Romney, Obama battle in New Hampshire

2012-06-26 10:03

Durham - Tiny New Hampshire has only four of the 270 electoral votes needed to win the White House, but late on 6 November, small might be beautiful for Mitt Romney or Barack Obama.

With both campaigns predicting a cliffhanger election, even diminutive swing states can add up to far more than the sum of their parts.

Had Democrat Al Gore, for instance, captured New Hampshire in 2000 - he lost the state by around 7 000 votes - he would have won the White House and the presidency of George W Bush would have been stillborn.

Obama signalled the importance of a northeastern battleground known for flinty independence, by flying in for a campaign rally on Monday, before heading to Boston to cram more Democratic dollars into his war chest.

"Four more years" chanted a rowdy crowd of 1 200 jammed into a humid high school gym in the town of Durham, as Obama, shirt sleeves scrunched up at his elbows, hopped on stage in front of a banner bearing his new slogan "Forward".

"New Hampshire - this election is your chance to break the stalemate," said Obama, wiping sweat from his brow with a white handkerchief, as he wound up into his stump speech positioning him as a warrior for the middle class.

Swing state

Republican Romney is also fighting hard in the state, where he has a home and local bona fides after governing neighbouring Massachusetts, and has visited four times in the last six weeks.

"Definitely it is going to be close," a senior Romney advisor said.

Dante Scala, a political science professor at the University of New Hampshire, agrees.

"New Hampshire once again is showing bellwether tendencies and it is fully expected to be a swing state, maybe with a slight Democratic tilt to it."

Obama captured New Hampshire by nearly 10 percentage points in his thumping 2008 win over Republican John McCain, but mirroring the national race, the Granite state is expected to be closer this time.

A new American Research Group poll had Obama up 51 to 43% in New Hampshire, a state which does not vote a hard party line.

No certainty of victory

The current governor, John Lynch, is a Democrat. In recent years, the state has sent two women, Jeanne Shaheen and Kelly Ayotte to the Senate - one from each party.

The Granite state swings in presidential races too: In 2004 it went Democratic, but Bush won in 2000, Democrat Bill Clinton won twice, as did Republican Ronald Reagan.

Neither campaign can thus be certain of victory - so a multi-million avalanche of negative advertising will engulf long-suffering New Hampshire television viewers in the coming months.

Obama got a rude welcome from a front page editorial in the conservative Manchester Union Leader newspaper on Monday.

"This man has been an utter disaster for America," wrote the paper's publisher Joseph McQuaid.

"Never has this writer heard from more people, stranger and acquaintance alike, who say they hope for their children and their country's sake that Barack Obama is a one-termer."

National economic pulse

Wedged between Vermont, Massachusetts, Maine and the Canadian border, New Hampshire has fared better than many areas in the halting economic recovery.

Unemployment was at 5% in May, three points below the national average. Home foreclosure rates are also better than most US states.

But Scala said that although the presidential election is a series of state-by-state races voters tend to take the national economic pulse.

That is where Romney's opening lies, as he peddles his national message that Obama is a failed leader, who is clueless about creating jobs.

"As I look around at the millions of Americans without work, the graduates who can't get a job, the soldiers who return home to an unemployment line, it breaks my heart," Romney said in New Hampshire in mid-June.

"This does not have to be."

'Live free or die'

The New Hampshire race may boil down to a clash between two political machines - Romney's steeped in New England politics, and Obama's, humming along since his narrow 2008 primary loss here to Hillary Clinton.

Obama's camp thinks it is well positioned citing recent polls, and argues that since Romney is so well known here - and won the Republican primary in January - he should be doing much better.

"The more people see of Mitt Romney, the less they like him," an Obama campaign official said on condition of anonymity.

A senior Romney advisor however said Obama's "big spending, big government" approach and "Obamacare" health reform did not sit well with the "Live Free or Die" spirit of New Hampshire.

"It will be a very stark choice for voters in the fall."