MANCHESTER, N.H. -- Mitt Romney may not have formally declared his 2012 presidential candidacy but there's little doubt he's running as evidenced by his frequent visits and political activity in New Hampshire.
And while they wait for another Romney bid, some of his top campaign hands are staying active in races like Tuesday's GOP Senate primary won by Kelly Ayotte, a former state attorney general and establishment Republican candidate. She defeated Ovide Lamontagne, a prominent lawyer and longtime fixture in New Hampshire politics, by a slim 1,600 or so votes.
Several key aides of Romney, a former Massachusetts governor, were involved in Lamontagne's campaign. Among them was Romney's New Hampshire campaign manager Jim Merrill, who served as a senior adviser to Lamontagne.
Romney stayed neutral in the race and pledged to support the victor.
In 2008, Lamontagne endorsed Romney in the New Hampshire presidential primary but he says he's not ready to say who he will back in two years since there are no declared candidates at this point.
Romney, who remains popular in New Hampshire and has a home here, came in second in the 2008 New Hampshire primary, a little more than five points behind John McCain and 20 points ahead of third place finisher Mike Huckabee.
Romney is keeping his ties to the Granite State strong. On Thursday, he endorsed 33 GOP candidates running in New Hampshire and announced a donation by his political action committee of $40,000 to their campaigns. Among the beneficiaries are John Stephen, who is running for governor; Ayotte; former congressman Charlie Bass, who is running again in the 2nd Congressional District; former Manchester Mayor Frank Guinta, who is running for the 1st Congressional seat, as well as dozens of candidates for the state senate.
That's on top of $30,000 Romney has already given the state Republican Party and $6,500 previously given to state and local candidates.
Romney will be the keynote speaker at the state's party convention on Sept. 25 and was in the state last Saturday appearing at a Republican political event.
Romney and Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty are the only two potential 2012 candidates who have registered New Hampshire PACs. Newt Gingrich was in New Hampshire in June for a fundraiser and candidate training seminar.
Sarah Palin has not visited New Hampshire since the fall of 2008 during the presidential campaign.
Speaking at the Seacoast Republican Women's Chili Fest fundraiser last Saturday, Romney predicted big midterm losses for the Democrats because "people recognize our values are under assault." He said the Democrats are trying to "smother those quintessential American values," which have defined the nation.
"Almost everything they (the Democrats) have done has had the exact opposite effect of what they had hoped. President Obama's agenda has failed and that's why he'll be rejected in November," Romney predicted.
As for the influence of the Tea Party in New Hampshire, it has been somewhat muted. The state's GOP primary winners were all establishment politicians and there is no apparent rift within the party. Republicans held a traditional unity breakfast in Manchester Thursday morning at which all of the major GOP candidates -- both winners and losers -- appeared.
Ayotte called Congressman Paul Hodes, the Democratic candidate for Senate, a "Nancy Pelosi puppet" who has voted with the Democratic leadership 90 percent of the time. Hodes points out that he voted against the Wall Street bailout, though he did support the stimulus and health care reform -- both of which are Republicans targets.
In a state whose license plate reads "Live Free or Die", a small government, anti-tax message is part of the state's DNA. However, New Hampshire Republicans tend to be more socially moderate than most of their counterparts around the country.
A recent Public Policy Polling survey showed Ayotte with a narrow lead over Hodes.