MANCHESTER, New Hampshire (Reuters) – Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney flexed his campaign’s organizational muscle in the key early voting state of New Hampshire on Saturday, unleashing hundreds of volunteers to knock on doors and make phone calls on his behalf.
The former Massachusetts governor also criticized the attorney general, calling for Eric Holder to resign or be fired over “Fast and Furious,” the botched law enforcement action aimed at disrupting gun-trafficking networks on the U.S.-Mexico border.
Standing before a poster reading “Earn It,” Romney said his campaign had already placed 200,000 phone calls in the state of 1.3 million people, and planned to call an additional 12,000 potential voters on Saturday.
Romney has held a wide lead in most polls of likely Republican voters in New Hampshire, which holds the first primary of the 2012 presidential contest on January 10. Republican hopefuls are vying to challenge President Barack Obama in the November 2012 election.
But in a survey taken last Monday, former House of Representatives Speaker Newt Gingrich pulled to within 10 percentage points of Romney following an important newspaper endorsement.
Gingrich recently added advisers in New Hampshire, but his grass-roots apparatus there pales next to that of Romney, whose volunteers aimed to “knock on 5,000 doors … and put together 10,000 yard signs” on Saturday alone.
Romney continued to draw contrasts with Gingrich, who has soared to the top of many national Republican polls.
Gingrich could benefit from the suspension of businessman Herman Cain’s campaign on Saturday after weeks of allegations of sexual impropriety against the former pizza magnate.
Romney, who has had an uneasy relationship with the conservative Tea Party movement that had been at the core of Cain’s support, made an appeal for the group’s backing by highlighting his background in the private sector.
“Speaker Gingrich is a fine person but he’s spent his life in Washington,” said Romney. “That doesn’t exactly line up with the Tea Partiers. I think when things are said and done, I’ll have good support from the Tea Party and hopefully the majority of their support.”
DEMANDS HOLDER QUIT OR BE FIRED
Romney went on the attack against Holder after the White House released documents on Friday showing how some Justice Department officials had given false denials about involvement in the “Fast and Furious” endeavor.
“I think it’s now increasingly clear that he misled Congress. It’s time for Attorney General Holder to leave office, either to resign or be removed by the president,” Romney said in an interview with Fox News.
Other Republican presidential hopefuls, including Texas Governor Rick Perry and former Utah Governor Jon Huntsman, have also called for Holder to quit.
Fast and Furious was a sting operation designed to stem illegal weapons traffic into Mexico. But many of the guns bought by straw purchasers in Arizona have been used for violent crimes.
The debacle came to light after a U.S. Border Patrol agent was killed in a shootout with illegal immigrants on the border. Two of the weapons at the scene were tied to the operation, although it was not clear if they fired the fatal shot.
Holder has expressed regret over the botched operation, but said he knew about it only after the controversy erupted.
(Reporting by Jason McLure; Editing by Ros Krasny and Peter Cooney)
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