N.H. May Be Perry's Chance to Deliver Knockout Blow

N.H. May Be Perry's Chance to Deliver Knockout Blow

By Scott Conroy - September 8, 2011

MANCHESTER, N.H. -- He has surged into the lead in Iowa and is way out in front of the pack in South Carolina, but Rick Perry's standing in New Hampshire, the second of the three earliest voting states, is far more tenuous.

Still, the Texas governor's aides say they are determined to play hard here, in an effort to project national strength and effectively end the Republican nominating fight just as it is beginning. And there are some early signs that Mitt Romney should check his rearview mirror carefully the next time the current New Hampshire front-runner rolls into the state.

“I’ve worked on campaigns before where there has been a strategy to focus on Iowa and South Carolina, which has never been a successful strategy,” said Perry’s New Hampshire strategist, Paul Young. “There’s no sense of that here on this campaign. I expect him to be back in New Hampshire as frequently as possible.”

Perry has already spent five days in the Granite State since declaring his candidacy last month, and his staff is expanding quickly as they play catch-up on such basic administrative tasks as ordering furniture and phones for a Manchester campaign headquarters that will soon open for business.

Pam Tucker, the deputy speaker of the New Hampshire House, endorsed Perry on Wednesday, and the Texas governor has also picked up the early backing of three other prominent New Hampshire politicos: 2010 GOP gubernatorial nominee John Stephen, former U.S. Rep. Chuck Douglas, and former U.S. Sen. Gordon Humphrey.

During a campaign stop at Humphrey’s home in the rural town of Chichester on Saturday, Perry drew an impressive crowd of several hundred, as he did in other visits around the state.

Though Perry’s New Hampshire staffers are quick to note Mitt Romney’s sizable lead in the polls and the engrained level of built-in support he has from several years of residing and campaigning here, Humphrey made no effort to hide his optimism.

“I think he can win in New Hampshire, and I think in the end he will win,” Humphrey said of Perry, adding that he hasn’t seen this level of excitement for a candidate here since Ronald Reagan’s 1980 campaign.

Asked what would be the broader effect on the nominating fight if Perry did indeed pull off a New Hampshire upset, Humphrey didn’t bother to hedge.

“It could all end pretty quickly,” he said. “He could be unsurpassable at that point.”

A significant gauge of Perry’s strength will come later this month when the latest WMUR/University of New Hampshire poll -- the most closely watched survey in the state -- is released. Perry registered just 4 percent in the last WMUR/UNH poll conducted in late June, which was released more than a month before he announced his candidacy. But several New Hampshire political observers said that they expect him to show tremendous progress, noting that Michele Bachmann has essentially abandoned the state, and Jon Huntsman has struggled to gain any traction here.

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Scott Conroy is a national political reporter for RealClearPolitics. He can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @RealClearScott.

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