STRATHAM, N.H. Mitt Romney hopes his Washington-outsider status will push Granite State voters to choose him when they hit the polls today to determine who should be the Republican nominee for president.
Since his second-place finish in the Iowa caucus, Romney has been visiting with supporters and those all-important "undecideds" in towns across New Hampshire seeking to convince them he's the right choice not only because of his own positions but because he says he can beat current Democratic front-runner Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., come November.
In a two-minute ad called "tomorrow," aired on New Hampshire television Monday night, Romney says "that those who've spent their careers in Washington can't change Washington."
"It's long past time to bring real change to Washington," Romney said. "That's never going to happen if all we do is send the same people back to Washington to sit in different chairs."
As he spoke before a standing-room-only crowd of about 500 people Monday night, Romney outlined his experience with changing businesses, changing the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City, changing the state of Massachusetts during his term as governor and how the nation is also facing changes.
But the New Hampshire twist to his stump speech now has Romney telling voters that if he learned anything from the Iowa wins of former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee and Obama, it's that they do not want a Beltway retread but a fresh face in the White House.
"The need for change in Washington could not be more clear and apparent to the people of New Hampshire and the people of America," Romney said Monday, adding that he and Huckabee both finished well ahead of the Washington establishment Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., and Fred Thompson, a former senator from Tennessee in Iowa.
"There is no way that our party would be successful in the fall if we put forward a long-serving senator to stand up against Barack Obama's message of change," Romney said at a press conference after speaking to employees at the Timberland clothing company headquarters in Stratham.
"It's going to take a person who is himself an innovator, like myself, who has the experience to bring change to Washington to be able to go head to head with Barack Obama and win."
In addition to distinguishing himself on immigration, taxes and other issues from McCain, who is still leading in the New Hampshire polls, Romney emphasized that voters are starting to recognize Obama may beat Hillary Clinton for the Democratic nomination. Putting up another "long-serving United States senator is not the best match-up," Romney said.
"Obama's message is about change, and if he's been able to be so effective in delivering that message that he's now put Clinton on her heels and pushed current Sens. Joe Biden and Chris Dodd out of the race, then we better think about somebody who can stand up with a message and go toe-to-toe with him," Romney said.
A year ago today, Romney gathered 400 supporters to raise $6.5 million to lay the groundwork for his campaign bid. A month later he formally kicked off his race at the Henry Ford Museum in Michigan.
"Those of you who have listened for some time, I was very taken with this idea of speaking about the inflection points in American history. That's been a big part of my stump speech," Romney said. "... But I've found there's more positive reaction to saying, 'Washington is broken."'
And now Romney finds himself counting on that positive feedback he's been receiving being turned into votes for his candidacy in New Hampshire and beyond.
"I can't predict a victory but I can predict that I'd like a victory," Romney said as he pointed out the eight delegates he won in Wyoming in last Saturday's county conventions.
Some pundits and pollsters are still saying the election is close and Romney's performance during the weekend's debates could work in his favor.
"Mitt Romney did exceptionally well, especially Sunday night, where he stood 'head and shoulders' above the others," said Charles W. Dunn, dean of Regent University's School of Government. "He will get a boost in the polls from his debate performance, but was his performance too little and too late to overcome John McCain's lead in the polls? Sunday night he spoke and acted in an approachable manner, which enabled him to score substantive points. He has a problem of being so exceedingly bright and well-spoken that sometimes he appears condescending to others."
Republican consultant David E. Johnson, CEO of Strategic Vision, said right now that "change" is just the big buzz word and he still thinks McCain will carry New Hampshire. He beat President Bush in the state in 2000 and continues polling a few percentage points ahead of Romney.
But even if Romney does come in second place, Romney senior campaign adviser Ron Kaufman said his standing after New Hampshire, Iowa and Wyoming would still likely give him more votes than any other GOP candidate.
"This has been an interesting year, and people have been written off different times," said Kaufman, who was a key staffer for then-Vice President George H.W. Bush's New Hampshire campaign in 1988."The one thing I know about conventional wisdom this year is that it's been wrong," Kaufman said.