Obama v. Romney: The Battle for NH Begins
Experts say incumbent has a huge head start on Romney.
With Mitt Romney having all but locked up the GOP nomination, local political observers say they expect Vice President Joe Biden to be in full attack mode when he speaks in Exeter on Thursday.
"Just in the last couple days, people feel like the general election is starting to ramp up," said Dean Spiliotes, a Southern New Hampshire University political scientist. "The change in language has been noticeable."
University of New Hampshire political science professor Dante Scala said attacking Romney will be Biden's job "each and every day until November 6."
Both Biden and President Obama have been talking more and more about Paul Ryan's budget plan, trying to tie Romney to it.
"They're basically going back to the traditional Democratic theme of fairness," Spiliotes said. "They're trying to paint Romney as part of the Congressional Republicans who are only interested in helping their friends."
On Thursday, Biden will be talking about the Buffett Rule, which would require millionaires to pay at least 30 percent of their income in taxes. That figures to tie directly into the shots some Republicans have already fired at Romney, saying that he pays too little in taxes and is out of touch with the typical American voter.
Romney, who made countless stops here prior to the New Hampshire Primary, now has a lot of ground to make up after spending the last three months campaigning elsewhere.
The Obama campaign has been busy during that time ramping up with staffers, and Biden has spent a ton of time here in recent months.
"They started early," said Andy Smith, director of the University of New Hampshire Survey Center. "This is Biden's fifth or sixth visit, Obama's been up here, his wife's been up here. This is an indication they think this state's going to be very close. And the fact that only four electoral votes are at stake here means they think the entire race is going to be close."
A recent RealClearPolitics piece said Obama has a "massive organizational head start" over Romney in New Hampshire, with 30 paid staffers on the ground, compared to zero for Romney.
"For whatever reason, they've decided they want to compete in New Hampshire," Spiliotes said. "The sense is that even though Obama did well and won here last time, it's not necessarily a sure thing."
Despite Romney's status as a summertime resident of New Hampshire, his campaign is already attempting to lower expectations. Jim Merrill, Romney's senior New Hampshire adviser, told RealClearPolitics that Romney will be the "underdog" here due to the big head start the Obama campaign has.
"It is interesting," Spiliotes said. "I've heard several people here say Romney doesn't seem to be spending much time here. Is he taking the state for granted?"
Obama appears to be faring better against Romney in the polls as well. After trailing Romney in head to head polling in New Hampshire for the past year, a Feb. 3 poll conducted by the UNH Survey Center showed that not only had Obama's approval rating climbed to its highest level since July of 2010, but that he was leading Romney 50 percent to 40 percent in New Hampshire.
"That was the first time in the past year that Obama was leading Romney in New Hampshire, largely because Democrats got back on board," Smith said. "Obama's approval rating had been declining, but it jumped up in that survey, almost exclusively from Democrats. Republicans and independents are still pretty unfavorable."
What the numbers show, he said, is that the Democrats are "circling the wagons" as the election draws nearer.
"I think the broader point is for the last year or so, it's been Romney leading Obama, and even if Obama's leading now, it points out it's going to be very close," Smith said.
"A lot of national polls are showing Obama's made up a lot of ground with independents against Romney," added Spiliotes. "It's not a sure thing, but he's certainly in better shape than he was six months or a year ago."