MANCHESTER, N.H. -- President Barack Obama dashed into politically important New Hampshire yesterday, seeking to steal the spotlight from Republican presidential candidates and challenging GOP lawmakers back in Washington to stand by their anti-tax pledges on one big measure.
He was greeted with a blunt message from Republican contender Mitt Romney, who bought campaign ads telling him, "Your policies have failed."
In his first trip to New Hampshire in nearly two years, the president was confronted by a state that has shifted sharply to the right since his victory here in the 2008 election. The state's crucial independent voters sided solidly with Republicans in the 2010 midterms, and recent polls suggest Obama would lose to Romney by 10 percentage points here if the election were held today.
Seeking to boost his appeal with independents in this low-tax state, Obama urged Congress to extend a Social Security payroll tax cut due to expire next month. In effect, he dared Republicans, many of whom have signed anti-tax pledges, to vote against an extension, a move the White House says would lead to a $1,000 tax hike on a family making $50,000 a year.
If lawmakers vote "no, your taxes go up. Yes, you get a tax cut," Obama told the crowd. "Which way do you think Congress should vote?"
Democrats had hoped to tuck the payroll tax extension, as well as a renewal of jobless benefits, into an agreement from the congressional deficit-reduction supercommittee. But following the committee's collapse Monday, the White House plans to make a full-court press for a separate measure to extend the tax cuts before they expire at the end of the year -- and set up Republicans as scapegoats if that doesn't happen.
Much of Obama's stop in Manchester was about trying to gain a foothold for his economic message in New Hampshire to balance the anti-Obama rhetoric from the Republican candidates swarming the state ahead of the Jan. 10 presidential primary.
Obama came face to face with the frustration of some New Hampshire voters, who are fed up with a local economy that is struggling to grow and increasingly unhappy with the president's leadership.
A group of protesters outside Manchester Central High School carried signs that read, "Obama Isn't Working." And his speech was interrupted by a handful of people venting the frustrations of the Occupy Wall Street movement that has spread to a number of cities.