MANCHESTER, N.H. — Political mailers are stuffed in their front doors, and the phone rings nonstop. Under a fall canopy of crimson and golden leaves, the battle for independent voters is being waged hour by hour in battleground New Hampshire.
The state offers just four electoral votes in next week's presidential election, but President Obama and challenger Mitt Romney are vying fiercely here for the remaining independent voters, who are decidedly ambivalent about both candidates.
Mr. Obama won a majority of independent voters in 2008 with visions of a post-partisan administration that could break the logjam in Washington after eight years under George W. Bush. But the gridlock remains, and Mr. Obama and Mr. Romney are competing for a rapidly diminishing number of independent voters, who could make up 30 percent or more of the electorate in a series of must-win states.
Polling by Pew Research found Mr. Obama and Mr. Romney virtually tied among independents throughout the fall, but the Republican has opened up a small lead with this group in recent days. Polling by The Washington Post and ABC News shows Mr. Romney leading among independents, which Mr. Romney's campaign points to as evidence of independents breaking his way.
"I probably will go with Romney," said Don Hodgman, an undecided Democrat from Manchester who voted for Mr. Obama last time. "I hate to say it — it's the lesser of two evils."
In nearby Nashua, Patty Cardin, an independent who works in retail, pointed to the vanity plate on her silver Chrysler Sebring. "My license plate says it all — FAITH," said Ms. Cardin, who said she voted absentee for Mr. Obama because she was turned off by the Republican's views on abortion.
"It was just a sense in my gut," she said outside her gym. "Obama is a little bit closer to getting us on the track to where we need to be."
Mr. Obama's campaign says it still holds a slight advantage with independents, approaching his level of support in 2008, when he won independents by about 8 points over Republican John McCain.
Independent voters are hardly monolithic — some tend to vote for Democrats, while others lean Republican. But their reach is considerable in a close election because they form sizable blocs in battleground states.
In 2008, independents made up 30 percent or more of the electorate in New Hampshire, Colorado, Iowa, Nevada and Ohio and approached that level in Florida, North Carolina, Wisconsin and Virginia, making their support even more critical this time around.
"Independents will decide the next president of the United States," said Romney pollster Neil Newhouse. "It's as simple as that."
In New Hampshire, independents formed about 45 percent of the electorate in 2008, making the quest for those voters a crucial part of the campaign.
Both the Obama and Romney campaigns are dispatching volunteers to the doorsteps of independents and undecided voters and keeping open a steady line of communication to try to lock in votes. Both campaigns estimate about 10 percent of New Hampshire voters still may be up for grabs — with many from the ranks of independents or the independent-minded — but agree those numbers are dwindling by the day.