MANCHESTER, N.H. – Surrounded by an estimated 6,000 supporters Thursday, President Obama made a forceful, energetic case for a second term, in a state that could decide whether he gets it.
The president hit familiar notes on health care, foreign policy, the economy and women’s rights. But his speech at Veterans Memorial Park was notable for its attempt to build off a successful debate performance Tuesday that his campaign claims has reset the race against Republican Mitt Romney.
Obama, his shirtsleeves rolled up to reveal a pink wristband supporting Breast Cancer Awareness Month — a subtle nod to the women he hopes will support him on Nov. 6 — painted Romney as a huckster whose policies are void of details and could hurt middle-class Americans.
Obama echoed the tagline used by the speakers who preceded him, New Hampshire’s Democratic U.S. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen and Gov. John Lynch, who said the path to economic prosperity goes through the country’s middle class.
The president said economic resurgence starts from the “middle out,” not Romney’s failed “trickle down” ideology.
Obama zeroed in on Romney’s deficit reduction plan, saying the Republican has given Americans precious few details about how he would pay for it.
“Let me tell you something,” Obama said. “When a politician doesn’t tell you the details of his plan, it’s not because it’s so good that he doesn’t want to spoil the secret.”
He added, “Gov. Romney has a tax plan that doesn’t add up, a jobs plan that doesn’t create jobs and a deficit plan that doesn’t reduce the deficit.”
Obama devoted extra time to women’s issues, an effort that reflects his campaign’s emphasis on attracting undecided female voters.
Early polls showed that the president enjoyed margins of support among women, but recent surveys show that Romney has made gains with them.
In Manchester, Obama hammered the former Massachusetts governor for not showing support for an equal-pay bill that the president signed in 2009. He also jabbed at Romney’s “binders full of women” gaffe during Tuesday night’s debate.
Romney’s slip has became an instant Internet meme and has been exploited by the Obama campaign.
“We don’t need to order up some binders to find some talented, driven young women who are ready to work right now,” Obama said.
Obama emphasized the equal pay bill and women’s reproductive choices.
He added, “I have two daughters and I want them to earn as much as somebody else’s sons. Any confusion there?”
The president also poked at the New Hampshire Legislature, where some Republicans have tried to pass laws that would restrict access to abortion. Obama said government has no business telling women what to do with their bodies.
The crowd, packed mostly by committed supporters and grass-roots volunteers, soaked it up.
Whenever the crowd booed Romney, Obama urged them, “Don’t boo. Vote!”
His call to action underscored one of the president’s re-election obstacles: an enthusiasm gap.
Before the speech, Vanessa Hargrove of Jamaica Plain, Mass., said she voted for Obama in 2008. She acknowledged that energy for the president is more subdued in 2012.
“But he deserves another chance, a fresh start,” Hargrove said. “He inherited a huge deficit, two wars and a depression. It’s not his fault.”
The president’s campaign blitz in New Hampshire reflects a frantic pursuit of the Granite State’s four Electoral College votes.
It was the president’s second visit to New Hampshire since September. Polls show that he’s popular here but still running in a dead heat with Romney.
New Hampshire is one of several swing states in the battle for the presidency. Obama visited another, Iowa, on Wednesday, just hours after he and Romney squared off in a highly confrontational debate at Hofstra University in New York.
Polls showed that viewers believed the president narrowly won the town hall showdown.
However, his biggest victory may have been re-energizing supporters after what they viewed as his inexplicably flat performance during his first debate with Romney, in Colorado on Oct. 3.
Obama made a direct appeal to his supporters in Manchester.
“I believe in you, I’m asking you to keep believing in me,” he said just before leaving the stage.
A Suffolk University poll released Wednesday showed the president and Romney in a dead heat. The poll was conducted before Tuesday’s debate.
A recent poll by the University of New Hampshire Survey Center reported that the president’s approval rating is 52 percent.
Andrew Smith, director of the center, noted that presidents typically get re-elected when their approval rating is higher than 50 percent.
On Thursday, Larry Sabato, executive director of the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia, noted that the race is difficult to peg because it has lacked “commanding heights or punishing valleys” for either candidate.
Sabato noted that the president’s problem is that he hasn’t hit his peak.
“This points to an enthusiasm gap for the president, as does the persistent registered voter/likely voter gaps in public opinion polls, which almost always show the president doing better among the registered voter pool than the smaller likely voter pool,” Sabato noted.
Obama’s speech Thursday, however, appeared to invigorate his supporters.
Karen Ricci, 34, of Manchester, who said she wasn’t affiliated with the campaign, said afterward that the president’s remarks resonated with her.
“Romney is a salesman,” she said. “I work in sales. I know how it works. There’s always a catch, a loophole.”
Ricci said, “(Obama’s) words were simple and easy to understand. He spoke the truth.”
Staff Writer Steve Mistler can be contacted at 791-6345 or at: