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Inside Politics

'Massachusetts factor' raises stakes for Romney

Story Highlights

• History suggests Massachusetts ties affect New Hampshire presidential primary
• In '88, then-Massachusetts Gov. Michael Dukakis won the primary
• In '92, former Massachusetts Sen. Paul Tsongas won it
• In '04, Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry took top prize among Democrats
By John King
CNN Chief National Correspondent
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MANCHESTER, New Hampshire (CNN) -- Call it "the Massachusetts factor."

Look on a car with a New Hampshire license plate, and there's a fairly good chance you will see a Boston Red Sox bumper sticker. The Boston newspapers are available at most newsstands and in many coffee shops.

And the Boston TV stations, especially in southern New Hampshire, are a big source of news and other programming -- including political ads.

So perhaps it should be no surprise that when it comes to presidential politics, history suggests a Massachusetts factor.

In 1988, for example, then-Massachusetts Gov. Michael Dukakis won the presidential primary here. In 1992, it was former Massachusetts Sen. Paul Tsongas. And in 2004, Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry took top prize here among Democrats.

And yet suggest there might be a "Mass factor" to veteran New Hampshire strategist Tom Rath, and he says: "Nobody has any special expectations about how you are going to do here. Geography is not a factor."

Call that spin, pure and simple.

Rath, you see, is a top adviser to Republican presidential contender Mitt Romney. and Romney just happens to be the former Massachusetts governor.

Press Rath, and he gives a little ground.

"Geography is nice. That makes it easier for him to sleep in his own bed. But it is competitive, it is grueling up here. No special advantage is given, nor should one be expected because of where you come from."

It is an effort to lower expectations that Romney has to win New Hampshire or see his campaign falter. It is a tough sell, and not just because Romney is from neighboring Massachusetts.

He also owns a second home in Wolfeboro, New Hampshire, which is the home of the state Republican Party chairman.

"I have seen him and his family out on their mountain bikes in town, and people see them going to the store and in the hardware store," the New Hampshire GOP chairman, Fergus Cullen, told CNN.

A recent American Research Group poll found Romney running second here, behind Sen. John McCain, R-Arizona, and just ahead of former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani.

Camp Romney says it is McCain who should be burdened with the high expectations -- given the fact he won the New Hampshire GOP primary back in 2000.

"The president of New Hampshire," is how Rath playfully describes McCain.

But former New Hampshire Gov. Jeanne Shaheen, a Democrat, says it will be difficult for Romney to shake the high expectations that come with being a neighbor.

"And sometimes in New Hampshire, the expectations are really more important than where you turn out," Shaheen says.

"A lot of us feel we know them," Shaheen said of Massachusetts politicians. "There is an expectation."


Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romey's aides downplay expectations that he will do well in New Hampshire.



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