Mitt Romney will campaign Friday in New Hampshire, looking for his own "bridge to nowhere." The Romney camp thinks they have found it in a 19th century bridge no longer used for traffic that was restored with state and federal funds.
Romney's attack on the $288,000 bridge restoration will run into several immediate challenges: Funding for the project was overwhelmingly supported by state Republicans, including a significant number who have now endorsed Romney for president. The infrastructure project created much-needed jobs during tough economic times. And it left behind a public park enjoyed by Granite State residents who take great pride in their early-American and colonial history -- and who will be casting critical, swing-state votes in November. It's a curious breed of conservatism that would find offense in the job-creating conservation of a stone arch bridge that is one of the earliest examples of dry-laid masonry vaults in New England.
According to the Union Leader of Manchester, Romney is scheduled to speak in Hillsborough on Friday afternoon, and will highlight the Sawyer Bridge as an example of unnecessary government spending. The stone bridge, originally built in the 1800s, is no longer used for vehicular traffic, but the area surrounding it has been converted into a small public park. A Romney spokesperson didn't immediately respond to a request for comment.
Romney will use the location to emphasize what he sees as the misuse of taxpayer funds in the face of the growing national debt. He'll have to be careful which local politicians he invites to stand behind him at the campaign event, because a number of prominent state officials who have endorsed Romney might not agree with the former Massachusetts' governor's characterization of the bridge.
The restoration project cost $150,000 in federal stimulus money -- roughly the amount that Romney earns in three days of income that he still receives from his old job as a private equity executive.
Flickr photo by oliva73200 taken in December 2011.
In 2004, the New Hampshire state legislature, with overwhelming support from both parties, approved a 10-year infrastructure plan that included $138,000 for the Sawyer Bridge repair. The funding provided for a new top surface for the bridge, as well as money to create a picnic area and nearby parking. According to the roll call vote record, the proposal was approved by at least 28 state senators and representatives who have since endorsed Romney.
The additional $150,000 in federal funding as part of President Barack Obama's American Recovery and Reinvestment Act in 2009. Restoration was completed in 2010.
That year, Republican Sean Mahoney made a similar attack on the Sawyer Bridge during his failed bid for Congress. Mahoney's former campaign strategist Pat Hynes was recently hired by the Romney campaign
During the 2008 presidential campaign, then-Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin (R) spoke repeatedly about rejecting federal funding for a multimillion dollar bridge that would have been used by only a handful of residents. The story turned out to be mostly untrue -- she was for the funding until it became clear Congress wouldn't provide it -- but Palin used it to establish her fiscally conservative credentials. Alaska's bridge to nowhere was easily mockable, but the bridge in New Hampshire appears to offer little to grab on to.
While New Hampshire went for Obama by over nine percentage points in 2008, recent polls have predicted a fairly tight race in November. As a result, both parties have put a strong emphasis on the state. Friday's visit marks Romney's third stop in the state in the last month. Vice President Joe Biden will make his fourth trip of the year on Tuesday.