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Romney's Unscathed After Back-To-Back N.H. Debates


This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm David Greene.


And I'm Steve Inskeep in Manchester, New Hampshire. Drivers rolled past a vivid site on the road leading into one of last weekend's presidential debates. Ron Paul's campaign had put up yard signs. Not just a few; a whole row of them. Nearby stood a cluster of Jon Huntsman signs and more for Newt Gingrich. Beyond that, Mitt Romney's campaign planted what seemed like a hundred blue and white signs in a row. And then, just when the blast of color seemed over, came one more sign for Rick Santorum.

Romney's leading here. But over the weekend his rivals attacked him from all sides. And let's start our coverage with NPR national political correspondent Mara Liasson.


UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Give a hoot for Newt.


Mitt Romney. Mitt Romney. Mitt Romney.

MARA LIASSON, BYLINE: Outside St. Anselm's College in Manchester Saturday night, there were dueling clumps of screaming, sign-waving supporters. Inside the debate hall, Mitt Romney was bracing for an all-out assault from his rivals. But it never happened, as his opponents chose to fight mostly among themselves. Here's an exchange between Ron Paul and Rick Santorum, who are competing to be the conservative alternative to Romney.


LIASSON: By Sunday morning, the strategy had shifted, as if the candidates finally realized that they only had one day left to try and stop Romney, who appears poised to roll from one early state victory to another.

Newt Gingrich pounced after Romney gave this explanation for why he decided not to run for re-election as governor of Massachusetts.


LIASSON: As Romney went on and on, Newt saw an opening.


LIASSON: The personal animosity between the two men was palpable. Gingrich has been seething ever since a super-PAC supporting Romney aired $3.5 million of attack ads against him in Iowa. When the moderator invited Gingrich to restate to Romney's face his charge that Romney was a liar, Gingrich looked straight at his opponent.


LIASSON: Romney was as usual prepared, and he had a ready answer, repeating all the charges made about Gingrich in the super-PAC ads.


LIASSON: Although the other candidates managed to remind voters about all the things they may not like about Mitt Romney, none of the attacks rattled him or made him loose his cool.

Rick Perry, who entered the race in first place and then stumbled out of the gate, found a graceful way to poke fun at the moment his campaign ran aground: his famous brain freeze at a debate in Michigan when he couldn't remember the three federal agencies he wanted to eliminate.



LIASSON: Perry, who's never been able to climb back out of single digits since that oops moment, left New Hampshire right after the debate to make a last stand in South Carolina. The rest of the candidates are spending one last day here hunting for votes.

Mara Liasson, NPR News, Manchester, New Hampshire. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Mara Liasson is a national political correspondent for NPR. Her reports can be heard regularly on NPR's award-winning newsmagazine programs Morning Edition and All Things Considered. Liasson provides extensive coverage of politics and policy from Washington, DC — focusing on the White House and Congress — and also reports on political trends beyond the Beltway.