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Mitt Romney makes final appeal in Bedford, N.H.

Romney hopes for a big lift ahead of South Carolina’s vote.

BEDFORD, N.H. - Mitt Romney, to the strains of Kid Rock’s “Born Free’’ and the chants of “Mitt! Mitt,’’ took the stage last night and made a final appeal to the voters of New Hampshire, the state in which he had announced his presidential intentions seven months ago, campaigned the hardest, and counted on the most to catapult his candidacy.

Romney, who has far outpaced his rivals in polls here, drew nearly 1,500 people, more than any so far in his campaign, and injected a sense of nostalgia into his standard stump speech. “We’ve been coming to New Hampshire for 40 years,’’ he said at McKelvie Intermediate School, where he also held his last event during his failed effort to win New Hampshire in 2008. “We were thinking about that just backstage, when was the first time we got to come up to Lake Winnipesaukee with our children, to go swimming in the lakes here? And when did we take them to Pats Peak to go skiing. We love the state. We love the Yankee spirit of Live Free or Die,’’ he said.

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Romney spent the day in the voter-rich southern region of the state, trying to maintain his support as his opponents ridiculed several comments he has made in the past two days.

The comments - particularly one referring to health insurance companies in which he said, “I like being able to fire people who provide services to me’’ - dominated the day.

At one point, Romney used his first press conference in more than a week to say the comment was taken out of context. He also criticized his Republican opponents for attacking his business experience.

Romney has essentially been running for president for the past seven years, and now he has the opportunity to do what no other Republican has done in a contested election: win both Iowa and New Hampshire.

His campaign is hoping a significant boost tonight will give him momentum heading into South Carolina, a state whose social conservatives and evangelical Christians have looked warily at Romney in the past and where he is likely to face a barrage of attack ads over his career at Bain Capital.

Romney has hoped to sew up the nomination quickly, by winning the first several contests. But if not, he remains better prepared for a long fight, with a better organization and more money than his rivals.

“There’s a way to vote more than once,’’ Romney told voters in Hudson. “I’ll tell you how it’s done: Find someone that didn’t vote, and you get them to go with you.’’

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