MANCHESTER, N.H. — Ask voters to describe what a second Obama term would look like, and even some of the president’s most ardent supporters have a hard time painting a picture.
“I don’t know,” said Cynthia Malbon of Manchester. “I’m skeptical that anything much is going to happen. It’s probably going to be worse next time around.”
Mrs. Malbon was attending a rally with the president Thursday in Manchester, as President Obama tried to answer criticism from Republican nominee Mitt Romney — highlighted again in the GOP challenger’s first rally after Tuesday evening’s debate — that the president lacks an agenda for a second term. The president came to New Hampshire for the first time since Sept. 7 to rally supporters as polls show the race tightening in this small but hotly contested swing state.
A Suffolk/7News poll on Monday showed the candidates tied at 47 percent. Two weeks ago, Mr. Obama was leading the Republican by an average of 6 percentage points in the Granite State.
The Suffolk poll found that voters give the edge to Mr. Romney in fixing the economy, 45 percent to 42 percent, a possible indication that people don’t have a good idea where Mr. Obama intends to lead the nation in a second term.
The president’s campaign team says his agenda for a second term includes hiring 100,000 more teachers, boosting domestic energy production, creating more manufacturing jobs and cutting the deficit. The president also argues that his second term would be a bulwark against repeating the mistakes made by his Republican predecessors.
Referring to the recession he inherited four years ago, Mr. Obama told the crowd of about 6,000 in a park in Manchester that his agenda promotes “the policies that are getting us out of this mess.”
“Unemployment has fallen from 10 percent to 7.8 percent,” the president said. “We need to keep moving forward. We’ve got more work to do. That’s why I’m running for a second term.”
Left unmentioned was the fact that the national jobless rate was 7.6 percent when Mr. Obama took office.
Mr. Obama did try Thursday to fill in some of the blanks about his vision for the future, including subsidizing college tuition, increasing U.S. exports, raising taxes on the wealthy and promoting clean energy, which he said would create jobs and “reduce the carbon pollution that’s heating our planet.”
“That’s my agenda for the future,” Mr. Obama said.
Whether or not that qualifies as an agenda that will motivate voters, Mr. Obama’s message isn’t always sinking in with the public.
Asked whether the president has done a good job describing his vision for a second term, supporter Ron Chito of Medford, Mass., replied, “Not really.”
“If you’re a good reader and you know what is going on, then you have a good idea what his policies are and where he’s headed,” said Mr. Chito, a retired utility worker who attended the rally in Manchester. “Hopefully, we can get more Democrats in the House and Senate so we can get a good jobs bill passed.”
Mrs. Malbon said she will vote for the president, but she expects more gridlock with Republicans in Congress.
“I’d like to hear just how he’s going to accomplish [a stronger economy],” she said. “I was a lot more optimistic four years ago than I am today, that’s for sure.”
As with most of his campaign speeches, the president spent much of his time Thursday criticizing Mr. Romney’s economic plan, which includes across-the-board tax cuts for all wage earners.
“He’s got a tax plan that doesn’t add up, he’s got a jobs plan that doesn’t create jobs, he’s got a deficit plan that doesn’t reduce the deficit,” Mr. Obama said. “We don’t need a sketchy deal.”
Mr. Obama also warned his audience that Mr. Romney would repeal “Obamacare,” saying the result would be to allow insurance companies to charge women more than men for health care coverage.
“Being a woman’s not a pre-existing condition,” he said to cheers.
National polls show that a significant number of women, who were critical to Mr. Obama’s victory in 2008, began moving their support to Mr. Romney after the candidates’ first debate on Oct. 3. The president said issues such as access to affordable contraception are at stake in the election.
“We make sure insurance companies are providing women with contraception,” Mr. Obama said, while Mr. Romney “supported legislation that would turn over those decisions to a woman’s employer.”
“Do you think, like, [that] your boss, or insurance company, or some politician in Washington should get control of your health care choices?” the president asked. “The health care law we passed puts those choices in your hands.”
Mr. Obama also took a swipe at the Republican-led New Hampshire legislature on women’s health.
“You got a state legislature up here that sometimes acts like it knows better than women when it comes to women’s own health care decisions,” he said. “My opponent’s got the same approach. Gov. Romney said he’d end funding for Planned Parenthood despite all the work it does to provide women with mammograms and breast cancer screenings.”
The president said he wants to cut the deficit by $4 trillion over 10 years, but the solution must include higher taxes on families earning more than $250,000.
“But I’m not going to cut things like education,” he said. “I’m not going to cut research that grows our economy. We can’t get this done unless we also ask the wealthiest households to pay higher taxes on their incomes above $250,000.”
The Romney campaign said the president’s leadership has failed over the past four years and that the economic future under him would be even bleaker because Mr. Obama won’t confront the looming “fiscal cliff” of spending cuts and tax increases pending before Congress in January.
“Today, President Obama only offered Granite State voters more misleading attacks to distract from his failed record, his reckless spending and his inability to present a discernible vision to move our country forward,” said Romney campaign spokesman Ryan Williams.
“The president is out of new ideas, out of time and out of excuses to explain his failed leadership and broken promises. Mitt Romney has a real plan to create 12 million jobs, and as president he will work with members of both parties to cut spending, restore our AAA credit rating and get our economy growing again.”