MILFORD -- After a devastating flood last April, Milford needed a boost, and the Labor Day parade here, one of the oldest in the country, did the trick. There was Barack Obama and his moving rope line greeting students. Mitt Romney pausing to shake hands with firefighters. Chris Dodd holding his beautiful young daughter.

This is a Republican town; no other Republican had a presence here, except for a pair of signing-waving Guiliani backers and a truckload of veterans for McCain. This day, it seems as if his GOP rivals were yielding New Hampshire to him.

Romney, cheerful, suntanned, dressed in a polo shirt, came prepared with a few sound bites for the reporters. At a brief press conference,he teased Ex-Sen. Fred Thompson, who has decided to announce his presidential candidacy one day after an important debate here.

"I guess the only comment I'd make to Fred Thompson is, 'Why the Hurry?' Why not take a little longer to think this over? From my standpoint, if he wants to take 'till January and February, that's ideal."

Romney noted that the rest of the Republican field "would have had five debates without him."

Of this Wednesday's debate, which Thompson will skip, Romney said: "I think it will boost the ratings for the Jay Leno show, but I'd rather be doing well in New Hampshire."

He also tweaked Sen. Hillary Clinton, whose speech yesterday made the newspapers here for her assertion that she'd bring change to the country.

"I have no doubt in my mind that she would do her best to change America, but she would not take us in the direction that would lead to a strong America," he said. "Hillary Clinton: she'd bring change, it would be a sharp left turn..."

Done with the press, Romney walked about 20 yards to his east. There, Barack Obama was greeting a small crowd of wellwishers, mostly high school and college kids wearing "Department of Peace" tee-shirts. A Secret Service agent guarding Obama's rear tried to stop the phalanx consisting of Romney, several camera crews and Romney aides from slipping right behind Obama, but it was to no avail. Romney stuck his head in the camera shot and gave Obama a big "Hello, Senator!" Obama seemed mildly amused. "Well, let's wait until we debate," he said.

Romney jaunted off.

CNN's Candy Crowley asked Obama what he thinks he should do differently to jar Hillary Clinton out of her seeming lead in the state and nationally. (Note: Obama's campaign would dispute the premise). "People know me in terms of my name, but you get a sense that I sort of popped on the scene two years ago, instead of knowing my track record, working as a civil rights lawyer, as a community organizer and a state legislator," he said. "What we're doing is describing to the American people my background, why I think I can bring something new to the American political scene, why it's so important for us not to just change parties in the this election but to change politics in Washington."

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