The New Hampshire Primary is just days away, and the Republican candidates are using every tool at their disposal to make sure their name is checked off on the ballot.
Their political advertisements and public events can certainly portray a positive image to the average New Hampshire voter before they make their way to the polls. But it takes more than images and slogans to garner the trust of Granite State residents.
Not every voter is a political junkie who combs the web for every snippet of information on their candidate before making up their mind. Most voters are too busy with their own lives to scrutinize every detail about their potential choice.
That's why it helps to have someone they know and trust endorse a candidate who aligns with their political beliefs. And Mitt Romney has more of those New Hampshire power players in his corner than any of the other GOP contenders.
The power players
New Hampshire Senator Kelly Ayotte is a powerful player in the primary game whose endorsement of Romney gives him power and mobility.
Pat Griffin, a senior fellow at Saint Anselm College’s New Hampshire Institute of Politics, said the first-time politician's support has been a huge boost for Romney. Ayotte’s blessing gives Romney credibility in the more conservative circles within the state.
“She is highly thought of by conservatives,” Griffin said. “ She can bridge that gap with social conservatives for Romney.”
Fergus Cullen, a columnist for the Union Leader and former state Republican Party chairman, said the fact that the Republican senator was elected just last year for the first time makes a big difference, because she is still in battle mode.
“She has the largest, freshest statewide organization of anybody in New Hampshire,” he said. And she has been traveling around the state and using those resources to promote her candidate.
This was Ayotte's first political endorsement, and she had no obligation to make it, Cullen said. This increases the importance of her recommendation and helps Romney stand out above the crowd and raise more funds.
Griffin said having a broad range of conservatives, such as former senator and governor Judd Gregg and Congressman Charlie Bass, has also given Romney a fighting chance with otherwise skeptical conservative voters.
Of course the loudest voice in the state belongs to the Union Leader. The statewide newspaper recently chose Newt Gingrich as its latest conservative hero. The support of the largest newspaper in New Hampshire was a big get for Gingrich, who now has a powerful ally against his political rivals.
"The Union Leader's style is we don't just endorse once," Union Leader publisher Joe McQuaid told The Washington Post in 1999. "We endorse every damn day. We started endorsing Reagan in 1975 and never stopped."
McQuaid is not fond of Romney and has made that very clear on the front page of his newspaper. He has also shifted its attacks to Ron Paul as he rises in the polls, calling him “a dangerous man.”
Gingrich doesn’t have as many big-name endorsements in New Hampshire as Romney, but he does have some strong Tea Party support.
Dean Spiliotes, a veteran New Hampshire political analyst, said the addition of Andrew Hemingway to Gingrich’s campaign was a nice boost for the Republican candidate.
Hemingway, former chairman of the Republican Liberty Caucus of New Hampshire, left his position to become the first paid New Hampshire staffer for Gingrich.
New Hampshire House speaker Bill O’Brien has also publicly put his faith in Gingrich. O’Brien is a big name among conservatives, who named him this year’s recipient of the Lincoln-Reagan Award.
Jack Kimball, the former Republican Party chairman who was with Herman Cain, also recently endorsed Gingrich.
Tea Party members have been divided on which candidate will get their full support, but having those who align with their ideals, such as Hemingway, O'Brien and Kimball, could sway their vote towards Gingrich, according to Spiliotes.
Loyal foot soldiers
Politicians at all levels are well-known by voters in New Hampshire, according to Cullen.
“Everybody knows somebody who is an elected person," he said.
Cullen believes that New Hampshire voters will turn to a trusted politician in their area to help guide their decisions. An endorsement from a local state representative can be valuable and encourages a second look on the potential candidate.
“If I’m buying an iPad, I would call my brother who is a tech guy. If I’m in the market for a new car, I would call a friend who knows about cars," said Cullen.
Of course, these endorsements can mean a lot more to the candidates who are sitting lower in the polls.
Romney has an obvious lead in the number of endorsements he has collected in New Hampshire. A state representative coming out for Romney will be less important than one coming out for a candidate like Jon Huntsman, Cullen said.
“At some point, you are just another name on the list,” he said. “You can be overlooked.”
Conservative candidates also seek those who vote with their Bibles in hand, which is no problem for the spiritually-driven Rick Santorum. The Catholic candidate has garnered the endorsement of many key religious figures throughout New Hampshire and is especially popular with pro-life activists.
Yet Griffin said the spiritual vote in New Hampshire is much smaller than in Iowa, which makes the religious advantage a bit moot here.
He also argues that having a large number of endorsements is not a clear sign of a win, which he saw first-hand working with George W. Bush’s campaign in 2000. Although Bush had a large number of endorsements in the state, he still lost in New Hampshire.
“I don’t think there was a single endorsement we didn’t have,” Griffin said.
Spiliotes said having multiple endorsements can serve as a useful shortcut to various areas of the state, but they primarily serve as a kind of signal to political elites.
“For an endorsement, it has to be a real high profile person to move the needle at all, and there are not that many in the state,” he said. “The average person will not know who these (local state representatives) are.”
Timing is everything
Many politicians wait to see where a candidate’s campaign will go before jumping on board. But Cullen said the earlier endorsements have a much greater impact because they show a high level of faith in the candidate.
“A candidate will remember people who will join early rather than somebody piling on a bandwagon," he said.
Of course, a candidate’s campaign can go off the rails, and some choose to quietly rescind their support to avoid going down with the sinking ship.
Cullen said he finds it interesting that so many early supporters are sticking with Rick Perry, even as his campaign has taken a turn for the worse.
“People know it is all over for Rick Perry,” he said, “but they are living with it in sickness and in health.”
Are there any endorsements left that could make a difference in the New Hampshire primary?
Not really, said Griffin.
“I think most of the endorsements that mean anything have gone,” he said.
There are some big national players who have yet to endorse a candidate, such as former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin.
Griffin said a Palin endorsement for Romney would be the final push to get him the Tea Party votes he needs to win the New Hampshire Primary.
Of course, the most important endorsement for the candidates national campaigns is that of the New Hampshire voters.
“The only way to get that is to really get out and work for that retail vote in the final week of this thing,” Griffin said. “That endorsement means hard work; they need to show voters (they) really want to earn this thing."