MANCHESTER, New Hampshire (Reuters) - President Barack Obama sought to turn up the heat on congressional Republicans in a campaign-style visit to New Hampshire on Tuesday, but came under fire himself from Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney in the political battleground state.
Obama struck up a populist tone over jobs and taxes a day after a bipartisan congressional committee announced it had failed to reach a deal to slash federal deficits. It was fresh evidence of partisan gridlock and legislative dysfunction in Washington.
The choice of New Hampshire, where in January Obama’s Republican challengers will hold the first primary vote of the 2012 election, automatically thrust him into the campaign spotlight as he faces a tough path to a second term.
He tore into Republican lawmakers for blocking much of his $447 billion job creation plan and challenged them to drop their resistance and vote next week to approve an extension of expiring payroll tax breaks.
“Do you want to help working families get back on solid ground and grow this economy for all of us?” Obama asked in a speech to a cheering crowd at a Manchester high school. “Or do you really want to vote to raise taxes on nearly 160 million Americans during the holidays?”
Romney, who has remained at or near the front of the pack of Republican contenders for most of the campaign, used Obama’s New Hampshire visit to roll out a television advertising campaign attacking the Democratic president over his economic record.
The ad shows Obama at a New Hampshire campaign rally in October 2008, before the election the following month, saying he was “confident” of steering the United States out of economic crisis. “He failed,” the ad says.
Romney, former governor of neighboring Massachusetts and Republican front-runner in New Hampshire, ignores his party rivals in the ad, sticking to a strategy of looking beyond the primary season and toward a matchup with Obama.
White House spokesman Jay Carney charged, however, that part of the Romney ad was “blatant dishonesty.”
The spot uses an edited clip of Obama’s 2008 speech that has him saying, “If we keep talking about the economy, we’re going to lose.”
In fact, Obama’s full quote, a mocking reference to his 2008 Republican foe John McCain, was: “Senator McCain’s campaign actually said, and I quote, ‘if we keep talking about the economy, we’re going to lose.’”
The economy - with unemployment stuck at 9 percent - is considered the critical issue to voters who will decide next November whether to give Obama a second term.
His strategy - which he has been test-driven in a series of visits to political battleground states in recent months since his jobs bill stalled in Congress - has been to paint the Republicans as obstructing his efforts to boost the recovery.
During his brief stop in New Hampshire, Obama made no mention of Romney, who was in Washington with most of his Republican rivals preparing for the latest in a series of debates on Tuesday night.
But Obama used his speech to remind supporters of the “hope and change” days of his first presidential campaign, and to appeal for patience to allow his policies to work.
“Our economic problems weren’t caused overnight and they won’t be solved overnight,” he said.
Romney did not mince words in an open letter to Obama published in the state’s major newspapers. “Dear President Obama. Welcome to New Hampshire,” he wrote. “Your policies have failed.”
Obama was visiting New Hampshire as Republicans jockeyed for position ahead of the state’s January 10 first-in-the-nation primary that can be vital in launching a front-runner.
Obama lost the New Hampshire primary to Democratic challenger Hillary Clinton in 2008 but went on to win the state handily in the general election.
The president will have an uphill fight to keep New Hampshire in his column in 2012. Polls show him running behind in a hypothetical matchup against Romney.
Writing by Matt Spetalnick; editing by Mohammad Zargham