Obama, Romney primed for tough fight in New Hampshire

WOLFEBORO, NH - JULY 4: Republican presidential candidate, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney (R) addresses the crowd on stage along with U.S. Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-NH) and her family during the Wolfeboro Independence Day parade on July 4, 2012 in Wolfeboro, New Hampshire. The Romney's took a break from their vacation to march in the parade. (Photo by Kayana Szymczak/Getty Images)
Kayana Szymczak
Republican presidential candidate, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney (R) addresses the crowd on stage along with U.S. Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-NH) and her family during the Wolfeboro Independence Day parade on July 4, 2012 in Wolfeboro, New Hampshire.
Kayana Szymczak/Getty Images

(CBS News) The tiny state of New Hampshire has just four electoral votes to boast of, but when Mitt Romney campaigns there Friday, he'll be making good use of his time.

If recent history has proven anything, it's that New Hampshire is the quintessential swing state. In a year when polling suggests the state could be as competitive as ever, the Granite State's four electoral votes can't be ignored.

Given the state's tendency to favor fiscal conservatism and small government, as well as Romney's natural advantages in the state, the Romney campaign says it's poised to win in the competitive battleground.

"We think we stand an excellent chance in New Hampshire," Romney campaign spokesman Ryan Williams told CBSNews.com.

President Obama, meanwhile, 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. Back in December, the Obama campaign said that New Hampshire was included in four out of the five possible paths to the necessary 270 electoral votes. When asked about it this week, the Obama campaign said New Hampshire is still an important part of its path to victory.

This year's race, however, may turn out more like earlier elections: New Hampshire 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. In 2000, New Hampshire's four electoral votes made all the difference -- if then-Vice President Al Gore had those votes in his column, Florida would've been a moot point.

The latest poll, conducted for WMUR by the University of New Hampshire Survey Center on July 5-15, showed Mr. Obama leading Romney 49 percent to 45 percent -- within the poll's 4.3 percent margin of error. The race has tightened from earlier this year, when Mr. Obama had a stronger lead.

Andy Smith, director of the University of New Hampshire Survey Center, told CBSNews.com the election could be a replay of the 2000 election, when Gore lost by just 7,000 votes. "If Gore had spent a little more time here, he would've been president," he said. "I think this race is going to go right down to the wire."

New Hampshire is truly a purple state, with the nation's only pair of bipartisan, female senators to prove it (Romney surrogate Sen. Kelly Ayotte is a Republican, and Sen. Jeanne Shaheen is a Democrat).

However, Smith said that Republicans have had a definite advantage in the past year in terms of motivation. A record number of Republicans voted in this year's New Hampshire primary in January, which Romney won.

Another advantage for Romney is his relationship with Granite Staters. Romney 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 and has the support of some prominent Granite Staters like Ayotte and former Gov. John Sununu.

Romney also established a relationship with New Hampshire voters during his intense primary campaigning in this election and the last. Williams, the Romney campaign spokesman, said the campaign has eight offices in the state and a very active volunteer base that's been engaged since the first-in-the-nation primary.

US President Barack Obama holds a baby as he greets supporters during a campaign event at a school in Durham, New Hampshire, on June 25, 2012.

The Obama campaign contends that Romney's established reputation in New Hampshire is a liability.

"The fact is that the more voters in the Granite State learn about Mitt Romney the less they like what they see," Obama campaign spokesman Michael Czin told CBSNews.com. "Granite Staters have seen how Romney's failed policies plunged Massachusetts' economy to 47th out of 50 in job creation, led to manufacturing at twice the national average and the hundreds of millions of taxes and fees he raised on middle class Bay Staters."

Of course, the Romney campaign points out that Mr. Obama can't exactly brag about the national economy. The WMUR poll showed that 53 percent of New Hampshire adults disapprove of his handling the economy, while just 43 percent approve.

Furthermore, New Hampshire is known for its limited government and fiscal conservatism. The state has no general sales tax, no income tax and a tradition of relying on local governments to take care of themselves.

Mr. Obama's "actions and his liberal economic policy are completely out of line with Granite State values, and we think that will help Gov. Romney in the fall," Williams said. "In 2008, Barack Obama campaigned as a tax cutter -- he sounded like a fiscal conservative, but he had no record. He's had three-and-a-half years in office, and he's broken every promise on fiscal responsibility. Granite State voters know this president has been a disaster on the economy."

The struggling national economy may not hurt the president in New Hampshire as much as it will in other swing states. The June unemployment rate in New Hampshire stood at 5.1 percent, below the national average.

Mr. Obama could also benefit from the demographics of Democratic voters in the state, who fit in more with the economic and social "elite" of the party than with the blue-collar Democrats, Smith said.

Those two factors -- New Hampshire's relatively strong economy and Democratic demographics -- could help the president keep up turnout, the pollster said.

To rally their supporters, the Obama campaign has 10 offices in the state. "President Obama has been laying the foundation for a job creating economy that's built to last, and our volunteers in New Hampshire and across the country have been organizing non-stop in support of that vision," Czin said.