- Associated Press - Sunday, May 1, 2011

MANCHESTER, N.H. | Republican presidential hopefuls converged on New Hampshire over the weekend, shaking hands, organizing supporters and laying more groundwork for the crucial primary battle next year.

Barely 12 hours after five possible candidates spoke Friday at a dinner in Manchester, three of them showed up less than 10 miles away for a second gathering Saturday morning. Though Rep. Michele Bachmann of Minnesota started from scratch with her speech, former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty and former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum largely stuck to the highlights they had delivered the night before, when they were joined by former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and businessman Herman Cain.

That was probably the point, said Wayne Lesperance, a political-science professor at New England College who said multicandidate events are more about helping candidates refine their stump speeches than winning over voters.

“There’s not this crowd of undecideds wandering around these events thinking, ‘Gosh, I just don’t know who to vote for,’ and then these speeches will bring them over,” he said.

So-called “cattle calls” also give candidates who have taken concrete steps toward launching a bid a way to further distinguish themselves from those who haven’t, and most importantly, they put candidates in front of key players who can share their Rolodexes and open their checkbooks, he said.

Mr. Santorum, for example, was sure to mention that he has visited the state 15 times, while one of Mr. Pawlenty’s campaign videos played before he spoke.

All three White House hopefuls warned that this is the first generation in danger of not passing along a better America to the next.

“I should probably be at my son’s Little League baseball game,” Mr. Santorum said. “But I’m not going to be the generation of Americans who hands off to my son Peter - who’s playing baseball right now - a country that is less than what I got.”

Mr. Pawlenty said he senses worry all over the country that the next generation will lack the opportunities he and his contemporaries have had.

“We need to as conservatives, as concerned citizens, as patriots who see this clearly, make sure we rise up and say, ‘America’s place is not to follow China or to be second place or have the government suffocate and strangle the American spirit. America’s place is to lead the world in everything,’ ” he said.

Mrs. Bachmann said the current generation is “consuming the very sustenance of the generation that’s not even born.”

“In my opinion, that’s one of the greatest moral offenses of our day: That we will have to answer to ourselves and that generation: What did we do when we had the chance?” she said.

She described learning about the Holocaust as a child and wondering if her mother did anything to stop it. The next generation will ask similar questions about what their elders did to prevent them from facing a tax burden that could end up amounting to 75 percent of a worker’s income, she said.

Andrew Smith, director of the University of New Hampshire Survey Center, said such events also are interesting because they show how candidates relate to each other - he wondered ahead of time whether the candidates would all focus their criticism on President Obama or whether any would take a swipe at Mr. Romney, considered the front-runner (they chose the former). But at this stage, the gatherings are more valuable to the organizers than the candidates, he said.

“It’s more for the organizers to point out who they are, what their interests are and to get the candidates to talk about things that are interesting to them … so they’re part of the debate going forward,” he said.

Friday’s dinner was sponsored by the Americans for Prosperity Foundation and focused on economic issues and job creation. Saturday’s event was sponsored by We the People, a nonprofit group founded by former congressional candidate Jennifer Horn, who followed up the candidate speeches with a roundtable discussion with South Carolina Sen. Jim Demint and Iowa Rep. Steve King.

Mrs. Horn said the fact that both events were filled to capacity showed that New Hampshire voters want to check out the candidates in multiple venues.

“People have been looking at them for months. A lot of times what candidates miss is that the primary doesn’t start when they decide they’re ready, it starts as soon as the voters are concerned enough that they start looking and vetting and paying attention,” she said.

“Folks are looking for multiple opportunities. They want to see their candidates over and over again, they’re looking for consistency, they’re looking for details.”



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