Sunday, January 06, 2008

Team Gregg's Falling Out With Mitt Romney

The political landscape in New Hampshire looked so much different back at the end of October.

Mitt Romney was up, everyone else was down and few people believed that John McCain, the big winner in 2000, was still a viable candidate in the 2008 first-in-the-nation Primary.

And into this favorable political environment Team Romney rolled out Judd Gregg, New Hampshire's senior U.S. Senator and Romney's "slam dunk" endorsement.

In other words, the Mitt train is leaving the NH station. All aboard!

But then a funny thing happened. John McCain came roaring back in the polls. And with two days to go before the Primary, McCain and Romney are essentially tied.

To combat McCain's surge in New Hampshire, Team Romney has spent the last several weeks blanketing the airwaves with hard hitting attack ads. Romney has pounded McCain on immigration and on McCain's position on the Bush tax cuts.

Romney's latest attack ad, which uses "real" NH voters (read: Romney supporters) to make the case against McCain, trashes McCain for being too old and too part of Washington to be President.

The ads are not working.

According to the latest UNH poll, John McCain's favorable-to-unfavorable-rating in New Hampshire is 81% - 13%.

In other words, NH voters still have an overwhelmingly positive view of John McCain (no surprise to us).

According to the same poll, Romney's favorable-to-unfavorable-rating is 39% - 53%.

In other words, NH voters don't think much of the former Massachusetts Governor (again, no surprise to us).

And while we "somewhat" buy the CW wisdom that New Hampshire voters don't reward candidates who spend lots of money on negative ads, we "certainly" buy the wisdom that New Hampshire voters don't reward candidates who attack their opponent from a 63-point net favorablity disadvantage.

Which is why Mitt Romney's scorched earth strategy to stop John McCain in New Hampshire is failing (and we think soon to be "has failed").

But Team Gregg already knows all this. Nobody knows New Hampshire and its voters better than Judd Gregg.

That's why Team Gregg has a big problem with Team Romney.

We've heard from 3 different sources (one source in DC and two on the ground in NH) that as Mitt Romney goes more and more negative against McCain in New Hampshire, Team Gregg gets more and more upset.

It's not because Team Gregg has a soft spot for the Arizona Senator. Far from it.

The political operatives around Judd Gregg only care about one thing - the re-election of Judd Gregg (if he wants it).

And as we understand it, the reason for Team Gregg's heartburn is that they are terrified that New Hampshire voters will lump Senator Gregg in with "flailing, angry, negative Romney".

Flailing, angry, negative Romney who is trying to tear down a war hero that New Hampshire "loves".

The NH newspapers all endorsing McCain over Romney was embarrassing. Having Gregg scolded by the Union Leader editorial page wasn't the greatest. But the scorched earth campaign that Romney is running has the very real potential of seriously complicating Gregg's next re-elect.

And as we understand it, Team Gregg has had it with Mitt Romney.

Welcome to the party Senator Gregg.