N.H. Senator: Romney Can Get Things Done

Republican presidential hopeful, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, left, is introduced by N.H. Sen. Judd Gregg, right, in Bow N.H., Saturday, Nov. 24, 2007.
Political Players is a weekly conversation with the leaders, consultants, and activists who shape American politics. This week, CBS News' Brian Goldsmith talked with Sen. Judd Gregg, R-N.H., about his state's early primary, the issues at stake and why he believes Mitt Romney can overcome doubts about his principles and experience. Your endorsement is very coveted in this process. What made you decide to support Governor Romney?

Senator Judd Gregg: Well, basically I was very impressed with the guy. He's a person who's had a tremendous history of doing things and confronting complex problems and getting them solved. And he approaches things from a conservative philosophy. He straightened out the Olympics, and he straightened out Massachusetts. And he's built businesses and created jobs. He's a can-do type of guy.

That's what we need down here. We need somebody to come from outside of Washington, look at some of these problems which folks here in Washington haven't been able to resolve, and get us going towards some solution. And he has a very strong philosophical base, which I like, which is that he approaches things as a fiscal conservative. He's promised change in Washington, change from the status quo, which presumably includes change from President Bush. What do you think would be the biggest change between a President Romney and President Bush?

Senator Judd Gregg: Well, I think there will be a number of changes. The most obvious is that there will be a stylistic change that's significant. And with the war in Iraq winding down, a new president's going to have more of a clean slate in the area of how we deal with other countries.

He won't be so locked into what has become, unfortunately, an atmosphere where a number of other countries no longer support our position, or have questions about our position. A new president's going to come with a clean slate.

And I think Governor Romney has the ability to continue us down the path of making sure that we follow these terrorists around the world and find them before they can find us, which has basically been the Bush position. But also, hopefully, do it in a way that will sort of reawaken international support for our effort. Romney's fallen to parity with Governor Huckabee, or behind him, in Iowa. And obviously, New Hampshire is just five days later. Can you win New Hampshire if you lose Iowa?

Senator Judd Gregg: Well, I don't know what's happening in Iowa, because I haven't been there. And it's a caucus, remember. A caucus is entirely different than an election. In a caucus, you get a group of people who really believe in you, and you have them show up, and they have to sit there for three, four, five hours. Whereas an election is a very broad participation by a lot of people.

So I think the first primary is really the most important effort. And in New Hampshire, Governor Romney's doing very well. The polls show him in a very strong position. I think that's because his message resonates in New Hampshire. He's a can-do fiscal conservative. That's what people in New Hampshire like. How much of a ricochet effect have you seen over the years? You've watched a lot of these primaries. Do you think that someone who does poorly in Iowa gets hurt in New Hampshire?

Senator Judd Gregg: Interestingly, that has not been the case. If you look at it from a historical perspective, almost the opposite has occurred. You run well in Iowa, and sometimes you have problems in New Hampshire. You run poorly in Iowa, and sometimes you do well in New Hampshire. That's certainly been the historical pattern. I know there's also that two out of three rule, that on the Republican side, since 1980, whoever wins two out of three of Iowa and New Hampshire and South Carolina, always goes on to win the nomination.

Senator Judd Gregg: Up until actually 1992, nobody had ever been elected president without winning in New Hampshire. And then, Clinton, who was perceived to win, but actually lost to Paul Tsongas, was elected president. So that was the first break with that tradition, but New Hampshire's vote is pretty accurate to what ends up happening. You've obviously seen this controversy about Governor Romney employing illegal immigrants to do lawn care at his house in Belmont, Massachusetts. Do you think that that chips away at the credibility of his hard-line immigration message?

Senator Judd Gregg: No, I think that's much ado about nothing. I mean, he told the folks who worked at his home, listen, we want to make sure you're using legal people doing this. When it turned out they weren't using legal people, he said, all right, we'll give you one more chance. We want to make sure you're using legal people. And then they failed to have people who were legal doing it again.

There's no way you can really say that he didn't try to act responsibly here. He did. And so, I don't think the people will take that too seriously. It's sort of like saying that a person wanted to be president when they were in kindergarten.