'Inevitable' Mitt Takes A Hit

Michael Falcone
Midnight Voting in N.H. Shows Romney in the Lead (ABC News)

By MICHAEL FALCONE ( @michaelpfalcone ) and AMY WALTER ( @amyewalter )

MANCHESTER, N.H. - No one will be surprised if and when Mitt Romney wins New Hampshire tonight, but everyone woke up from the snooze-button primary yesterday to some political fireworks that could help shape the outcome of the nominating contests ahead.

On a day when Romney's opponents on both the right and the left unleashed a barrage of criticism over his work at the investment firm, Bain Capital, Romney didn't do himself any favors.

"I want individuals to have their own insurance," Romney said yesterday in a speech at the Nashua, N.H. Chamber of Commerce. "That means the insurance company will have an incentive to keep you healthy. It also means if you don't like what they do, you can fire them. I like being able to fire people who provide services to me." http://abcn.ws/woxwfr

The "I like being able to fire people" line became an instant hit among his rivals.

Jon Huntsman responded: "It's clear is he likes firing people, I like creating jobs."

Rick Perry's campaign even created a custom-made cell phone ring-tone based on the remark.

With the damage done, the question now is whether to what extent the Bain attacks and Romney's dissonant comments about his business savvy hurt him going forward, especially in the next two states to vote: South Carolina and Florida.

While strategists on both side of the aisle agree that Romney's Bain background is going to give him trouble in a general election, at least two smart GOP strategists said it is unlikely to be all that effective in the primary.

"I do think there is a change in the GOP toward a more blue-collar party and these kind of attacks might have some resonance with this group," one strategist said, "but, I think even with these voters, I suspect this is a stretch"

Another Republican tactician agreed saying that this line of attack has "limited appeal in a Republican primary" since "being successful isn't a problem" for GOP primary voters - even those who come from a working class background.

But, the New York Times' Matt Bai writes that the Bain hit "could prove sticky, for three reasons. First, it takes Mr. Romney's central rationale as a candidate and turns it into a bludgeoning tool.  … Second, it casts doubt on Mr. Romney's aura of electability. … And third, the Bain line of attack, more than anything else brandished against Mr. Romney to this point, might bring to the surface an instinctive concern that he's emotively challenged." http://nyti.ms/A8N9yW

The National Journal's Jim Tankersly finds it "surprising that the Republican presidential front-runner is struggling to fend off his rivals' attempt at a hostile takeover of his private-sector resume. …. Romney must reclaim his narrative, and not just by questioning his Republican critics' commitment to free enterprise. He could start by recasting his Bain years in terms of results, not jobs created." http://bit.ly/AEYWH2

And writing at Slate, John Dickerson notes that the "attacks may help Romney's primary challengers, and they will certainly soften up Mitt Romney for the general election. Importantly, they give credibility to an entire line of Democratic argument about income inequality and the destructive force of commerce." http://slate.me/wI8QKl

We may not know the extent of the immediate damage until we move on to the South Carolina contest, but even though the former Massachusetts governor may wake up tomorrow with the top prize in the Granite State, the "Mitt Romney vs. Gordon Gekko" narrative may lead to some nightmares ahead. http://abcn.ws/zqz1pj

ABC's David Muir previewed the day ahead in New Hampshire on "Good Morning America" today and what to expect when the results pour in tonight. WATCH:  http://abcn.ws/ytoskh

NEW HAMPSHIRE PREDICITONS. As ABC's George Stephanopoulos and political analyst Matthew Dowd pointed out on "Good Morning America" today, the bigger story out of New Hampshire tonight could be who comes in second. "I actually think what could easily happen today is because of what's happened with Mitt Romney and the surge I think you're seeing in independent voters is Jon Huntsman could finish second," Dowd told George. More predictions from the political duo: http://abcn.ws/yzChmE

WHAT TO WATCH FOR: WMUR-TV political guru James Pindell takes us on a five-minute walk through of the key communities in New Hampshire to watch today for signs of the outcome of today's vote. It originally aired during WMUR's hour-long primary eve special last night. WATCH: http://bit.ly/Ab0GPt  By the way WMUR's election night coverage will be simulcast on CSPAN tonight at 8 p.m. ET.

DEMOCRATS, REPUBLICANS SPIN PRIMARY DAY.  The Republican National Committee released a new web ad today called "Failed Promises: New Hampshire" to "remind voters of President Obama's false hope and failed promises." WATCH: http://bit.ly/zJvSrQ Meanwhile, Obama for America-New Hampshire plans to hold events across the Granite State on primary night to continue building up our organization in New Hampshire. Vice President Joe Biden will be teleconferenced into events across the state and will discuss the next steps for supporting the President and the Democrats in the coming months, according to an OFA release.

