PORTSMOUTH, N.H. – Is New Hampshire's economy thriving or hanging on by a thread? Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney suggested both Thursday in his latest trip to the first-in-the-nation primary state.
The former Massachusetts governor's campaign released an online video Thursday morning intended to show that President Barack Obama's policies have hurt New Hampshire's small businesses. The video featured former Republican state Rep. Packy Campbell describing how he recently filed for personal bankruptcy and has struggled to keep his real estate business afloat.
"This sector is hit so hard because of all the job losses and because people can't afford their houses. Unemployment is still over 9 percent. I don't see the economy as getting better," Campbell says in the video.
"It breaks your heart to know there were 35 people working in this building," Romney said when visiting the office Thursday afternoon. He spoke of a "cycle of decline" in the local economy, and said it was a "tragedy" for those who lost their jobs.
But while New Hampshire has 9,600 fewer jobs now than it did when Obama took office, it's unemployment rate — 4.8 percent — is the third-lowest in the country, and Romney highlighted that Thursday afternoon in a speech to the Portsmouth Rotary club. He described driving through Manchester and seeing the old textile mills that now house high-tech companies.
"New Hampshire adopted pro-growth ideas that allowed New Hampshire to now become a hotbed of entrepreneurship and innovation and creativity — and by the way, have a lower unemployment rate than the nation as a whole," he said.
Romney attributed New Hampshire's strength to its low taxes — it has neither a state income tax nor general sales tax, but funds the government on a hodgepodge of taxes, the biggest slice coming from businesses — and its ability to make the most of the 10th amendment, which grants states all rights not reserved by the federal government.
"This is a lesson the national can learn, and it's a lesson that comes from federalism," he said.
Asked later about the two different views of the New Hampshire economy he presented, Romney said New Hampshire is doing better than the rest of the country but could be doing a lot better. He declined to characterize the 4.8 percent unemployment rate as good or bad.
"Let's not play word games, alright? Is it better than the national average? Yes. Is it good? No. There's a lot further to go to get New Hampshire the kind of economy that people deserve."
A WMUR Granite State Poll released last week showed Romney still in first place with 35 percent among likely voters in New Hampshire's GOP primary, followed by Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann at 12 percent.
Associated Press writer Steve Peoples in Rochester, N.H., contributed to this report.