MILFORD, N.H. — Mitt Romney trounced the field in the Republican primary this year, owns a vacation home on Lake Winnipesaukee, and governed neighboring Massachusetts with a bottom-line relish that should resonate with fiscal conservatives here.
But in a scenario being repeated in swing states around the country, Romney finds himself trailing President Obama in recent New Hampshire polls as precious days vanish from the campaign calendar.
A Granite State Poll released Monday showed Obama leading Romney, 52 to 37 percent, among likely voters. The poll, conducted by the University of New Hampshire Survey Center for WMUR, reported the biggest lead for the president of all recent polls here.
An NBC News poll, released Thursday in conjunction with the Wall Street Journal and Marist College, showed the president leading Romney, 51 to 44 percent, among likely voters. A poll released Friday by the American Research Group showed a 5-point edge for the president, 50 to 45 percent.
“Listen, it’s very challenging to take on an incumbent president, and that’s what we’re doing here,” said Jim Merrill, a Concord attorney who is Romney’s senior adviser in New Hampshire. “Here’s the thing: Polls are a snapshot in time. They go up; they go down. We don’t get hung up on any one poll.”
Despite the poll results, Romney volunteers are dwarfing the effort expended for Republican nominee John S. McCain in 2008, when Obama won the state’s four electoral votes by nearly 10 percentage points.
The Romney campaign has made four times as many phone calls and knocked on eight times as many doors compared with this time in 2008, according to Tommy Schultz, a campaign spokesman.
“We’ve got a very aggressive ground game — talking to voters every day on the phone, at their doorsteps, and through the mail. There is radio and TV, and surrogate and candidate visits,” Merrill said. “It’s going to come down to the wire, like we always thought it would.”
Here in Milford, residents and business people are divided or indecisive about the candidates.
“I don’t like a lot of Romney’s stances on women’s rights. A lot of the other stuff I don’t pay attention to,” said Alison Jenkerson, 19, who was working in a consignment shop.
Jenkerson, who plans to vote in her first presidential election, is troubled by Romney’s support to end federal funding for Planned Parenthood.
Nearby, store owner Rick Fells, 42, took a break from watching CNN coverage of the campaign to explain his support for Obama.
“I think the fundamental question is, are we better off than we were four years ago,” said Fells, who runs the two-employee Tasty Tobacco Shop. “And I think we are.”
A few doors away, barber George Brown, 50, said he will back Romney as an unsatisfactory but better alternative to a president he loathes.
“I don’t think he has the same idea of America as I do,” Brown said of Obama. “I think he’s a communist, or a Marxist at least. He’s trying to create a dependent nation, create a dependence on government and what they want you to have.”
Similar words were heard inside the state Legislative Office Building in Concord, where a “Women for Mitt” rally trumpeted Romney’s private-sector expertise as a remedy for the nation’s fitful economy.
“He won’t take us down the road to the left — to Marxism, communism, and socialism,” said June Marshall, 57, of Manchester, before the rally. “He’ll allow us to be what we want to be and not subjects of the government.”
During the rally, US Senator Kelly Ayotte focused on Romney’s economic message, which she said carries great weight with women struggling to manage a household budget.
The senator also said she does not believe Romney will be hurt by his videotaped comments that described 47 percent of Americans as “victims” who believe they are entitled to government assistance.
“I think that people aren’t going to decide the election based on a fund-raising video,” Ayotte said. “Clearly, I think the video was talking about the election [strategy] and not about a governing philosophy.”
Democrats said they are matching the intensity of the Republican ground game and are taking nothing for granted.
Andrew Smith, director of the UNH Survey Center, speculated that recent increases in undecideds might be linked to the party conventions and “a little more interest among people who may not have been going to vote.”
In any event, said UNH political science professor Dante Scala, neither party has much of a cushion despite a Republican landslide in the state’s 2010 legislative elections. New Hampshire, he said, is a balanced, competitive state.
“People remember here, to our great dismay, what happened in 2000 when Al Gore lost New Hampshire by 7,000 votes and what a difference that has made in history,” said Kathy Sullivan, a former State Democratic Party chairwoman.
If Gore had taken New Hampshire, its four electoral votes would have given the presidency to him instead of George W. Bush.
In Milford, Deb Carter acknowledged that Obama had inherited a mess, but she was unsure whether he is the right person for the job.
“Romney’s a tough choice, especially for a woman. But what bothers me about Obama is the way things are going,” said Carter, 39, who manages Cardoza Flooring and Decorating. “Do you want to stay on a sinking boat, or do you want to grab the rope?”
However, she added, no one in the family, including her husband, had chosen a candidate by late last week. Carter shook her head, smiled slightly, and said, “It’ll probably come right to the end.”
Brian MacQuarrie can be reached at email@example.com.