A look into the future? Obama and Romney battle in New Hampshire.

In New Hampshire, President Obama seeks to revive sagging support in a state he won in 2008. Republican rival Mitt Romney plays offense, with his first TV ad stirring controversy.

Jacquelyn Martin/AP
President Barack Obama waves prior to boarding Air Force One at Andrews Air Force Base, Md., Tuesday, bound for New Hampshire.

Voters in a pivotal election state are getting an early glimpse Tuesday of what the 2012 election campaign could look like.

President Obama makes his first trip to New Hampshire since early 2010, to speak at a Manchester high school.

Meanwhile Mitt Romney, angling to become the Republican nominee by using the New Hampshire primary as a crucial stepping stone, launched his first TV ad – a spot airing in the Granite State attacking Obama's record on the economy.

The ad signals some of the main points that any Republican candidate in the general election will use against Obama. And on one level it demonstrates confidence by Romney. With a strong base of support in New Hampshire, he's using his first ad to focus directly on the Democrat he hopes to unseat – rather than on his merits versus Republican challengers for the nomination.

The TV spot quotes a 2008 campaign speech Obama made in New Hampshire: “I am confident that we can steer ourselves out of this crisis,” Obama says. Text then appears on screen stating: “He failed.”

But the ad also exposes at least one vulnerability Romney's campaign needs to overcome. Romney pledges to repeal Obama's health care reform law, saying "it's killing jobs." He failed to note that he signed a very similar health care reform bill when he was governor of Massachusetts.

Romney's challenging path is to defend his own track record, while joining fellow Republican candidates in saying "Obamacare" is bad for America. Many American's share that view of the Affordable Care Act, with its mandate that individuals purchase health insurance, with government subsidies for those with lower incomes. Romney is just in a more awkward position, compared with others in the GOP field, to argue that case.

A recent Bloomberg poll finds Romney running 10 percentage points ahead of Obama with New Hampshire voters in a hypothetical matchup for the 2012 election. Back in 2008 Obama won the state, and although small, it's among the important "swing" states that could be won by either party next year. In some scenarios, the Granite State could decide the election.

In many national polls, Obama runs slightly ahead of Republican hopefuls like Romney, but never getting over 50 percent support. As the New Hampshire battle signals, the weak economy makes the president unusually vulnerable for an incumbent.

In his Manchester appearance, the president was expected to push for an extension of payroll tax cuts that have put extra spending money in workers' pockets this year.

"If we don't act, taxes will go up for every single American, starting next year. And I'm not about to let that happen," Obama said Monday, previewing his year-end effort to push the tax cut through Congress.

As Obama and Romney lock horns, the Commerce Department reports Tuesday that the US economy grew at a scant 2.0 percent annualized rate in the year's third quarter.

Although the national job market has shown little improvement over the past year, the Obama campaign's hopes in New Hampshire are buoyed by relative strength in the state's economy. The jobless rate there is just 5.3 percent, versus a national unemployment rate of 9 percent.

Where Obama pitches expanded and extended payroll tax cuts as a way to boost job growth, Romney and other Republicans argue that Washington has been hindering economic recovery through the size of federal spending and deficits.

In his ad, Romney pledges to shrink government with disciplined fiscal policies.

But Romney's TV attack has stirred controversy for another element, its selective editing of a 2008 Obama statement. The ad shows a snippet of a speech where the Democrat criticized John McCain's campaign for saying, “If we keep talking about the economy, we’re going to lose.”

The Romney ad leaves out the context, leading viewers to think that Obama is saying that about his own campaign.

To the Romney campaign, that's precisely the point. Its website says that, after mocking their Republican rival in 2008, today "President Obama's campaign is desperate not to talk about the economy. Their strategy is to wage a personal campaign" and "a campaign of distraction" from the economy.

But an Obama campaign statement calls the TV ad a "deceitful and dishonest attack." The statement continues: "Just last week fact checkers scolded Mitt Romney for distorting a comment the President made about creating American jobs."

Welcome to the battle for New Hampshire, and to what promises to be a hard-fought battle for the White House, no matter who Republicans pick as their nominee.

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