PORTSMOUTH, N.H. — The hustings of the campaign trail replaced the hoopla of party conventions Friday, with an imploring President Obama and a buoyant Mitt Romney crossing paths in the small but potentially decisive swing states of New Hampshire and Iowa.
“New Hampshire, I need you to make some phone calls for me. New Hampshire, I need you to knock on some doors for me,’’ Obama urged an enthusiastic crowd of about 6,000 spectators on the grounds of the Strawbery Banke Museum near downtown Portsmouth. “New Hampshire, I need you to tell your friends and neighbors and co-workers what’s at stake in this election.”
The urgency of the appeal signaled the closeness of the presidential race after the Democrats wrapped up their Charlotte convention. Building on some of the themes from his speech Thursday and adopting a “we can do this together” mentality, Obama sought to rally supporters and draw clear-cut distinctions in policies and philosophy with Romney, his Republican rival. Portsmouth was Obama’s first stop after the convention.
After the midday speech, he traveled to another event in Iowa, where Romney began his day. The GOP presidential candidate focused on the soft economy, evidenced by a lackluster jobs report released Friday, in his stop in heavily Republican western Iowa.
“This president tried, but he didn’t understand what it takes to make our economy work. I do,’’ the former Massachusetts governor told 4,000 supporters at Northwest College in Orange City. Later, at an outdoor rally before a boisterous crowd at Holman Stadium in Nashua, Romney made reference to Obama’s speech Thursday, saying he was disappointed that it was loaded with more promises after Obama did not fulfill his promises from 2008.
‘‘He said he'd create jobs,’’ Romney declared. ‘‘And instead we have unemployment still over 8 percent for 43 straight months.
“Those are real people,’’ said the former head of the private equity firm Bain Capital, driving home the crux of his campaign message. “Those are not just numbers.’’
The dueling events in New Hampshire and Iowa, better known as the first primary and caucus states, revealed how the small states with a total of 10 electoral votes have emerged as critical pieces in both candidates’ paths to 270 and victory. The two join roughly eight other states, among them Florida, Ohio, and Colorado, that are expected to determine who will be the nation’s next leader.
The Romney campaign released a barrage of ads on Friday tailored to the economic needs and struggles of each of those states. The Obama campaign may rise or fall on the strength of a sophisticated voter contact and ground organization it has been building for five years.
Friday’s rally in Portsmouth with Michelle Obama, Vice President Joe Biden, and his wife, Jill, was part of that exercise, not only in the president’s exhortations for supporters to join the effort but also in the heavy presence of campaign staff and volunteers working to get contact information from those in attendance.
Obama sought to make the election more of a decision that decides the future path of the nation rather than a referendum on the past, particularly on his presidency.
“Now that both sides have made their argument, there’s a big choice to make. And I honestly believe this is the biggest choice, the clearest choice, of any time in our generation,” Obama said during about a 28-minute speech, adding that it was “a choice between two different paths for America . . . two fundamentally different visions for how we move forward.”
Romney and the GOP, Obama said, want to turn back the clock at the expense of the middle class, a constituency he mentioned repeatedly.
“My opponent says he wants to reduce the deficit, too,” Obama said. “There’s a basic component missing from his plan, math . . . arithmetic.”
Obama said Republicans have not revealed the details of their tax-and-spending cuts plan because there are “only a few ways of doing it and most of them involve sticking it to the middle class.”
Invoking the fiscal policies of President Clinton that helped produce 23 million new jobs, Obama repeated his refrain that he would raise taxes only on those making more than $250,000 a year.
The Republicans are recycling the same economic plans they have pushed for the past three decades, he said.
“Tax cuts, tax cuts, gut some regulations . . . oh, and more tax cuts,” he said to an enthusiastic crowd.
“We have been there. We’ve tried that. It didn’t work then; it’s not going to work now,” Obama said.
At his rally in Nashua, Romney ridiculed the Democrats for initially leaving the term “God” out of its convention platform,pointing out that such references were part of the living documents of America since the Declaration of Independence. Democrats were assailed for not having any references to God, as well as dropping a line that referred to Jerusalem as the historic and present capital of Israel.
Democrats changed the platform to include both after prodding from Obama.
At his stop in Portsmouth, Obama injected a personal touch, noting, almost wistfully, a conversation he had just had with Governor John Lynch, who introduced him.
“I was telling John that I will always have great memories of Portsmouth,” Obama said, “because one of the things that happens as you’re running for president is the bubble starts closing in on you, so I remember some of the last places where I got to take a walk around with nobody around.
“And Portsmouth, in 2007, was one of those places,” he recalled. “It was a gorgeous day, like today. And I actually — we walked and we came right down here,” he said, pointing past the museum fencing toward the waterfront. “And there was a theater, an improv thing going on. And I sat there, and I think — I might have bought some ice cream,” he said with a grin that elicited laughter from the crowd.