(Mark Wilson/Globe Staff)
Taking a corner of the counter for a standing breakfast, Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney pours maple syrup on his pancakes at the Golden Egg in Portsmouth as customer George Armstrong, 85, (center) watches.
By Michael Levenson, Globe Staff
PORTSMOUTH, N.H. -- Mitt Romney, trying to recover from a humbling defeat in Iowa, said this morning that he doesn't necessarily have to win Tuesday's New Hampshire primary to stay in the hunt for the Republican nomination.
He told reporters that there will be two tickets out of the Granite State and he expects to hold one of them. Romney and the surging John McCain are locked in a tight battle, according to the latest polls. Romney's strategy had long been to win both Iowa and New Hampshire to build unstoppable momentum toward the Feb. 5 super primary, when 22 states are scheduled to vote.
When he arrived in New Hampshire early this morning, he put the best face on his loss to Mike Huckabee in Iowa.
It was 3:45 a.m., but Romney was standing on the back of a black Ford 350 pickup, shouting hoarsely into a microphone.
"Wow, you guys are crazy! What a welcome! What a welcome!" he boomed to 100 cheering, sign-waving supporters. "Have you guys just gotten up or are you going to bed -- which is it?"
The rally in a Portsmouth airplane hangar was carefully staged to give Romney a boost after his loss in the Iowa caucuses just a few hours earlier.
After flying through the night from Des Moines, with the press in the aft of a chartered JetBlue plane, Romney descended the stairs onto the tarmac. It was dark and cold but there was a crowd of reporters, photographers, and TV crews there to greet him.
Flanked by his wife, Ann, and his two of his five sons, he strode into the hangar to the strains of Elvis's "A Little Less Conversation," and climbed onto the pickup. The crowd of supporters included diehard local Republicans as well as Bradley H. Jones Jr., the Republican leader of the Massachusetts House, and Kerry Healey, who was Romney's lieutenant governor.
"It's so great to be back in New Hampshire!" Romney said. "What a thrill it is to come here to see all of you! I simply can't get over it."
After noting that in Iowa, "we got the silver," he vowed: "In New Hampshire, we're going to get the gold."
He also laid out the argument that will likely fuel his push to Tuesday's New Hampshire primary against McCain, the veteran US senator from Arizona. The main lesson from Iowa, Romney said, is that voters want "change in Washington."
"There are some people who are going to try to convince the voters of New Hampshire and other states that all we need to do change Washington is have the same people go there but just change chairs," Romney said. "That's not our idea. No, what we're going to do to change Washington is to bring someone in -- I'm talking about me -- to bring to Washington the kind of can-do change experience that I've had everywhere I've been."
After the five-minute speech, he mingled and shook hands. Someone handed him an Olympic-looking medal on a red, white, and blue ribbon and he wore it around his neck. It was gold and stamped with the word "winner."