Manchester - Barack Obama flew into a fierce row with Mitt Romney on Tuesday as the White House blasted his possible 2012 Republican foe over a blistering critique of the president's jobs record.
Obama, visiting New Hampshire, also used an emotive argument linked to the coming holiday season to hike pressure on Republicans to agree to his calls for an extension of a payroll tax cut before it expires at the year-end.
Romney's first television ad charged Obama with failing to honour promises made in New Hampshire in 2008 to fix the economy, and accused the president of presiding over the “greatest jobs crisis since the Great Depression”.
The spot, offering a testy preview of what may be the 2012 general election match-up, also ripped an Obama quote - “If we keep talking about the economy we're going to lose” - out of context.
The president actually made the comment in 2008 in quoting a strategist for his then Republican opponent Senator John McCain, but Romney's ad make it seems as though he is referring to his own re-election bid.
White House spokesperson Jay Carney accused the Romney campaign of “blatant dishonesty” and of deliberately distorting Obama's words.
“It is a rather remarkable way and an unfortunate way to start,” Carney said.
Democratic National Committee spokesperson Brad Woodhouse branded Romney a “serial deceiver”, playing up a Democratic charge that the former Massachusetts governor lacks principles.
Obama appeared in New Hampshire, which will hold a key early primary in the Republican nominating process in January, a day after a congressional supercommittee folded after failing in a high-stakes deficit cutting drive.
The deadlock played into Obama's emerging general election strategy of running against a “do-nothing” Congress, and of charging that Republicans want to shield the rich by refusing to agree to rising taxes on the wealthy.
The US impasse will trigger Draconian automatic cuts to domestic and military spending come January 2013, unless lawmakers repeal that requirement or find an alternative deficit-cutting plan.
Obama said on Tuesday that Congress would get another chance next week, in the spirit of Thursday's Thanksgiving holiday, to vote to extend a payroll tax, which he said would ensure $1 500 extra goes to Americans' wallets.
“If they vote no... the typical family's taxes will go up $1 000 next year. If they vote yes the typical family will get a $1 500 tax cut,” he said.
“Tell them, don't be a Grinch, don't vote to raise taxes on working Americans during the holidays.”
The plan to extend the payroll tax cut through 2012 is part of a $447-billion jobs plan Obama put forward in September, which has been largely blocked by Republicans on Capitol Hill.
Midway through his speech at a Manchester High School, Obama was interrupted by hecklers apparently supporting the Occupy Wall Street movement, as they chanted “4 000 protesters have been arrested”.
The president paused and smiled but the hecklers were soon drowned out by rival chants of “Obama, Obama” from his supporters.
New Hampshire, which has only four of the 270 electoral votes that a candidate needs to win the presidency of the United States, would only be decisive in a cliffhanger general election.
But given its fabled role at the front end of the nomination process and ranks of independent swing voters, it is regarded as an important electoral barometer and centre of media attention as the 2012 race gathers pace.
A Bloomberg News poll this month showed Romney leading Obama by 10 points among voters looking towards the general election in the state.
Obama was likely to face a new volley of attacks, this time on foreign policy, later on Tuesday when Republican candidates meet for a national security debate moderated by CNN in Washington.
A new Quinnipiac University national survey of Republican voters became the second poll in recent days to find that former House of Representatives speaker Newt Gingrich had surged into the lead in the party field.
Twenty-six percent said they preferred Gingrich, compared to 22 percent for Romney, with other candidates well behind.
However, Romney did better in a match-up with Obama among registered voters, losing narrowly by 45 to 44 percent, compared to Gingrich who trailed the president by a more substantial nine points. - Sapa-AFP