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For now, the GOP candidates are focusing on Iowa caucuses

New Hampshire Union Leader

December 28. 2011 11:26PM

With less than two weeks to go before the New Hampshire primary, the campaign trail has grown quiet. Save for Jon Huntsman's town hall events and Mitt Romney's Tuesday morning visit, the major presidential candidates - and the national media - have been focused on Iowa.

But once Iowa is over, said New Hampshire primary advocate Jim Splaine, attention will return to the state primary, a far more important contest in deciding the next President.

'Realizing there is often a benefit to getting a bump out of Iowa, I think this year is just like in 2008 and Iowa is essentially irrelevant,' said Splaine. He pointed to Sen. John McCain's successful Republican nomination bid four years ago, a candidate who focused on New Hampshire.

'Huckabee did very well and got the support of a lot of people in Iowa, but where did he go after then.'

Former Gov. John H. Sununu, who is supporting Romney, agreed that New Hampshire is the real kingmaker of the early contests.

'I've always said Iowans picks corn and New Hampshire picks Presidents,' said Sununu.

But Dean Spiliotes, a New Hampshire-based presidential political analyst, said there has been a perception this election cycle that Iowa is getting more attention, probably because of the kind of Republican voters who are energized.

'It seems like Iowa has been more of a focus I think because it's skewed by the calendar and part of it is because it's a conservative Republican primary, which is just a better fit for Iowa,' said Spiliotes. 'All the energy this time is in the Tea Party and movement crowds. They dominate the caucuses in Iowa, not the primary in New Hampshire.'

Dante Scala, associate professor in the department of political science at the University of New Hampshire, said if there is a slight decline in the attention New Hampshire has been getting, it's because the former governor of neighboring Massachusetts has been polling well here.

'This one has never really been close all year. We saw a (Newt) Gingrich surge at Thanksgiving, but even now, Romney has had a big lead all year,' said Scala. 'I think there was a sense New Hampshire was Romney's and I think it's tended to have a dampening effect on the primary compared to '08 where (Barack) Obama was serious about New Hampshire all year and on the Republican side we had a free-for-all with McCain versus Romney.'

The most noticeable candidate in the state this week is Huntsman, who kicked off his 'Restoring Trust' tour on Wednesday in Pelham and will be campaigning in the state's 10 counties until Jan. 10. Huntsman is not campaigning in Iowa at all and has banked on a better than expected performance in New Hampshire to boost his national profile.

'In the last few weeks we have had standing-room-only events across the state and been endorsed by three major daily newspapers. The momentum is building, and we are well-positioned to finish strong,' said campaign spokesman Michael Levoff.

'A better than market expectation performance in New Hampshire will generate a head of steam that will propel us through the next early contest states.'

Sununu was quick to point out that Romney has invested much time in New Hampshire as well, including a bus tour last week.

'I think it's pretty clear some candidates have focused on New Hampshire. Mitt Romney has been in New Hampshire a significant number of days. I think Jon Huntsman spent a lot time in New Hampshire,' said Sununu.

'The most notable thing I've pointed out since November, when he received the endorsement of the Union Leader, Gingrich has only been in New Hampshire a few pieces of a few days,' Sununu said.

Also on the trail is businessman Steve Forbes, campaigning on behalf of Rick Perry.

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