Gregg: With right message, campaigns can make a last-minute move in NH

The weekend before the New Hampshire presidential primary has historically produced a great deal of movement.

New Hampshire voters, especially the independents who are allowed to vote in the Republican or Democratic primary, tend to make their final decisions late. This is because the candidates remain available and engage in the process, giving the voters a chance to continue to evaluate their abilities and message right up until the voting starts on Tuesday.

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In 1988, George H.W. Bush overtook Bob Dole, who was believed to have a significant lead, in the last weekend through an aggressive media and personal campaign over the last week.

John Mccain closed the deal in his 2000 New Hampshire win a little earlier, but there was still significant movement during the last weekend as he defeated the heavily favored George W. Bush.

Hillary Clinton saw a huge momentum shift in her favor versus Barack Obama in the last days of the 2008 primary because of her handling of a question in Portsmouth, N.H., in the final weeks.

Will it be different this year? Is the dye cast?

The fact that there is a major debate on the Saturday night of the last weekend almost assures an opportunity for candidates to either lose or gain support. Debates do not often occur this close to the vote, and thus it is likely to have a significant impact on the final call that many voters make as they head into the polling places on Tuesday.

Because he is leading in the polls and has focused so much time on New Hampshire, if Mitt Romney does well in the debates then the contest is likely over. He wins.

But the other candidates, especially Newt Gingrich, have signaled that they intend to attack Mitt aggressively and try to force a misstep or at least create concerns that so far have not resonated.

My guess is that this may backfire on them most New Hampshire voters are not interested in the personal attacks; they are very focused on the issues, especially how to get the economy going and how to get the nation's debt under control.   Candidates who depart from addressing these concerns to delve into score settling do so at considerable risk to their own viability.

The primary vote in New Hampshire is not heavily influenced by the "movement" or "social issue" conservative agenda. Rather most voters are primarily interested in who will carry a message of fiscal responsibility and regaining American prosperity against an administration and president who have decide to take us down the road of a European social welfare state approach to government.

The New Hampshire voter wants someone who can lead us out of this wilderness of excessive and intrusive government that is threatening the well being and prosperity of our nation and our children's future. That voter is not going to be all that impressed with candidates who posture themselves in the negative.

Saturday night's debate will be turned to by a large number of New Hampshire voters as a forum where they expect to learn which candidates will carry this positive message. That candidate will come out the debate — and most likely next Tuesday — in an extremely strong position.

Judd Gregg is a former governor and three-term senator from New Hampshire who served as chairman and ranking member of the Senate Budget Committee and as ranking member of the Senate Appropriations subcommittee on Foreign Operations. He also is an international adviser to Goldman Sachs.

In October, Gregg endorsed Mitt Romney for president.