Can Romney Turn Early Popularity into Votes?

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DERRY, N.H. -- The polls show former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney is the front runner for the Republican nomination for president and he is hoping that popularity turns into votes, especially in the early primary state of New Hampshire.

Romney wants to be known as a regular in places like Marianne's Diner.  That's why he stopped by the diner this week.

"Thank you. Good to see you," Romney said as he shook several hands of patrons.

It helps that the candidate served as governor next door in Massachusetts. Many here see him as a middle-of-the road Republican, which plays well in the more moderate New Hampshire.

"It's time for somebody to be in the middle, which is one reason right now why I'm very supportive of Mitt Romney, because I think he represents the middle ground more than anybody," one New Hampshire voter told CBN News.

When you're seen as leading the pack, you can count on two things -- the media following your every move and politicos analyzing your chances.

"The sense here is not that he is this formidable front runner. It's that he's the front runner by default," explained James Pindall, the political director of Manchester, N.H., television station WMUR.

That's because most of the field is unknown and most voters haven't made up their minds yet.

With a Mormon faith and questions about changing positions on some social issues, Romney will bypass evangelical-heavy Iowa and focus his effort in New Hampshire.

"For Mitt Romney, the front runner supposedly, but a nominal front runner because he's not got the size of the lead we've seen in past campaigns - everyone knows he has to win New Hampshire," Washington Post Reporter Dan Balz told CBN News.

Romney wants to be seen as an economic turnaround artist.

"To create jobs it helps to have had a job. I had a job for 25 years in the private sector. That experience will help me if I'm elected president to craft solutions that actually make a difference," he said.

Romney's big challenge will be to convince Republican voters that he is a true-blue free market conservative. That might be tough since he devised the Massachusetts-run healthcare plan often compared to Obama's healthcare law.

While he says each state should come up with its own plan, Romney has yet to detail how he would tackle healthcare at the federal level.

"If he can speak convincingly about a de-centralized system, a devolution of power, a Reagan solution and he can be convincing, I think he can get by this issue. But he needs to complete that thought," conservative activist Olive LaMontagne said.

Romney also needs to complete the race and is counting on New Hampshire to give him a strong start.

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