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Romney seeks to hold ground in N.H. as foes’ attacks intensify

Bill Greene/Globe Staff

Anna Beliveau listened to Mitt Romney at the Boys and Girls Club in Salem, N.H. yesterday.

SALEM, N.H. - Newt Gingrich labeled Mitt Romney’s economic plan “timid.’’ Rick Santorum told voters not to “settle for less.’’ And Jon Huntsman urged them not to support a “coronation’’ of the former Massachusetts governor.

But Romney felt no need to mention his rivals here yesterday, training all of his fire on President Obama. He was so confident about his standing in the Granite State that he left for a short sojourn to South Carolina. That state holds its primary Jan. 21.

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“We are in an admirable position — that’s taken us only about seven years to get to — where we’re in control of our own destiny here,’’ said Tom Rath, a top Romney adviser in New Hampshire. “We should win.’’

With days left before the New Hampshire primary, Romney’s rivals took to the stump yesterday in an attempt to shake that confidence and brake Romney’s momentum.

“Our mission here is to show that we’re the conservative alternative to Mitt Romney,’’ Santorum said, after his campaign acknowledged he raised $1 million in the 24 hours following his narrow second-place finish in the Iowa caucuses.

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Gingrich told a crowd of about 70 in a folksy speech in Lancaster that Romney was not conservative enough to represent the Republican Party.

“In ’92, [as] I worked to reelect George H.W. Bush, Romney registered as an independent to vote for [Democrat] Paul Tsongas, who was the most liberal candidate in the race at that time,’’ Gingrich said. “As recently as 2002, he described himself as a moderate.’’

With a smile, Gingrich accused Romney of appointing liberal, abortion-rights-supporting judges when he was governor, adding that Romney’s Massachusetts health care law uses taxpayer money to fund abortions.

“You go right down the list,’’ Gingrich said, “I think the differences are very stark.’’

Gingrich also released an ad yesterday that will air in New Hampshire and South Carolina criticizing Romney’s economic plan as being too similar to Obama’s. “Timid won’t create jobs,’’ a narrator says. “And timid certainly won’t defeat Barack Obama.’’

In Portsmouth, Huntsman agreed with a voter that he was the ultimate underdog going up against a Romney machine.

“I view you as David going up against Goliath,’’ John Troiano, a financial adviser, told the former Utah governor. “Goliath has the money, has the cronies. . . . Goliath seems to get most of the media attention. How does David bring down Goliath?’’

“That’s a fair analogy,’’ Huntsman agreed. He said the groundwork he has laid over the past several months, in which he focused almost exclusively on New Hampshire, would pay off. Some recent polls have shown Huntsman, who is targeting many of the same moderate Republican and independent voters as is Romney, edging out Gingrich to take third place in the state. Representative Ron Paul of Texas has been running second.

“We can’t afford to have a coronation for president,’’ Huntsman said. “We can’t afford to have the establishment stand up and say ‘here’s our guy, Mr. Romney of Massachusetts.’ ’’

These attack lines provide a preview of what Romney could face in two debates from New Hampshire tomorrow night and Sunday morning.

So far, however, Romney’s rivals have generally declined to create television ads attacking him. In Iowa, attack ads saturated the airwaves. Many of them were sponsored by a group of Romney supporters using a multimillion dollar bankroll to bombard Gingrich.

That super PAC, Restore Our Future, has not taken out any ads in New Hampshire, and a spokeswoman would not comment on whether they have plans to do so.

One ad released last week, sponsored by a super PAC supporting Huntsman, referred to Romney as a “chameleon,’’ a mild rebuke by today’s standards.

Kevin McHugh, a New Hampshire Tea Party activist helping lead a super PAC supporting Santorum, said yesterday they were preparing to run ads that “will be substantial and will not be flattering toward Mitt’s political record.’’ But the group, Spirit of America Solutions, reported no money on hand when it formed six weeks ago, and McHugh would not give further details.

A super PAC formed by Paul supporters is running an ad in New Hampshire 237 times starting this weekend that features an interracial couple talking about Paul, an obstetrician-gynecologist, and his willingness to treat them at a time of racial strife. Paul has come under scrutiny in recent weeks for a newsletter he published decades ago that included racial views that he has since called “terrible.’’

Super PACs, a powerful new funding vehicle created after last year’s Citizens United Supreme Court decision, allow groups to raise unlimited amounts of money and face fewer restrictions than candidates’ political action committees. But super PACs cannot coordinate plans with candidates’ campaigns.

Romney’s own campaign has aired several ads in the Manchester market and took one out in the Boston market, which reaches most voter-rich areas in southern New Hampshire. None of Romney’s ads have attacked his opponents.

Before leaving for South Carolina, Romney said Obama “does not understand in his heart the passion of freedom.’’

“He’s a jobs killer,’’ Romney said at a Boys and Girls Club in Salem. “You know, he said he wanted to create green jobs. I don’t think we understood that he wants to give jobs to people who give him the green.’’

Romney, who was joined again by Senator John McCain, the 2008 Republican presidential nominee who endorsed him Wednesday, also attacked Obama’s decision to name three members to the National Labor Relations Board through recess appointments without congressional approval. Obama has been supported by labor unions.

Romney is holding an event in Myrtle Beach, S.C., this morning before returning to New Hampshire for a spaghetti dinner in Tilton tonight. He will be joined by his wife, Ann, who was absent from his side yesterday morning.

“Her tooth fell apart yesterday,’’ Romney said. “Actually, the crown came off her tooth. A little painful, so we sent her to a dentist last night. She’s going to join us for the rest of the day, but she’s not here this morning. So I apologize for that.’’

Andrew Ryan of the Globe Staff and Globe correspondent Shira Schoenberg contributed to this report. Material from the Associated Press was also used. Matt Viser can be reached at maviser@globe.com.
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