Stakes high for New Hampshire primary
The Democratic contest is more likely to be decisive.
On the eve of the New Hampshire primary, voters here are poised to turn out in record numbers in a contest that could prove decisive for the Democrats and muddy the Republican field.Skip to next paragraph
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Most polls show a tight race on the Democratic side, but with momentum in the direction of Barack Obama. After the Illinois senator's historic victory in the Iowa caucuses Jan. 3 – making him the first African-American to win an early nominating contest in US history – he continues to draw massive crowds here in the Granite State.
On the Republican side, John McCain looks poised to be the "comeback codger" of the 2008 cycle. Left for dead politically last summer after his campaign imploded, the Arizona senator has come roaring back in the state that fell in love with him eight years ago and gave him a resounding victory in the New Hampshire primary against the eventual president, George W. Bush.
"It feels like we've caught the lightning in the bottle again," Senator McCain told reporters on his campaign bus, according to news reports.
Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee won the Republican caucuses in Iowa, on the backs of evangelical voters. But with minimal presence here and facing a GOP electorate with a much smaller proportion of religious conservatives than in Iowa, Mr. Huckabee set his sights on capturing at most third place. In the GOP, the candidate with the most to lose here is Mitt Romney, former governor of next-door Massachusetts.
Mr. Romney staked his strategy on winning both Iowa and New Hampshire, putting up millions of dollars of his personal fortune and blanketing the airwaves with ads in an attempt to establish early momentum. But two straight losses could make the next contest, the Jan. 15 Michigan primary, his final stand. As a Michigan native and son of a well-known former governor, Romney has a strong profile there.
Hillary Clinton, the longtime national front-runner on the Democratic side, finds herself in straits similar to Romney's. Since the 1970s, when the modern nominating process began, few candidates have been able to capture the nomination after failing to win Iowa and New Hampshire. (The New York senator's husband, former President Bill Clinton, pulled that off in 1992, but in that cycle the Democratic caucuses went uncontested, with Sen. Tom Harkin of Iowa in the race.)
In Republican and Democratic debates here Saturday night, all eyes were on both Mrs. Clinton and Romney. The New York senator went after Mr. Obama, challenging him on what she called his changed positions on healthcare, the Patriot Act, and Iraq war funding. And in an election year with voters of both major parties calling clearly for change, she portrayed herself as the candidate of experience, best able to bring about change.