Salena Zito

MANCHESTER, N.H.  – The Granite State shares more than the early-voting spotlight with caucus-cousin Iowa.

Its love affair with Barack Obama is in the same funk as is true in the Hawkeye State.

And it all has to do with how New Hampshire voters feel about Obama’s handling of the economy, according to David Paleologos, pollster and director of Suffolk University’s political department.

Paleologos says data points to Obama being vulnerable here – and that matters, he adds.

“You wouldn’t think that four measly electoral votes would turn an election,” he said. “But in the current electoral map that Obama is counting on, New Hampshire is everything.”

A University of New Hampshire poll in October showed Obama hitting a new low in his handling of the economy, with a staggering 58 percent disapproval rating; 52 percent disapproved of his health-care bill. His overall favorability among all-important independent voters was at 35 percent.

That's a sharp drop in a state which Obama carried by almost ten percentage points in 2008.

Ray Sullivan, who chairs the state’s Democrats, watched the political pendulum swing seismically to Republicans in state, congressional and U.S. Senate races in the last election. He believes Obama will win re-election here tactically, relying on massive voter contact, door-knocking, media hits and friend-to-friend persuasion.

“We have more Obama campaign offices in the state than all of the six candidates running for the Republican nomination combined,” he boasted.

Asked what message Obama will use to win back voters, Sullivan was less direct. “We plan on increasing our ground troops,” he said.

Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak, the Democrats’ national co-chairman, is more forthcoming on that question. Obama’s message, he said, “will be that he passed the health-care law, single-handedly saved the car industry, ended the wars and has had 22 months of job growth.”

“Jobs – where are those jobs?” asks Charlie Logiotatos. The small-businessman admits he supported Obama in 2008 mainly out of Republican fatigue.

“He was a smooth talker, what can I tell you?” Logiotatos said in between serving customers in his diner. “His entire campaign was based on hype.”

Now he is saddened by the number of older, college-educated people who walk through his door looking to work as dishwashers after a lifetime of working white-collar jobs.

Salena Zito

Salena Zito is a political analyst, reporter and columnist.