As the country limps out of a recession, American families are still suffering, battling back from unemployment and facing higher gas prices. It's a political problem for President Obama, whose re-election efforts are underway, and an opportunity for Republicans to gain ground with frustrated voters as the campaign season begins to heat up.
Friday's Presidential "Summit on Spending and Job Creation," hosted by the New Hampshire chapter of the Americans for Prosperity Foundation, an advocacy group fighting for lower taxes and limited government, will give five Republican White House hopefuls the opportunity to offer their own vision for economic recovery. State Director Corey Lewandowski calls the gathering -- the first big event drawing so many potential GOP candidates -- a "kick-off" ahead of the state's first-in-the-nation primary.
Local Tea Party activist Ovide Lamontagne will be honored as "Conservative of the Year" at a dinner held prior to the event. He says Republican candidates must clearly define a new way forward in America.
"It's not only an opportunity, it's a duty for Republicans to try to chart a new course, a different course, one that believes in the free markets, deregulation, tax reform that's going to really spur the economy on," said Lamontagne.
Not allowing the GOP field to get all the attention, the New Hampshire Democratic Party is lashing out at backyard favorite, Mitt Romney, by filing a complaint with the Federal Election Commission alleging he illegally moved cash to benefit his presidential campaign.
"Romney's funneling of campaign contributions from his array of state political action committees to fund his presidential campaign reeks of an Enron-style accounting scheme," said New Hampshire Democratic Party communications director Holly Shulman in a statement. "Mitt Romney just wants to be president - plain and simple - and he'll take any position, say anything or do anything to get there."
"This is totally political," responded Romney spokesperson Andrea Saul. "For those wondering what the Obama jobs plan entails, it apparently involves hiring more lawyers at the FEC to handle frivolous complaints filed by his minions."
University of New Hampshire Political Science Professor Dante Scala says citizens have yet to focus on the 2012 election, but they are thinking about their wallets.
"Voters are not paying a lot of attention right now but they are paying a lot of attention to the economy. They are paying attention to jobs or the lack there of," Scala said. "They're paying a lot of attention to gas prices and all that together is putting a lot of them into the 'wrong track' category, as in, they think the country is going on the wrong track."
Independent voters like Grant Dugan want to see solutions. He's the general manager of Van Otis Chocolates in Manchester. He believes the biggest issue facing the country is, "finding a way for people to feel a little bit more confident about their spending, about their economy, about their jobs. It's really about jobs."
Dugan says the cost of raw materials like sugar, nuts and chocolate has spiked dramatically along with rising gas prices. He fears customers will tighten their belts.
"It just trickles down," laments Dugan. "People have less money to spend. Are they gonna fill their gas tank as opposed to fill their chocolate basket first?"
"It's hard to imagine the election not being about the economy and not being about the two visions for the future that Republicans and Democrats are sketching out right now," said Scala.