Choosing sides

By DAVID S. BERNSTEIN  |  April 14, 2011

Killion says he was impressed by Pawlenty, who came to campaign for John Stephens's gubernatorial campaign, which he was in charge of. That led to him joining the T-Paw effort — along with Sarah Crawford of b-fresh Consulting, who is a Dennehy protégé who worked on both McCain campaigns.

JIM MERRILL (MITT ROMNEY) Merrill, son of former governor Stephen Merrill, is a pleasant, boyish-faced attorney at Devine Millimet who, still shy of 40, has become the behind-the-scenes superstar of the New Hampshire Republican Party.

Merrill distinguished himself on the 2000 George W. Bush campaign, and again for Romney in '08 — both times in competition with McCain and Dennehy, but the two speak highly of one another.

"You have to all get along in a small state," Merrill says.

Merrill also claims grassroots connections, including the top strategist role with 2010 US Senate candidate Ovide Lamontagne, who nearly rode a surge of Tea Party support to a primary upset of Kelly Ayotte. Lamontagne is another big Romney '08 supporter uncommitted for 2012, which some are reading as a sign of conservative disaffection, and others say has more to do with Lamontagne's plans to run for governor.

MICHAEL BIUNDO (RICK SANTORUM) Biundo isn't quite as big a name, perhaps, as Merrill or Carney, but he's the guy who led little-known Frank Giunta first to become mayor of Manchester, and then last year all the way to the US Congress. He was also deputy campaign manager for Pat Buchanan in 1996 — beating Carney's candidate, Bob Dole.

"I don't always gravitate to the front-runner," Biundo says.

He says Santorum impressed him — and was ready to commit to him early, hiring Biundo through his PAC back in January.

READ: "Romney rides again" by David Bernstein

To read the "Talking Politics" blog, go to thePhoenix.com/talkingpolitics. David S. Bernstein can be reached atdbernstein@phx.com. Follow him on Twitter at @dbernstein.

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