Jocular Romney projects confidence in N.H. visit

Republican presidential candidate, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, center, greets members of the audience at the conclusion of a campaign stop at a VFW Post in Milford, N.H., Monday, Oct. 10, 2011. AP Photo/Steven Senne

This article originally appeared on RealClearPolitics.

MILFORD, N.H. -- Buoyed by recent polls that confirmed his status as the runaway front-runner here in the Granite State, Mitt Romney was in a lighthearted mood as he began the first of three New Hampshire town-hall meetings on Monday.

When Romney's wife, Ann, introduced her husband by telling the packed house that she was thrilled to let people know about "the other side of Mitt," the candidate grinned widely before turning 180 degrees to show his back to the crowd.

"Oh, dear," said Mrs. Romney, whose presence by her husband's side on the campaign trail always seems to lift his spirits.

After delivering his opening remarks for about 15 minutes on an unseasonably warm morning, Romney joked to the overflow crowd of a couple hundred people, "I'm going to turn to you and take questions that you may have and do my best to either answer them or dodge them."

Romney is often criticized for lacking a natural ability to connect with voters personally, and there is little doubt that other GOP candidates in the field are often more relaxed when interacting with the public.

But here in New Hampshire, where most residents have been familiar with him since 2003, when he took office as governor in neighboring Massachusetts, Romney often appears more at ease than he does elsewhere.

Romney's confidence in his standing here was perhaps best evidenced by his decision not to call out by name any of his GOP opponents throughout the hour-long event, especially on a day when Rick Perry's campaign released a hard-hitting online ad that sought to tie Romney's Massachusetts health care plan to President Obama's national reform law.

Romney did take an indirect shot at his rival by noting that as Massachusetts governor, he had vetoed a bill that would have provided in-state tuition breaks to the children of illegal immigrants. Perry signed a similar bill into law as governor of Texas.

"Build a fence," Romney said in answering a question about defending the border with Mexico. "My goodness, let's have a fence."

The extra spring in Romney's step was reinforced by the robust Columbus Day crowd that gathered for the town-hall event. When he was campaigning in New Hampshire four years ago, Romney very rarely drew such a large audience.

Rick Christie of Goffstown still has a "Romney '08" bumper sticker on his car and lamented that "the country would have been really different" had the former Massachusetts governor prevailed the last time around.

"I believe he's even more prepared this time, and that's one of the main reasons I'm such a strong supporter," Christie said. "I believe he's the most prepared candidate there is."

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