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Buddy Roemer and Gary Johnson: Arm chair debaters

Manchester NH -- While Rick Perry was grasping for the right words at last night's debate in Michigan, longshot candidate Buddy Roemer tried to lend the Texas governor a hand from his living room across the country in New Hampshire.

"It's energy, Rick! Energy! Oh come on, Rick, it's energy," Roemer shouted at his flat screen tv as Perry floundered, searching for the name of the third federal agency he'd eliminate if elected.

Frustrated at missing the 8th debate in a row, Roemer sighed and shook his head. "Oh, how I wish I could be at just one of these debates," he said.

Roemer, also a former Louisiana governor and former 4-term congressman, spent two hours last night pacing in front of his television, dictating substantive answers and searing criticism of his rivals as his "Twitter volunteer" dutifully condensed his words into 140-character tweets. Perry and Romney may not have heard what Roemer was saying, but at least his followers did.

"It's frustrating. I try to make fun of it but at the end of the day it's frustrating. No one else up there has been both a congressman and governor. I've actually done this stuff," Roemer said while making coffee during a commercial break.

Roemer is one of two Republican presidential candidates who have been elected to statewide office, but who have not been invited to participate in this fall's series of nationally-televised debates. (They've been excluded due to poor poll numbers.) As a result of limited exposure, New Hampshire -- geographically small and accessible -- has become the focus of his entire strategy as he tries to maximize his shoe-string budget.

Roemer drove his car up from Louisiana to New Hampshire a few months ago and moved into a small one-bedroom basement apartment near the Manchester airport. His wife Scarlett stayed behind in Louisiana, where she works as a nurse.

The other candidate who migrated to New Hampshire, former two-term New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson, has had slightly more success. He's appeared in two debates this cycle. But last night, Johnson watched the debate flicker across his laptop screen with his son Erik in what he calls his rented "log cabin," where he doesn't get CNBC on cable.

Even though they've had no luck lobbying for spots in future debates, Johnson and Roemer remain undeterred. They both believe that, here in New Hampshire, low budgets don't necessarily mean low chances. The two former governors are chasing their White House dreams because they've heard that in New Hampshire, anything is possible.

And there are others here who will not dismiss their chances.

“The New Hampshre primary has been for those regardless of their status, whether they have fame or fortune, but they have a chance here," said New Hampshire Secretary of State Bill Gardner, the keeper of the first-in-the-nation primary. Gardner has been administering primaries since 1976.

Roemer believes New Hampshire to be an ideal landscape for someone who eschews corporate or special-interest donations. As a long-time advocate of campaign finance reform, he has set a self-imposed limit of $100 per donation. He's even shot an anti-super PAC mock advertisement with Stephen Colbert that caught the attention of national audience.

The random moments of attention and social media do give Roemer a bit of a bump, but much to his staff's chagrin, his $100 donation rule makes fundraising exceedingly difficult. But Roemer stands by his guns.

"These are guys who all have super PACs, all take special interest money," Roemer said of the top-tier candidates. "These are not solutions. The solutions they have won't get done because Washington is not controlled by the president. Washington is controlled by the people who own the president."

Soon, though, Roemer will be have a rare moment to shine as a potential front-runner. Later this year, the state will host what is being billed a "lesser known candidates' debate" at the New Hampshire Institute of Politics at St. Anselm College ahead of the January 10 primary. It is a tradition that gives candidates registered for the primary a chance to share their views on local television. Roemer and Johnson will certainly be the best known.

With less than 8 weeks to go until voting day, Roemer says he needs the boost.

"I need to do well in New Hampshire. Not 10th place or 8th place or 6th place. I need to be in the top three or four," Roemer said, making that newspaper headline motion with his hands. "So the headline needs to be 'Romney wins, Roemer surprises.' Or somebody wins, and 'Roemer
surprises.'"

For all the cash that he lacks, no one can accuse Roemer of lacking optimism.

"I'm gonna get it," he said. "I feel it coming."