Romney to kick off general election fight Tuesday night in New Hampshire

Republican presidential candidate, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney places his hand on his chest while speaking at the RNC State Chairman's National Meeting in Scottsdale, Ariz., Friday, April 20, 2012.
AP Photo/Jae C. Hong
AP Photo/Jae C. Hong

(CBS News) In the ten months since Mitt Romney launched his bid for the Republican presidential nomination on a farm in New Hampshire, his campaign has experienced highs and lows. Back in the Granite State on Tuesday night, he'll come full circle as his campaign seeks to end the primary season and launch the general election fight.

He won't yet have the 1,144 delegates needed to officially clinch the nomination, but after five northeastern states cast their ballots today, Romney's campaign is expecting to have won a large enough amount of delegates to claim the mantle of presumptive Republican nominee.

"We're bringing the nomination process to a close, and will kick off the general election," said Ryan Williams, a spokesman for the Romney campaign.

According to CBS News estimates, Romney currently has 688 delegates, and even if he were to win each of the 219 at stake on Tuesday, it could likely still be another month before he clinches enough to be assured of the nomination. The campaign is not waiting, however.

"We're getting ready to enter Phase Two," said New Hampshire senior adviser Jim Merrill. The significance of such a transition is not lost on Merrill, who has been working the ground for Romney in the Granite State for years. "It feels right to come back to New Hampshire where we started this thing."

Romney's current bid for the White House began on June 2, 2011 on Scamman Farm in Stafford, N.H., and the campaign considers his return Tuesday as a full circle moment for the candidate who beat the other six candidate running at the time with over 97,000 votes cast in his favor on January 10.

There was no primary state where Romney spent more time campaigning and getting face time with residents - sometimes holding multiple rallies town halls, and meet-and-greets in one day. During one December day where he, his wife Ann, and son Tagg hopscotched across the state for seven events on a single Thursday, a man stopped him on the street in Lancaster and gleefully remarked that only at that moment had Romney clinched his vote, telling him "I've never voted for anyone I didn't shake hands with."

The campaign adopted the motto "Earn it" in New Hampshire and promptly pounced on any other candidates who tried to make a play for the state. Rick Perry, who came to Concord in the fall with teeming masses of suited staffers flanking him to sign up for the ballot, did not receive a single delegate by the primary. Jon Huntsman, who moved into Manchester's Hilton Garden Inn for months and did over 100 campaign events throughout the state, only collected two. Rick Santorum, who was Romney's chief competitor until two weeks ago, had no presence in the state whatsoever and was virtually unknown to many there until after his surprise finish in the Iowa caucuses a week before.

But Romney is no longer the only serious campaign in town. On Monday evening, the University of New Hampshire released a new poll showing President Obama ahead of Romney 51 percent to 42 percent New Hampshire. Mr. Obama's re-election team is quick to point out that Romney's campaign cleared out of the state immediately following the primary - often noting that his bustling headquarters in Manchester went dark the next day.

Conversely, the president's team holds that they have been building an infrastructure that includes seven offices and counting. On Tuesday, Mr. Obama's campaign will hold nine different phone banking events across the state, and they have 21 other events -- phone banks, canvassing, and "pledge to vote"drives -- throughout the rest of the week.

They are also planning on launching a Twitter campaign on Tuesday, the day of Romney's return, called "Since Mitt's Been Gone," where they plan to tweet out multiple examples of initiatives they've taken up in New Hampshire without Romney there, such as hosting women-to-women house parties and talking about Mr. Obama's plans to strengthen the middle class.

In a statement coming out Tuesday morning, the Obama campaign's New Hampshire State Director Pete Kavanaugh writes: "Since Mitt Romney abandoned New Hampshire after January 10th, he's made numerous out of touch promises as he's collected Tea Party delegates across the country - promises that underscore the extreme conservative positions he has embraced, far out of the mainstream and out of line with Granite State values."

Williams disputes the notion that Romney's New Hampshire supporters have in any way been neglected, pointing out that many volunteers from the state fanned out to help in other primary contests, such as Maine, Vermont and Florida.

Additionally, Merrill pushes back on any claims that Romney is out of touch with New Hampshire voters.

"I would characterize what the Obama campaign says as nonsense, complete nonsense," he holds, pointing out that nearly 2,000 Democrats voted for Romney in the Republican primary this year. "That tells me something," he said.

  • Sarah B. Boxer On Twitter»

    Sarah B. Boxer covers politics for CBS News.