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New Hampshire GOP Takes Early Look At 2012


Even before the State of the Union, the ground is being laid for the 2012 campaign. As always, New Hampshire is likely to play a key role. This weekend, Granite State Republicans elected a new state party chairman. The local headlines will tell you that a Tea Party favorite won that contest. Others will tell you that Mitt Romney won a somewhat meaningless presidential poll.

New Hampshire Public Radio's Josh Rogers was there.

JOSH ROGERS: In New Hampshire's first ever presidential straw poll, Mitt Romney bested his nearest rivals, Ron Paul and Tim Pawlenty, by 20-plus points. That result isnt much of a surprise; Romney was governor of neighboring Massachusetts. But even so, New Hampshire State Senator Jack Barnes, who backs Romney, sees the results as a kind of talisman.

State Senator JACK BARNES (Republican, New Hampshire): Romney and Pawlenty, thats the ticket. It should just be automatic.

Unidentified Man: Romney and Palin for vice president.

State. Sen. BARNES: Oh, Jesus.

ROGERS: But we are a year away from the primary. More front and center is the battle for state Republican chairman.

(Soundbite of chanting, "Jack")

ROGERS: The chanting was for Jack Kimball, the Tea Party activist who upset Juliana Bergeron, a self-described Goldwater girl, who was favored by much of the establishment, including outgoing party Chairman John H. Sununu. Prior to the vote, Sununu all but told party regulars a Kimball victory could jeopardize local Republican gains that were made in the 2010 elections.

Mr. JOHN H. SUNUNU (Chairman, Republican Party, New Hampshire): We dont want to be seen as a party that's a sliver of a party, because we cannot win without the support of those independents and Democrats who came and joined us this year.

ROGERS: When Kimball spoke he, too, stressed the need for party unity - but he didnt stop there.

Mr. JACK KIMBALL (Chairman-Elect, Republican Party, New Hampshire): This is also about liberty. This is also about freedom. That, plus our Constitution, will be at the forefront of my mind. It is a new day in the State of New Hampshire.

(Soundbite of cheering and applause)

ROGERS: But if there's any doubt about the significance of electing a new, New Hampshire Republican Party chairman, it was dismissed by a phone call from a prospective friend and prospective presidential candidate, former Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty.

Mr. KIMBALL: Let's just say thats the conversation I just had. So yes, he was congratulating me and told me he's looking forward to working with me, as we go down the road.

ROGERS: Kimball is likely to receive plenty more congratulatory calls, perhaps from Mitt Romney, maybe from Sarah Palin in this state that holds the first presidential primary a year from now.

For NPR News, Im Josh Rogers in Concord, New Hampshire. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Josh Rogers
Josh has worked at NHPR since 2000 and serves as NHPRâââ