Clearly, the president’s camp believes New Hampshire is very much in play in the 2012 presidential election.
On the heels of a Granite State visit by Vice President Joe Biden last month, President Barack Obama made his own appearance at Nashua Community College last week, talking about energy. He blamed the rising gas prices on tension in the Middle East. Obama criticized Republicans for focusing too much on solely new drilling, and he called for Congress to end the practice of handing oil companies subsidies. He also pointed out that the country’s dependency on foreign oil has decreased since he took office.
In recent weeks, Obama has seen his approval ratings jump considerably in New Hampshire. He’s certainly not a lock in the Granite State, but jumping from 10 points down in his approval to 8 points up in one poll — that’s pretty good. There’s still plenty of volatility, though. Obama also visited the state last fall. That followed a lengthy time in between visits. Reports indicated First Lady Michelle Obama will be visiting New Hampshire soon as well to focus on childhood obesity issues.
The longer the Republican primary drags out the better for Obama, though we probably got a lot of answers following Super Tuesday earlier this week, when seven states voted.
Beyond Obama’s and Biden’s stops in the state, Democrats are clearly gearing up. Inevitably, there was a bit of a political void once the Republican primary season finished up in January here in New Hampshire. There are more Democratic events. Democratic leaders are stepping up, such as Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, who, it was recently announced, will have a leadership role in Obama’s reelection effort. Democrats are probably thrilled to see Obama trying to stoke the Democratic fires. Democrats aren’t going to see the same level of energy they experienced in 2008, but there are some positive signs out there.
The GOP response
Naturally, not everyone was thrilled to see the president. Republicans took the opportunity to take a few swipes at Obama and his agenda. The new name of the game is to suggest the president should be apologizing to Catholics.
“Since the President has demonstrated a profound deference to religious sensitivities in extending his apology to the Afghani Muslims for the burning of the coded copies of the Koran taken from terrorists, he really should take the opportunity of his visit to our State to likewise extend his heartfelt apology to New Hampshire Catholics,” said New Hampshire House Speaker William O’Brien, R-Mont Vernon, in a statement. “Indeed, his apology should be offered to all Americans for trampling on their religious principles and beliefs.”
O’Brien also said forcing Americans “of any religion” to comply with ObamaCare, which O’Brien said was anti-religious itself, stands in stark contrast to the principles the country was founded on.
It could be a stretch in New Hampshire to play the religion card in a political context such as this. Certainly, there is a faction of people in the state who feel as O’Brien does, but it’s probably not the majority of New Hampshire voters. The Granite State is a place where religion and politics simply don’t mix in the way they do in other places. There are plenty of people here who are strongly opposed to ObamaCare and any type of health care mandates, but that’s probably more tied to the state’s libertarian streak than to religious beliefs.
House Majority Leader D.J. Bettencourt, R-Salem, focused more on economic issues and specifically how New Hampshire is faring better than the rest of the country. Bettencourt pointed out that the state’s unemployment rate is shrinking, and that legislators have brought state spending under control while not raising taxes, all without using a government bailout or stimulus program.
“The President should leave his big government ‘solutions’ in Washington and learn that we can get the economy moving again only when we lift the government burden off of those who actually create jobs,” Bettencourt said in a statement.
New Hampshire key?
Rep. Steve Vaillancourt, R-Manchester, predicts on his blog at NHInsider.com that Romney will win the presidency in an extremely close election, but he sees New Hampshire’s four electoral votes as potentially being the difference in the election.
Vaillancourt points out that Real Clear Politics lists 10 states as toss-ups, including New Hampshire, Florida, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Virginia. It’s not out of the realm of possibility that in the race to 270 electoral votes, the election could sway one way or the other depending on who the Granite State picks, Vaillancourt writes.
While Obama’s polling numbers have improved, things are still shaking out. A recent Gallup poll found that Republicans lead Democrats in terms of enthusiasm about voting, 53 percent to 45 percent. Of course, the GOP dominated in the enthusiasm department in 2010. It doesn’t feel like Democrats will dominate in that way this time around, but Democrats are certainly mobilizing and the GOP appears at least somewhat on its heels.
There does not appear to be an obvious line of attack against Democrats — for one thing, perhaps, there are few Democrats in office in the Granite State right now, and therefore, there are few pieces of legislation for Republicans to pinpoint here. It’s much easier for Democrats to play the extremism card against Republicans this time around, particularly with a dramatically pared down state budget and potential social legislation on the docket.
Obama had polled poorly in New Hampshire for months. With his support growing at least somewhat, perhaps the Granite State will still see national action leading up to November. We’ll see.