Kevin Lamarque / Reuters
President Barack Obama wipes perspiration from his face as he speaks Saturday in a sweltering gym during a campaign stop at Windham High School in Windham, N.H.
WINDHAM, N.H. – Speaking in a hot, crowded gymnasium here, President Barack Obama kicked off a day of campaigning in this key battleground state where he is running neck-and-neck with his challenger, Mitt Romney.
“They’re coming here on Monday,” Obama said as he wiped his brow to deal with the low air conditioning, as the 2,300 in the packed gym booed at the mention of Romney and Ryan.
“Ask them how they’re going to strengthen the middle class,” he said after accusing Romney of wanting to “wants to give another tax cut to folks like him,” i.e., wealthy Americans.
He also accused Romney's running mate Paul Ryan of putting forward "a plan that would let Governor Romney pay less than 1 percent in taxes each year. And here's the kicker - he expects you to pick up the tab."
Romney campaign spokesman Ryan Williams pushed back on that claim, saying in a statement that "it's not surprising the president is launching yet another false attack. The fact is President Obama wants to raise taxes on private investment and job creators, which will lead to higher unemployment and fewer jobs."
While Obama won New Hampshire in 2008, polls here reveal a contentious race between Romney and him, with an August University of New Hampshire/WMUR poll showing 49 percent of likely voters would pick Obama while 46 percent would go for Romney.
One of the reasons Romney is playing to win in New Hampshire is because so many people were familiar with his term as Massachusetts governor; Boston is only 45 minutes away from the southeastern town of Windham.
That familiarity with Romney was evident Saturday morning at the Chatterbox Café, around the corner from where the president spoke, where late-morning brunchers shared a variety of views on the 2012 race.
Robert Scaccia, 41, who owns a physical therapy business with branches in Windham and Boston, said he’s supported Romney since he ran against Ted Kennedy for Senate in 1994.
Unlike many conservative voters elsewhere in the country, Scaccia said he favored the idea of Mass-Care, the statewide healthcare mandate Romney instituted as governor.
Noting that he treats Boston patients who are on Mass-Care, Scaccia said Romney should treat his healthcare plan as “a crowning achievement,” not only for getting so many people on health care but also as an example of bipartisanship.
“He did it with a Democratic [legislature] in a fully Democratic state; they worked together to get it done. So I think he should be championing that,” Scaccia said.
Ray Ennis, a Romney supporter who recently retired from the printing business, shared that view. While he said he was voting for Romney because “the economy’s the most important thing in the country,” he added that the former governor’s healthcare plan had some positive features.
“I think Romneycare, he’s got some great ideas,” Ennis said. “I think he learned a lot from what he didn’t like in Massachusetts. I think he tweaked it.”
But demonstrating the diversity of views in this town, whose county, Rockingham, handed Obama a slim 1,571-vote victory, Saccia’s, wife Stacey, a homemaker and former teacher, said she would vote for Obama as she did in 2008.
But, she said she had hoped Obama would focus more on some of the issues she said are most important to her.
“He did promise a lot for education and for ending the war and for environmentally friendly practices. And you don’t hear any of that once [politicians are] in office. They’re moving on to bigger and better things,” she said.
Later Saturday, Obama moved on to Rochester, N.H., where he was slated to make remarks outside at the Rochester Commons.