I tweeted this a few hours ago and a thousand “Bye Bye Bye” jokes bloomed.

Does it matter that he has polled well with tea partiers at times, as surreal as that may seem?

Romney met with a group of about 25 steelworkers at a campaign stop in the northern New Hampshire town of Berlin…

The workers peppered Romney, a former Massachusetts governor, with questions about why cutting government spending would stimulate the economy, how he would adequately protect Social Security and whether he considered himself a member of the Tea Party.

Romney hedged on the latter question.

“I don’t know that you sign a membership,” he said. “What I consider myself is someone who is in sync with the Tea Party.”

There’s no good answer to that question for him, is there? If he says no, which would be the truth, the base will take it as a formal snub with it and he’ll lose whatever little TP support he currently has. (And he does have some.) If he says yes, we’ll laugh about it for a week and the Democrats will start churning out “Mitt Romney loves terrorists” talking points keying off the recent polls showing damage to the tea party’s brand. The best he can do is give the kinda-yes-kinda-no answer that he gave, patting TPers on the back but at arm’s length. Not that that’ll stop Debbie Wasserman-Schultz from droning on about his “embrace of extremism” or whatever during her next interview. You know how that Mitt Romney is. So extreme.

New numbers from New Hampshire, by the way: Romney 36, Perry 18, Paul 14, Bachmann 10. (Fun footnote: Jon Huntsman, who’s staking his campaign on being the Not Romney in NH, currently has a favorable rating there of 20/47.) If, as expected, it becomes a two-man race between Romney and Perry, I wonder how much regional loyalties and the fact that the state is a must-win for Mitt will affect Hampshirites’ votes. The same was true three years ago, granted, but McCain had won New Hampshire once before; this time the choice will be more of a clean slate. Per Weigel, I wonder too how New Hampshire’s semi-open primary will shake out between Perry and Romney. Registered Democrats can’t vote in the GOP primary but independents can, so there’s plenty of opportunity for strategic voting among left-leaning unaffiliateds — assuming the left can reach a strategic consensus. Whom would they rather face in the general? Or is their best option to line up behind Paul and spoil the significance of the primary for the larger race?