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In the Granite State, a Romney blitz

LITTLETON, N.H.-- New Hampshirites living south of the White Mountains would have been hard pressed not to cross paths with Mitt Romney Wednesday, in some form or fashion.
 
There he was, up bright and early, at the Stage Restaurant in Keene. Romney was already on his second major television interview of the day by 9:00 a.m., while patrons sipped coffee and tried not to spill it and gaggles of press packed the tiny diner.
 
"If we knew at the time of our entry into Iraq that there were no weapons of mass destruction, if somehow we had been given that information, why, obviously we would not have gone in," Romney told NBC's Chuck Todd on MSNBC's "Daily Rundown" this morning, generating just one of many headlines to come.
 
Four interviews and fewer than four hours later it was lunch time, and the former governor and his wife were passing out slices of pizza and cracking jokes in Newport. Romney ordered his pizza Hawaiian style, but with olives, and left a tip at the counter.
 
"Hope we find it," Romney said of his pie, keenly aware of the crush of reporters and patrons who would forever block his path back to the counter.
 
Whether he ever ate the pizza may remain a mystery. Romney next showed up carrying sandwiches - dozens of them - for the press trailing him on this four-day, blitzkrieg tour of the state considered a must-win for his presidential ambitions.
 
Passing out subs with abandon, Romney kidded about the reluctance of some reporters to accept a simple sandwich.
 
"What are guys eating back there? Filet mignon with some brie, is that it back here? What's going on?" The former Massachusetts governor said, before mocking another famously patrician politician from his home state. "This is the John Kerry bus, back there, I'm sorry."
 
From there it was on to cutting steel with lasers like a movie villain in Hanover (complete with stylish eye protection), and serving Spaghetti to dozens of supporters at a VFW in Ashland to round out the day.
 
Get all that?
 
Somehow, between the food, the bus packed with surrogates and friends (New Hampshire's own Sen. Kelly Ayotte, former Gov. John Sununu and Former Sen. Judd Gregg tagged along for much of the day) and yes, the hand-shaking with voters, Romney's campaign remembered: this trip is business. The high-visibility, high-intensity schedule is meant to shore up support for Romney in a state most political observers believe he must hold, particularly if he falters in Iowa, or if his poll numbers in South Carolina and Florida continue to lag far from striking distance of the current front-runner, Newt Gingrich.
 
With a constant crush of cameras and national attention at every stop, Romney kept the news media busy, churning out story after story.
 
The multimillionaire Romney told NBC News he didn't intend to release his tax returns, even if he were to become his party's nominee.
 
"Never say never, but I don't intend to do so." Romney told NBC, bouncing along in his tricked-out bus.
 
Then there was the payroll tax cut fight, which Romney tried to stay largely above, managing to ding the President on an issue that has largely devolved into a battle between house and senate Republicans.
 
"Leaders are involved in the process, as opposed to standing back and just criticizing the people who are in the process. The Democrats have the majority in the Senate. This is not just a Republican matter, this is Republicans and Democrats," Romney said in Keene. "The president should've been working with his leaders in his own party and he should've been reaching across the aisle to find among Republicans those who he thinks could come to common position with the Democrats."
 
Romney also stoked the flames in his burgeoning battle with Newt Gingrich, warning the former speaker that the stinging ads aired in early states by a Super PAC supporting Romney was just the beginning of the negative onslaught to come.
 
"If you can't stand the relatively modest heat right now, wait until Obama's hell's kitchen shows up," Romney said. "Obama is putting together a billion dollars, he's going to be attacking us day and night -- he's already attacking me."
 
That brought a retort from Newt Gingrich, also campaigning in the state, later in the day.
 
"I'll tell you what. If he wants to test the heat, I'll meet him anywhere in Iowa next week, one-on-one, 90 minutes no moderator, just a timekeeper." Gingrich told NBC News. "He wants to try out the kitchen? I'll be happy to debate him anywhere. We'll bring his ads, and he can defend [them]."
 
But Romney was already past the kitchen by then - making his only non food-related stop of the day at Hypertherm, a steel cutting business in Hanover, where he praised the ingenuity and skill of the workers there, and defended his record at Bain Capital, when a voter questioned him about layoffs.
 
"The truth is this, the business I was in, called Bain Capital, we invested in over 100 different businesses. Some of them didn't work. Some failed. Some ultimately laid off individuals and some of them went out of business," Romney said, before spinning the question around into a prelude of a possible future democratic attack against him. "I know the Obama administration will try and put free enterprise on trial. And guess what? That happens."
 
By the time Romney was serving meals a few hours later and fifty miles down the road at a VFW hall, the news had largely been drawn out of the day, like blood being taken. There was nothing left to give in Ashland, except spaghetti, well-wishes for the holidays, and stories from Olympic heroes past meant to warm the heart on a night so icy, some supporters called the campaign just to be sure the event wouldn't be cancelled.
 
If some New Hampshirites failed to see Romney today - either on TV, in person, on traveling the winding back roads of New Hampshire in his enormous blue and white bus, fear not. Tomorrow is another day, with seven more stops in the North Country, and at least one more network television interview.
 
By then, surely, every resident of the Granite State will have had their own run-in with Mitt Romney.
 
If not, he'll be back. Of that you can be certain.

Mitt Romney has been the on-again/off-again GOP frontrunner all year, and for him, there's no state more make-or-break than New Hampshire. NBC's Chuck Todd reports.