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N.H. Republican says Sarah Palin’s window is closed

Republican activists in early voting states like Iowa and New Hampshire generally speak of Sarah Palin’s presidential prospects in encouraging terms. She’s a star, they say. If she decides to run, she’ll shake up the field.

Lately, the praise has been tempered with warnings about how her time is growing short.

But on Monday, the day Palin appeared before a large and very enthusiastic crowd at a Tea Party Express rally here, and two days after her much-anticipated speech to the Tea Party of America in Indianola, Iowa, a plugged-in New Hampshire Republican said he believes her window has already slammed shut. At least in the Granite State.

“I think it’s too late for Gov. Palin to get into the race,” said Steve Duprey, a former New Hampshire Republican Party chairman and veteran of John McCain’s 2008 campaign. ”

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Duprey, who is not aligned with a candidate, said he does not believe Palin has time to put together an effective organization in New Hampshire, which holds the nation’s first primary in early 2012. That event is hugely symbolic in the course of the presidential campaign.

But supporters say that if Palin were to get in the race – she has said she will make her intentions known by the end of September or so—she could run an unconventional campaign without the usual apparatus. In Iowa, such an approach, they say, is possible because a passionate group of Palin supporters has taken unilaterally begun creating a framework of supporters and a data base that could be quickly tapped.

But New Hampshire is a different animal. And here, she has no similar structure.

“New Hampshire is a state with one of the highest voter turnouts in the country,” said Duprey, whose wife, Susan Duprey, is a campaign-trail confidante of Romney’s wife, Ann. “If you skip or take a dive in New Hampshire, it would be such a black mark I don’t think you could recover. Nobody who has ever skipped New Hampshire has ever become the Republican nominee.”

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Palin sound very much like a candidate during her 25-minute speech Monday afternoon in Veteran’s Memorial Park. Her drawing power is considerable—about 1,000 turned up to hear what was a rousing pep talk for the Tea Party movement, which she urged to fight against “Barack Obama’s very strange, fundamental transformation of the country that we so love.”

Besides lavishing praise on the “independent, common-sense constitutionalists” before her, Palin reprised most of her themes from the speech she gave Saturday in Iowa: the president is incapable of fixing the broken economy, the American people are beholden to a professional political class interested only in self-perpetuation and “crony capitalism” – as practiced by politicians of both parties, big business, and big finance -- is the root of the country’s economic ills.

Interrupted by chants of “Run, Sarah, run!” she at one point, smiled and said, “Thank you for your encouragement,” deflecting for the umpteenth time an answer about her plans.

By contrast, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, drew only 250 to a rally put on by the same Tea Party Express group in nearby Concord. Romney, who has a vacation home in New Hampshire, is practically considered a native son, and continues to lead in polls here.

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Romney, who had not put much effort into courting tea party supporters, recently reached out to them. He needs to. Texas Gov. Rick Perry, though only in the race for a little over three weeks, has already leapfrogged over Romney and is leading in polls, thanks in good measure to support by tea party conservatives.

At a pancake breakfast for 450 on Monday, Romney stressed the bonds between the tea party and the Republican establishment. He dismissed stories about a rift that led one tea party faction to protest his inclusion in the Tea Party Express rally on Sunday.

“No one wants to watch a TV story that says ‘Mr. So-and-So spoke to a group and he was well received,’” Romney said on a large deck at the Derryfield Country Club, a municipal golf course. “What you want, is ‘Mr. Romney came to this group and there were two protesters that yelled at him. And so naturally, there’s great interest to say, ‘Oh the Tea Party and mainstream Republicans, oh, they’re fighting.’ ”

He called the tea party “a powerful movement” and said its core principles are the same as the GOP’s.

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“The tea party has at its center core a belief that government is too big. Sound familiar? That’s what we’ve been saying for years and years as the Republican Party.”

Romney’s sudden embrace of the tea party gave Palin an opportunity to tweak him—though not by name.

“We’re seeing more and more folks realize the strength of this grass-roots movement,” Palin said. “And they’re wanting to be involved. I say, right on! Better late than never--for some of these candidates, especially.”

And she alluded to some rifts in the tea party, particularly the protests that some unhappy tea party conservatives mounted on Sunday when Romney addressed the Tea Party Express. “Media-incited internal squabbles,” she said, must be nipped “in the bud.”

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“It’s time now to grow the tea party movement,” Palin said. “We simply don’t have time to bog down in internal…and friendly-fire conflicts,” she said. “The Tea Party movement is bigger than any one person and it’s not about any one candidate.”—30--


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