New Hampshire still a political battleground after the primary

President Barack Obama supporter Che Sayles, of Greenbelt, Md., center, shouts among supporters of Republican presidential candidates Mitt Romney, Jon Huntsman, Newt Gingrich, and Ron Paul at a polling station at Webster School in Manchester, N.H., Tuesday, Jan. 10, 2012.
AP Photo/Charles Dharapak
New Hampshire
AP Photo/Charles Dharapak

MANCHESTER, New Hampshire -- The polls have closed in New Hampshire, and Mitt Romney supporters can take down their yard signs knowing they backed a winner.

But they may want to hold onto to those signs - if Romney goes on to win the Republican presidential nomination, he may be back sooner than they realize.

Along with hosting the nation's first presidential primary, New Hampshire is also a critical swing state. It is the only state that President George W. Bush won in 2000 but lost in 2004 - in both instances by a slim, one point margin.

President Obama won New Hampshire in 2008 by a solid 9 points (54 percent to John McCain's 45 percent), and he intends to win it again: New Hampshire is included in four out of the five possible paths to re-election laid out by Mr. Obama's re-election team.

This time around, however, it may not be so easy: A USA Today/Gallup survey conducted in December showed that the Democratic base has eroded in a dozen critical swing states, including the Granite state, and Republicans have more enthusiasm on their side.

In a state like New Hampshire, where Republicans only have a slight registration advantage over Democrats (though independents outnumber both), the results hinge on turnout, said Andy Smith, director of the University of New Hampshire Survey Center.

"In 2006, when Democrats were extremely motivated, and Republicans were not, Democrats took over the [state] House and the [state] Senate, but in 2010 the opposite happened," he said. "Right now we see Republicans are angrier, more energized - they're going to get out and vote."

While the Republican presidential candidates over the past week were busy criss-crossing New Hampshire, shaking hands and asking for votes, party operatives were looking ahead to the general election. And they'll keep up their efforts straight through to November.

Full New Hampshire primary results
New Hampshire Exit Poll
Republican Primary Election Center

In a conference call with reporters Monday, Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus said the RNC has cataloged "every single speech, every press release, every word that has come out of this president's mouth... and we'll use those words against him to ensure that folks in New Hampshire know that Barack Obama has failed to deliver."

The Obama team, meanwhile, has had a presence in New Hampshire for years but is now ratcheting it up. They have seven offices there now, according to a campaign official, and have held more than 500 New Hampshire events - like voter registration drives and phone banking events - since Mr. Obama announced his re-election bid last April.

On primary night, Vice President Joe Biden teleconferenced into events across the state hosted by Obama for America as a way to keep up its grassroots connection to voters there.

The Obama team certainly has some work to do: The UNH Survey Center's October poll showed that only 41 percent of Granite staters approved of the job Mr. Obama has been doing. Smith said that it's unlikely he'll win unless he can get back up above 44 percent.

Furthermore, Romney has consistenly beat Mr. Obama in head-to-head match ups in New Hampshire. That's bad for Mr. Obama, Smith said, since typically, the people who are undecided vote for the challenger.

"That said, campaigns do matter, and things can happen over the course of the summer to change that dynamic," Smith said. "Typically, what you have to do is drag the other guy to your level."

The Democratic party has long worked under the presumption that Romney will be the GOP nominee, and in New Hampshire, they're already working to convince voters that Romney isn't worth backing.

Romney hits Obama hard, looks to November
Why Romney won in New Hampshire

For instance, the Democratic National Committee is going after Romney for saying over the weekend, "I know what it's like to worry about whether you're going to get fired. There were a couple of times I wondered if I was going to get a pink slip." Following those remarks, New Hampshire Democrats starting passing out "pink slips" that call for Romney's "termination of candidacy" and charge that the Republican is "lacking core convictions and saying anything to get elected."

Democratic allies are also at work in New Hampshire. Cecile Richards, the president of Planned Parenthood, was in the Granite state the weekend before the primary, in part for her organization's "Women are Watching" campaign, which aims to educate voters on where the Republican candidates stand on reproductive rights issues.

Richards points out that in 2008, Mr. Obama had a 13-point advantage among women over McCain. She said she expects women to come out in force in 2012 in part because the GOP candidates "are in lock step with the extreme elements of the Republican party."

Even Romney, who's at times cast as a moderate, has pledged to eliminate national family planning programs, which Planned Parenthood says provides 5 million low income women with birth control and cancer screenings. "Health care access is an economic issue," Richards said. "If you're paying $40 to $50 for birth control, this isn't a political issue."

If Romney is the nominee, he could have an edge in New Hampshire, given that voters there are so familiar with him. He was governor of the neighboring state of Massachusetts from 2003 through 2007, and given that the New Hampshire media market overlaps with Boston's, Granite state residents often heard Romney's name in the local news. Romney also owns a summer home in New Hampshire.

New Hampshire Sen. Kelly Ayotte, a Romney supporter, said she's confident Romney would win New Hampshire as the nominee. But, she added, "New Hampshire -- either way, though -- is very much in play."

Ayotte pointed out that she and her fellow New Hampshire senator, Democratic Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, are the only pair of female, bipartisan senators in the country. "That reflects the purple nature of our state," she said.