* Rival Romney won New Hampshire primary
* Republicans say high crude output thanks to Bush
By Alister Bull
WASHINGTON, March 1 (Reuters) - President Barack Obama travels to New Hampshire on Thursday to talk about energy, swooping into Republican front-runner Mitt Romney’s backyard to discuss an issue that his opponents hope they can use to deny him a second White House term.
Slammed for energy policies that Republicans say have contributed to rising gasoline prices, Democrat Obama is expected to push back hard over opponents’ claims that there are simple fixes to pain at the pump.
With the U.S. economy mending, gas prices are a threat to Obama’s re-election on Nov. 6, and Republicans have stepped up their attacks over his record on domestic energy exploration and TranCanada Corp’s proposed Keystone XL crude oil pipeline.
“There is no silver bullet to address rising gas prices in the short term,” White House communications director Dan Pfeiffer wrote on Wednesday. “There are steps we can take to ensure the American people don’t fall victim to skyrocketing gas prices over the long term.”
Republicans complain the president has hobbled domestic oil exploration and dismiss his administration’s observation that U.S. oil output is at a record high, arguing this was thanks to the action of his Republican predecessors, George W Bush.
“The Obama administration continues to impose burdensome regulations on the domestic energy sector that will further drive up the cost of gasoline for the consumer,” Mitch McConnell, the top Senate Republican, said on Wednesday.
Obama’s visit to the Nashau Community College is his second trip in three months to the swing state, where Romney owns a home and is expected to be a tough competitor if he wins the nomination to face Obama in November.
“The primary results here indicate that Romney will give the president a fight in this purple state,” said Linda Fowler, a professor of government at Dartmouth College, who saw the economy as the big focus of the campaign, rather than social or cultural issues.
Romney won the Republican New Hampshire primary and has asserted his front-runner status by defeating rival Rick Santorum in primary ballots in Michigan and Arizona on Tuesday.
Polls place him within range of Obama in a November match-up, even though the president carried the state in 2008, as a still-sluggish recovery and historically high unemployment nag voters concerned about who would be a better economic steward.
“Independents are the key. They went for Democrats in 2006-08, but shifted to the GOP (Republicans) in 2010,” said Fowler, referring to the mid-term congressional elections in which Democrats sustained heavy losses. (Editing by Philip Barbara)