New Hampshire for Dummies: ABC's Chris Good tells us why the first-in-the-nation primary is important: http://abcn.ws/yO8IqW



HUNTSMAN FIRES UP CROWD ON PRIMARY EVE. A dispatch from ABC's Susan Archer: On the eve of the New Hampshire primary Jon Huntsman took to a platform surrounded by over 300 supporters, and wearing a United States Navy leather jacket, the GOP contender rounded off 170 public events at the very site where he first kicked off his presidential efforts last June. A rarely hyped up and excited Huntsman called out to his supporters, "Are we ready to rock and roll tomorrow?! We are ready to rock and roll!" Tuesday night's rally offered spectators a different side of the governor and former ambassador. Over the last two days, it's as if the world remembered that he was running, with an ever-increasing media swarm and huge turnouts to his events. The campaign calls it 'Hunts-mentum'. http://abcn.ws/zKsfm5

Here's how Team Huntsman is framing the end of the hard-fought campaign: "Team Huntsman is sprinting to the finish and we couldn't feel any better about the message the candidates are leaving with voters today. Governor Huntsman is focused on restoring trust in Washington and putting country first. Governor Romney is focused on petty politics and explaining away why he likes firing people."

SANTORUM EVENT GETS OCCUPIED. Rick Santorum had his final rally tonight before Granite Staters start voting Tuesday morning in the first-in-the-nation primary, ABC's Shushannah Walshe notes. Supporters and press mobbed the candidate as he made his way around the packed restaurant and bar here. As he exited his final primary eve event, he was surrounded by a mix of protesters from the Occupy movement and Ron Paul supporters. As he walked out of Jillian's in downtown Manchester, his staff surrounded him and the protesters tried to form a circle around the former Pennsylvania senator. They chanted, "Bigot, bigot!" and "Shame, shame!" as he made his way to his car. http://abcn.ws/z06KIP

DO INDEPENDENTS MATTER? "Forty percent of voters identified themselves as politically independent in 2011, according to a new Gallup poll released today, the highest number recorded in the poll yet. The previous high for independents was 39 percent in 1995 and 2007. Democrats won both presidential races in the following years," reports ABC's Huma Khan. "Independent voters are an increasingly important voting bloc. They have outnumbered both Democrats and Republicans continuously for the past two and a half years, by far the longest period in which they've done so in ABC News-Washington Post polls dating back to 1981. … Some experts, however, advise caution about the potential impact of independent voters in this election cycle, citing data showing that most in this voting bloc are still partisan and tend to lean more on one party or the other. Additionally, many Americans who identify themselves as independent have little interest in the political process and might not actually show up in the polls to vote. Swing voters, experts say, are really the ones who are influential and can be swayed either way in the general election. But they are a lot smaller commodity than independents generally." http://abcn.ws/wcuYBO

WHAT'S NEXT FOR RON PAUL? "Ron Paul efforts in New Hampshire include more than 50 stops and spending more than $2 million in advertising since in May. He's a distant, but solid number two in almost every poll. The campaign said Sunday that they are hoping for an upset. Because of the media Circus yesterday - the campaign isn't announcing which polling stations he's visiting today," ABC's Jason Volack reports. "The campaign is already looking ahead to South Carolina. The congressman is scheduled to hold a rally Wednesday afternoon in Columbia. The campaign describes it as a short stop on the way back to Texas where Paul will take another few days off.  Florida is the next primary after South Carolina and Paul doesn't plan to actively compete in the state. Campaign chairman Jesse Benton told Politico that 'it would cost about $9 million for Paul to be competitive. And that was too much for 50 delegates."' In an interview with CNN on Monday, Paul said he was realistic of his money situation and he's not going to spend money he doesn't have."



@ DavidChalian : Attention NH primary voters: Snap a photo at your polling place(if allowed) and send it in to Yahoo! News:  yhoo.it/zH4GLk

@ rabcarian : Me and my LAT wolfpack on Primary Peepers. They're just like Leaf Peepers, except they're lookin' for candidates:  lat.ms/zX52lW

@ DylanByers : Dan Rather: "New Hampshire loves to give some humility to frontrunners."

@ American_Bridge : BREAKING: GQ on  @tymatsdorf's "bookish-hip glasses of a man who makes his living looking at a computer screen"  gqm.ag/AxgSTA

@byjayroot : Perry embeds,  @byjayroot  @CarrieNBCNews @ArletteSaenz  @pelirojito  @Rebecca_CBSNJ, unveil hash tag:  #lastcall


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