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Romney's presidential debate performance boosts downballot hopes

October 04, 2012|By Michael A. Memoli

HENNIKER, N.H. -- Ovide Lamontagne, the Republican nominee for governor in New Hampshire, had to be concerned with a poll released this week that showed his party’s presidential nominee trailing by 15 points in the battleground state.

Then came Wednesday’s presidential debate, widely seen as a victory for Republican Mitt Romney.

“I think I could still win even if the top of the ticket wasn’t performing as well as we’d hope. But certainly last night gave everyone on my team, and myself included, a new sense of optimism and enthusiasm,” he said in an interview Thursday.

In that respect, Romney’s strong performance in his first head-to-head meeting with President Obama appears to be having a trickle-down effect, easing concerns of GOP hopefuls across the country that the president’s strengthening position in the weeks following the conventions would lift all Democratic candidates on Nov. 6.

PHOTOS: Memorable presidential debate moments

Before Wednesday’s meeting in Denver, one Republican strategist acknowledged that a strong Obama win in New Hampshire could doom Lamontagne in his effort to reclaim the governor’s office for Republicans for the first time since 2005.

Lamontagne, whose support was heavily courted by Republican presidential hopefuls in the state’s leadoff primary, stopped short of declaring that Romney’s performance Wednesday would alter the course of the campaign.

“It’s only in hindsight that we might say that depending on what happens,” he said.

But he did say it was a “critical moment” for his party’s nominee.

“Gov. Romney was able to show the nation that he not only has the vision and the plan, but he has the strength of character to take the issues and debate them with the president of the United States in a respectful way, in an intelligent way, and in an impassioned way,” he said. “Bringing those factors together I think makes him a brand-new candidate to a lot of voters who either haven’t paid attention or maybe were not enthusiastic one way or another.”

DEBATE QUIZ: Who said it?

Lamontagne appeared Thursday at a debate of his own, against the Democratic gubernatorial nominee, former state Sen. Maggie Hassan, who a day earlier shared a stage with former President Clinton at a rally for the Obama campaign in Durham.

Lamontagne’s sentiment was reflected in the reaction of Carrie Williams, a single mother from Contoocook, N.H., who attended Thursday’s gubernatorial debate after watching the presidential debate last night.

Registered as an undeclared voter, Williams voted for Obama in 2008 and was leaning toward him again heading into the debate, but  is now reconsidering.

Romney’s answers “were more concise,” and he seemed “more on his game,” she said.

“Someone like me that doesn’t have a lot of time to watch and learn about all the politics, he just kind of put it in a way that was a lot easier for me to follow,” she said.

TRANSCRIPT: Read Obama, Romney’s arguments

The gubernatorial debate was mostly about local issues, save for a late exchange about Obama’s healthcare law – “Obamacare,” as both Lamontagne and Hassan referred to it.

It was in that exchange that Lamontagne did demonstrate a slight inclination to keep some   distance from the national Republican brand.

“I’m running for governor, not Congress,” he said. Later, he said he would “check my party label at the state House door.”

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michael.memoli@latimes.com

Twitter: @mikememoli

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