The former Massachusetts governor is leading in Granite State polls. He also owns a $10 million lakefront house there.
WOLFEBORO, N.H. -- Autumn is in the air in New Hampshire, which means the political rhetoric is also here, even in the tucked-away reaches of this tiny lakeside town where Mitt Romney has a summer home.
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Little pumpkins decorate the driveway, despite the fact that the lakefront property is closed up for the winter. Neighbors walk their dogs down the street where the only address is Romney's. Locals bundle up out-of-towners and take them for rides on their boats to see the Republican presidential contender's house from the water, the most spectacular view.
It's a stunning getaway destination that, in this election year, comes with a bit of a burden. As the former governor of neighboring Massachusetts and a property owner in the Granite State, Romney is the next-best thing to a favorite son (though he's not a registered voter in the state), meaning that anything less than a first-place finish in the state's first-in-the-nation primary will be read as a potentially crippling blow to his quest for his party's nomination.
Romney recently generated a flurry of unwanted headlines over plans to expand another high-priced home he owns in La Jolla, Calif., but the home he owns here is hardly a cottage. Occupying nearly 800 feet of waterfront, the view from the lake is "fabulous," said local real estate agent Kathryn Aiken. Purchased for $3 million in 1997, according to the New Hampshire Union Leader, the home is now valued at more than $10 million.
In addition to the main house, which boasts seven bedrooms and a view of Lake Winnipesaukee, the property also features a stable "with living quarters," a boat house, a beach volleyball court, and a giant trampoline -- every grandchild's dream, and the Romneys have 16 to keep happy. According to Town of Wolfeboro records, the stable house, which was valued at $250,000 when the Romneys purchased the property in 1997, is now worth $2.1 million. The lot where the stable is located alone is valued at $1.3 million, according to local tax records.
In other New Hampshire towns, such as Manchester or Concord, almost every inch of lawn space appears decorated with signs touting one presidential candidate or another. Wolfeboro residents tend not to wear their political preferences on their lawns - although the few posters that do freckle the tony landscape belong to Romney supporters. Though Romney is clearly adored by many in the hot weather haven, he isn't taking his summer neighbors' votes for granted: He held a town hall at the local Bayside Grill and Tavern in July. The area is predominantly Republican, residents say, though in 2008, President Obama came close to winning in Wolfeboro. GOP presidential nominee John McCain eked out a 2,137-2,032 victory, according to town clerk Patricia Waterman.
Town residents have only kind things to say about the Romneys, but that doesn't necessarily mean they want them in the White House. There's a pervasive fear that their quaint, quiet town might turn into a tourist haven -- as Kennebunkport, Maine, did when one of its summer residents, George H.W. Bush, became president.
Nancy Bell, who was born in Wolfeboro and works at the local high school, is worried about the security and tourists that would invade town with Romney in Washington: "The fear is there that some of the small-town character of Wolfeboro could be lost." She said she likes "that I can walk down the street and see people I know and walk into the post office and say hi" without the intrusion of strangers.