different hats, maybe more hats. We're doing more with less. But it doesn't reflect the candidate's time. He's up here a lot. He'll be up here a lot more."

Romney's visit to the state Thursday was his ninth day of public appearances in New Hampshire since launching his campaign last month. That's eight more than any other state.

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