MANCHESTER, NH -- On a cold, clear New Hampshire morning, the Romney campaign today opened a blitzkrieg grassroots effort in New Hampshire, designed to show off the campaign's organizational strength and support in a state considered vital to the former Massachusetts governor's presidential aspirations.
The campaign said the new effort, entitled "Earn It With Mitt," included 500 volunteers fanning out to knock on doors, distribute yard signs, and make thousands of calls across the state. And he kicked it off with a rally, headlined by Romney and his former presidential rival, Tim Pawlenty, here in Manchester.
While Romney and Pawlenty stayed on message during the rally -- Pawlenty praised Romney's electability and values, and Romney attacked the president for his 17-day holiday vacation -- the day's brewing political news about the race's two Georgian candidates dominated the press availability that followed.
Asked whether he could claim any of Herman Cain's supporters should Cain drop out of the race (and hours later, Cain suspended his campaign), Romney was hopeful.
"I hope that they give us a good careful look, that they see the work we're doing and the commitment of our people and recognize that what America needs right now is a leader, and I hope that as they evaluate the various candidates they'll conclude that I'm the leader America needs," Romney said.
Romney was also pressed repeatedly to comment on the surging Newt Gingrich, and to offer criticism of the former House speaker. But Romney demurred, saying only that there would be time to draw more distinctions later, but noting that their biggest differences were in their backgrounds.
"I happen to think that the biggest difference between us is our life experience, and that that experience will be figured into people's consideration as to who should be the nominee," Romney said.
Following the rally, Romney hit the streets of Manchester, with a pack of reporters trailing him, to knock on doors and ask for votes. Although no one answered Romney's knock at the first three homes he visited, Romney remained in notably high spirits as more folks came out to say hello along the half-hour walk.
Throughout the walk, Romney chatted casually -- and somewhat uncharacteristically -- with reporters about topics as varied as his Christmas plans (Iowa, New Hampshire or Massachusetts), his French speaking skills ("still pretty good"), and even the challenges of making conversation with strangers while campaigning -- a skill Romney is often criticized for lacking.
"It's awkward to come up to people you don't know and start talking to them. I think probably having learned that with my dad back when I was just a teenager has steeled me to the rigors of a ... what can be awkward for some folks, of having someone come up and start talking to them. But you get over that," Romney told reporters as he walked down Chestnut Street. "I don't know any techniques. You just go up and say hello and hopefully strike it off. And by the way, there are always a few folks who are not happy to see you and let you know that. It's all part of the experience."