Thursday, June 2, 2011

Palin, Giuliani steal some Romney thunder in New Hampshire

Reporting from Seabrook, N.H.— As Mitt Romney formally announced his presidential bid Thursday, two larger-than-life political personalities crashed into New Hampshire, stealing the nominal frontrunner's thunder and underscoring that the GOP field is far from settled.

Continuing her catch-me-if-you-can bus tour of historic sites on the Eastern Seaboard, former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin hosted a clambake for "tea party" activists on the coast, proclaiming her love for the movement and her goal of highlighting the importance of the American spirit. And former New York Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani spoke to Republicans at a luncheon in the Mount Washington Valley, arguing that America was headed in the wrong direction and that President Obama's policies were squarely to blame.

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As both weigh presidential bids, Giuliani and Palin face challenges in the home of the first-in-the-nation primary — and potential opportunities in reaching groups of voters who are unhappy with the current crop of candidates. But Palin's potential candidacy, and her decision to visit New Hampshire on the same day that Romney was announcing his campaign, was seen as having greater import.

"I don't think this is all happening haphazard, as she [is] sometimes seen. I think it's all about stirring the pot and sending a warning shot across the bow that she's still out there and she has the ability to wreak havoc anytime she likes," said Dante Scala, associate professor of political science at the University of New Hampshire. "That's the message she's trying to get across to Romney."

Both Giuliani and Palin have bridges to mend in New Hampshire. Palin last visited the state in 2008, when she was the Republican nominee for vice president, and some Republicans believe she has purposely bypassed it ever since, on her book tour and during a Tea Party Express bus tour last year in which she attended an event in Boston and stepped off the bus before the next stop in New Hampshire.

"She has avoided crossing the border on purpose," said Fergus Cullen, former chairman of the New Hampshire Republican Party. "Nonetheless, he said, she would add excitement to the race.

Success in the New Hampshire primary would be less crucial for Palin — who would likely make a play for the evangelical vote in Iowa and South Carolina — than for Giuliani, whose moderate social policies are anathema to such voters. But despite the former mayor's assets — his reputation as "America's mayor" after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, and his widespread name recognition — he faces a critical problem in the Granite State: He ignored it in his 2008 presidential run, and many voters haven't forgotten the slight.

"His campaign was so bad that I don't think people are going to give him a second chance, and this is a state where lots of people get second chances," Cullen said.

When Giuliani did show up in New Hampshire, he rarely held the types of events early-state voters want, with lots of discussions and question-and-answer periods. On Thursday, before speaking to more than 100 guests at a cozy Italian bistro in North Conway, he told reporters he had regrets about that campaign.

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