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Mitt Romney's tough call: Court the tea party to counter Perry surge?

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The New Hampshire primary directly precedes South Carolina’s, and if Romney wins in New Hampshire as expected, a poor showing in South Carolina would hurt his momentum.

Romney has visited South Carolina only once this year, and Senator DeMint is an important power broker on the Republican right. He backed Romney in 2008, and has yet to make an endorsement for 2012.

The New Hampshire tea party event is a trickier call. Few self-proclaimed tea party activists back Romney for the nomination, and there’s a chance he may be poorly received by the crowd in Concord. FreedomWorks, a Washington-based group that trains tea partyers, plans to protest Romney’s appearance.

But on balance, it’s a smart move for Romney to address the tea party crowd in Concord, says Dante Scala, a political scientist at the University of New Hampshire.

“The goal for Romney in New Hampshire is not necessarily to win over a lot of those folks, but to make sure they’re not fired up to make Romney their No. 1 opponent,” says Mr. Scala. “To go speak to them at least gives them something to think about, and lets them see Romney in person.”

The one public poll of New Hampshire GOP voters released since Perry entered the race on Aug. 13 shows Romney maintaining his big lead there. And Perry’s big Texas personality may not be a good fit for the more secular, reserved Granite State sensibility. But Romney can’t take any chances with the state neighboring his home base of Massachusetts. If he loses the New Hampshire primary, his campaign is likely over.

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