NASHUA, N.H. — Even as he received emergency briefings and prepared for Hurricane Sandy’s expected arrival on the East Coast, President Obama kept up his frenetic tour of election swing states, with a second trip to New Hampshire in 10 days, assailing rival Mitt Romney on tax fairness, health care, and women’s rights before an overflow, energized crowd.
The president’s visit to New Hampshire, his sixth this year, underscored the importance of the state’s four electoral votes in a race that remains extremely close nationally.
“We can’t afford to go back to the policies that got us into this mess,” Obama said to 8,500 cheering supporters outside the Elm Street Middle School. “We’ve got to continue with the policies that are getting us out of this mess.”
Obama compared Romney’s campaign promises with his record as Massachusetts governor from 2003 to 2006, when the president said Romney cut taxes for the wealthy while raising fees on businesses and individuals.
“He promised the same thing he’s promising now,” Obama said, adding later with a laugh that Romney “raised fees to get a birth certificate, which would have been expensive for me.”
Romney campaign spokesman Ryan Williams quickly attacked the president’s speech as “laughable coming from a president whose only plan for a second term is to recycle the failed policies of the last four years.”
Saturday was the last day for New Hampshire voters to register in person or to postmark mail-in forms, although voters still will be able to register on Election Day.
As Obama rallied in Nashua and shared a beer with voters at a tavern in Merrimack, Romney embarked on a three-stop swing of Florida on Saturday by pledging to work in bipartisan fashion with Democrats, citing his experience as governor in Massachusetts.
He expressed empathy for families who are struggling economically. In emotional terms during a rally in Pensacola, he expressed his concern for the economically disadvantaged.
“I think of single moms today who are scrimping and saving to have a good meal on the table,’’ Romney said.
He followed that up with an image of couples deciding not to exchange Christmas gifts, so that their children could have something under the tree. He also called for “big change’’ in the election, a strong echo of Obama’s 2008 campaign.
The remarks are part of a continuing effort to soften his image and refute charges from Obama that he is a steely-eyed corporate raider who shuttered factories and put people out of work when he led Bain Capital, the Boston private equity firm. The estimated 10,000 Romney supporters in Pensacola greeted the former governor with chants of “10 more days!’’
Both campaigns kept a close eye on Hurricane Sandy. Romney canceled a Sunday trip to Virginia — which is expected to get clobbered by the storm — and planned to go straight to Ohio and join running mate Paul Ryan on a bus tour.
The White House issued warnings to residents and local officials to prepare for the storm, and the president’s spokesman briefed reporters on Air Force One about the government’s preparations. Obama received briefings from Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano and other officials on preparations for the storm’s expected landfall Monday. Obama planned to campaign Monday with President Clinton in Florida, well out of harm’s way.
In New Hampshire on Saturday, Obama sought to blunt any upside to Romney’s shift to the middle, branding Romney a habitual flip-flopper. “This guy has a track record of saying one thing and doing something else,” Obama said.
The president predicted that Romney’s policies would mean a return to trickle-down government policies that are skewed toward the top earners and squeeze the middle class.
“It is a choice between two fundamentally different visions for America,” said Obama, who had jogged to the lectern, his white shirt sleeves rolled up. “This is a country where everybody gets a fair shot, and everybody does their fair share, everybody plays by the same rules.”
In contrast, he said, “Governor Romney now, he’s got an entirely different view of what this country’s about.” His challenger’s five-point economic plan, the president said, is actually a “one-point plan” that benefits the wealthy.
During his brief stop in New Hampshire, Obama also visited a call center in the basement of a Teamsters hall in Manchester. “These four electoral votes right here could make all the difference in the world,” he told the volunteers.
Despite the upbeat rally, several supporters said they are worried about the outcome on Election Day. “I’m really scared. I see more Romney signs than Obama signs, and that makes me nervous,” said Meg Maroni, 58, a school psychologist from Plymouth, N.H.
“I’ve never been scared before. I work in a public school, and I’m a woman, and he doesn’t meet any of my needs,” Maroni said of Romney. “We have poor children in the school, immigrant children, and they need help.”
Kevin Britton, 56, a sales manager from Nashua, predicted that the race will come down to last-day decisions by many voters.
“It’ll be determined on election night,” said Britton, who added that he supports the president because Obama “believes the economy will grow without having to cut basic things like education.”
After a warm-up concert by James Taylor, the president was introduced by US Senator Jeanne Shaheen, former governor of New Hampshire, who spoke of the small state’s outsized importance in the election.
“We’ll play a role that we’ve become very familiar with,” Shaheen said. “The next 10 days will clearly determine the future of our state and our country.”