By Doug Ireland firstname.lastname@example.org
---- — MANCHESTER — Only two days after President Barack Obama faced off in a debate with Republican challenger Mitt Romney, he was in the Granite State yesterday rallying support.
The president’s appearance attracted a crowd of about 6,000 people to Veterans Memorial Park, where many Southern New Hampshire and Merrimack Valley residents waited hours to hear him speak.
But when Obama stepped up to the podium at noon and delivered a rousing 27-minute speech, many later said it was definitely worth the three-hour wait.
“Hello, New Hampshire,” Obama told the cheering crowd. “Are you fired up? I’m fired up.”
The applause had started well before Obama took the stage. First, U.S. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., asked the crowd for their support, outlined Obama’s accomplishments and criticized Republican challenger Mitt Romney’s proposed policies.
Her granddaughter, Elle Shaheen, was one of two girls who sang the national anthem. The Rev. William Ferguson, a Pelham Congregational minister, said a prayer.
Gov. John Lynch then introduced Obama, telling supporters, “The president clearly understands the American dream should be more than just a dream.”
Obama immediately distanced himself from Romney, calling the former Massachusetts governor a salesman with a misleading sales pitch and a flawed economic plan.
“What he’s selling is not a five-point plan, it’s really a one-point plan,” he said. “It’s the same philosophy that got us into this mess.”
Obama attacked Romney’s tax plan, which reduces all income tax rates by 20 percent, eliminate the estates tax and the alternative minimum tax. It also maintains and expand tax breaks for investment income, he said.
Romney said he would pay for his plan by reducing or eliminating tax deductions, exemptions and credits, prompting Obama to call the proposal “sketchy.” The only way to pay for it is by raising taxes, Obama said.
“He has a tax plan that doesn’t add up, he has a jobs plan that doesn’t create jobs ... “ Obama said. “Mitt Romney is trying to sell you a sketchy plan. We don’t need a sketchy plan.”
Obama highlighted some of his successes during the last four years, while also outlining his plan for the next four years if re-elected.
Since taking office in 2009, Obama said the war in Iraq has ended and troops will soon be out of Afghanistan. In addition, the threat of terrorism has been reduced, especially with the successful capture and death of Osama bin Laden.
When he became president in 2009, Obama said the nation was struggling with a 10 percent unemployment rate that has since dropped to 7.8 percent. The president also said he has cut taxes to help small businesses grow and reformed health care.
Also in that time, Obama said, the United States has become less dependent on foreign oil, he has fought for the rights of women and to make higher education more affordable.
“We need to keep moving forward,” he said. “We have more work to do. That’s why I’m running for a second term.”
Obama left the podium to deafening applause — more than three hours after the first people started to fill the park.
By 9 a.m., the line of people waiting to enter the park stretched several blocks.
The crowd mingled as they awaited the president’s arrival. An enormous American flag was hung in the park, along with a large blue-and-white “Forward” campaign sign.
There were occasional chants of “Four more years” — even two hours before Obama’s arrival — as the crowd grew larger and songs such as REO Speedwagon’s “Roll with the Changes” were blasted over a loudspeaker.
But for 67-year-old Kathleen O’Brien, it was well worth the wait.
The Atkinson woman is a diehard Obama fan who has supported him since first meeting the president while he campaigned at Mack’s Apples in Londonderry five years ago. This was her fourth trip to see Obama, whom she compared to Robert Kennedy.
Attached to O’Brien’s red, white and blue scarf were six Obama campaign pins.
“He is the most incredible person I’ve met in my life,” she said. “He has so much vision for our country.”
While many Obama supporters at the event said they are confident the president will be re-elected, O’Brien admitted she was a little nervous.
The latest poll, conducted before the debate by Suffolk University/7News, showed Obama and Romney in a dead heat in New Hampshire, considered a swing state.
“God help us if the president isn’t elected back in,” O’Brien said. “I’m afraid my grandchildren will have to go to war.”
There were many children in the crowd, including 13-year-old Ryan Doherty, also of Atkinson.
His mother, Holly Doherty, 46, said the chance for her son, a Timberlane Regional Middle School student, to hear Obama was too good of an opportunity to pass up.
“A lot of parents want them to stay in school, but this is a great learning experience,” she said. “It is a valid reason to miss school.”
Rodney Benjamin, 17, of North Andover attended with his two sisters and mother.
“You don’t get this chance every day,” he said.
He said wanted to hear Obama outline his plan for improving access to higher education.
“That is an issue that is really important to me and other teenagers,” he said.
Rodney wasn’t disappointed. After the speech, he said Obama was “right on target.”
Kathy Quimby, 61, of Plaistow said she came to hear Obama speak on women’s issues, especially access to health care.
“That’s really important to me,” she said.
Carmenza Bruff, 59, of Haverhill praised Obama’s health-care plan, saying it has improved access to medical services for the poor.
“I strongly believe in him,” she said. “I hope he wins. If he doesn’t, I will be very sad.”
Material from The Associated Press was used in this report.