Greetings from New Hampshire! The sky is clear and the candidates are out in full force, stumping for ever-possible votes before the Tuesday primary.
Gordon Peterson and I are here to give you coverage from the ground. There's nothing like being up close and personal to feel the dynamics of this race. Despite being in the 30's today in New Hampshire, this race is getting heated. The candidates sparred until late into the night Saturday on the stage at the ABC News/Yahoo/St. Anselm debate. The headline? There were no sustained blows against Mitt Romney. But there were plenty of notable moments. You always know a big moment. The media scribes at the debate suddenly sit up and stop typing. Did Mitt Romney just tell George Stephanopoulos contraception "is working just fine. Leave it alone?" Yes he did! Gingrich went after Romney on the issue of jobs, saying he is management type but not a leader. But then he and Ron Paul got busy squabbling and lost sight of the frontrunner. Rick Santorum made no flubs but failed to make much of an impression as he tries to carry his momentum beyond Iowa. And Rick Perry did his best with a newer, more forceful focus - but it still feels too late. And his message that it's time to send U.S. troops back into Iraq probably won't win over too voters many here in New Hampshire. These White Mountain conservatives seem to prefer the Ron Paul message of less U.S. involvement in the world, not more.
Still, new polls out Sunday morning show Romney's leader of the pack caution is costing him some momentum here. For the third straight day, he has dropped in overnight polling. Romney now stands at 35 percent in the latest Suffolk University poll here in New Hampshire - down from 40 percent just days ago. But he still holds a solid lead over the current second place favorite, Ron Paul, who is supported by 20 percent of those polled. Paul is gaining ground, thanks to younger voters and New Hampshire's libertarian base. But Suffolk's polling director David Paleologos says Granite State voters seem to be enjoying their "contrarian" reputation by rejecting Rick Santorum - he's down to 5th place here - and putting moderate Jon Huntsman ahead at number three, with Newt Gingrich in fourth place. Rick Perry trails at one percent - tied with Buddy Roemer, the former Louisiana governor who keeps being left out of the debates because of his low position in the polls.
Now the candidates have clearly had their coffee as they go back at it again for the final debate hosted by Facebook and MEET THE PRESS. It got caffeinated quickly, with Newt Gingrich calling Mitt Romney full of "pious baloney" and Romney calling Gingrich on his pledge to run a positive campaign. But while Gingrich had gloves off today and Rick Santorum went after Romney - "if your record was so great in Massachusetts, why didn't you run for re-election.... why did you bail out" - it still felt like Mitt Romney managed to fend off any major blows. Gingrich probably summed up the frustration of those trailing Romney best when he pouted that Mitt Romney was acting too much like the front runner and ignoring the red light at the debate.
It is amazing to see how closely the world now watches the American primaries.
I've been covering presidential campaigns for twenty years and it used to be a relatively small group of us talking to the voters and covering the candidates here in New Hampshire. But in today's world, there has been an explosion of media coverage - and my apologies to the Granite State voters who can barely get in the same room with the candidates now that there is such a huge crush of camera crews and scribes. It's still very much worth seeing from the front row - but now the test is how well candidates hold up under the crush rather than how well they handle the one-on-one questioning that used to be common. Was Bill Clinton really going to drop out of the race as the rumors had it in New Hampshire in 1992? No problem. As a young reporter then, all I had to do was walk right up to him with my camera crew in New Hampshire and ask him - and be told that no, he had no intention of dropping out. Last night there were thousands of journalists packed in to the media filing center for the ABC debate. The ENTERTAINMENT TONIGHT reporter had a seat right next to AMERICAN PROSPECT magazine. I was on the ABC row with colleagues from WPVI in Philadelphia and WLNE's seasoned Mark Curtis from Providence - but ELLE magazine was in the row next to us. It's amazing to see a Paris-based television correspondent covering a Saturday night debate in Goffstown, New Hampshire. But the best part for me was sitting next to two of the most respected and experienced pros from Washington - our own Gordon Peterson and his INSIDE WASHINGTON friend and colleague Mark Shields. These two have covered campaigns for decades and it shows. The top political reporters from across the country all came by our spot to say hello and get perspective from the guys who have seen it all and can really assess who makes it and who doesn't in the rough and tumble world of presidential politics.
But we all here are aware of just how many more ways we have to reach you now and keep you posted on this intense race for first place. After Newt Gingrich cried here in New Hampshire, political reporter Mark Halperin - my former colleague from ABC News' WORLD NEWS TONIGHT WITH PETER JENNINGS and co-author of the bestseller GAME CHANGE - turned to INSIDE WASHINGTON's Mark Shields and quipped "Mark - what was the first tweet sent out when Muskie cried in '72?" Not missing a moment, Shields shot back "We had two carrier pigeons and sent them out with the news right away." Yes we have many more ways to reach you now. And I hope you will follow us on them all - on the web at www.wjla.com, on Twitter at @abc7news and @ABC7Rebecca, on Facebook at ABC 7 News - WJLA and Washington Business Report, and of course on the air at ABC 7 News/WJLA and Newschannel 8. But no matter how the medium changes for us to get messages to you from here in New Hampshire, one thing doesn't change. It's the voters that matter. We'll see what they have to say on Tuesday. And we look forward to hearing from you as you assess the candidates. As we listen to each of the candidates make their case, we want to listen to you as well. What do voters in the Washington area want from a leader in 2012? Let us know. Post your thoughts on the ABC 7 Facebook page or send me a message via Twitter. There are plenty of new ways for you to be heard, but it's the old-fashioned reporter's ability to listen that is what matters most when covering this campaign for you.
And, for a little fun. Want to play Where's Waldo with the Washington press corps and political types? In the picture with this story, can you spot - Bay Buchanan? Former New Hampshire governor John Sununu? The Nation's David Corn? MSNBC's Lawrence O'Donnell? The Washington Examiner's Byron York? There are lots more Washington insiders in this picture. Send us your sightings and we'll see how high you score on Washington type Waldo sightings!