MANCHESTER, N.H. – The Granite State shares more than the early-voting spotlight with caucus-cousin Iowa.
Its love affair with Barack Obama is in the same funk as is true in the Hawkeye State.
And it all has to do with how New Hampshire voters feel about Obama’s handling of the economy, according to David Paleologos, pollster and director of Suffolk University’s political department.
Paleologos says data points to Obama being vulnerable here – and that matters, he adds.
"You wouldn’t think that four measly electoral votes would turn an election," he said. "But in the current electoral map that Obama is counting on, New Hampshire is everything."
A University of New Hampshire poll in October showed Obama hitting a new low in his handling of the economy, with a staggering 58 percent disapproval rating; 52 percent disapproved of his health-care bill. His overall favorability among all-important independent voters was at 35 percent.
That’s a sharp drop in a state which Obama carried by almost ten percentage points in 2008.
Ray Buckley, who chairs the state’s Democrats, watched the political pendulum swing seismically to Republicans in state, congressional and U.S. Senate races in the last election. He believes Obama will win re-election here tactically, relying on massive voter contact, door-knocking, media hits and friend-to- persuasion.
"We have more Obama campaign offices in the state than all of the six candidates running for the Republican nomination combined," he boasted.
Asked what message Obama will use to win back voters, Buckley was less direct. "We plan on increasing our ground troops," he said.
Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak, the Democrats’ national co-chairman, is more forthcoming on that question. Obama’s message, he said, "will be that he passed the health-care law, single-handedly saved the car industry, ended the wars and has had 22 months of job growth."
"Jobs – where are those jobs?" asks Charlie Logiotatos. The small-businessman admits he supported Obama in 2008 mainly out of Republican fatigue.
"He was a smooth talker, what can I tell you?" Logiotatos said in between serving customers in his diner. "His entire campaign was based on hype."
Now he is saddened by the number of older, college-educated people who walk through his door looking to work as dishwashers after a lifetime of working white-collar jobs.
"I have to admit, it is scary," he said. "Here you have people who are used to making $50,000, who are reduced to washing dishes or sweeping floors. They are the people who have given up, whose unemployment checks have stopped coming in."
Logiotatos said the sour economy also has produced an uptick in crime: "The bank next door? Robbed three times in the past few months. Drugs are a problem, too.
"I say people have lost hope since 2008. I don’t think that was what the slogan was meant to portray," he said of the president’s original hope-and-change platform.
In the three-block walk between Logiotatos’ diner and a local stationery shop, four older panhandlers step from the doorways of shuttered shops to ask for spare change.
Mabel Amar is a hard-core liberal, to the left of Obama, and she is very disappointed in him.
"He extended the Bush tax cuts, and he compromised with the Republicans," she blurts, "and I say, how dare he?" In a perfect world, she would vote for someone else, she said. "He has disappointed so much of his base."
No matter which side of the political aisle you occupy, a deep distrust of government and a fear of it encroaching upon people’s lives have always existed in New Hampshire.
To win this state again, the president needs to explain his record and have some sort of accomplishment to tout. Yet none of his accomplishments sit well with voters here in the "Live Free or Die" state.
Independent voters such as Logiotatos, who helped to push Obama to victory in 2008, have hardened against him and will not turn back. Liberals such as Amar, who make up his critical base, are not motivated to turn out and vote; to them, Obama has been very disappointing.
And "the president has to have this state to win," reminds pollster Paleologos. "It is as important as either an Ohio or a Pennsylvania."
Pittsburgh Tribune-Review Political Reporter