Stakes high for New Hampshire primary
The Democratic contest is more likely to be decisive.
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"Words are not actions," Clinton said, alluding to the soaring rhetoric of Obama's stump speech. "And as beautifully presented and passionately felt as they are, they are not action. You know, what we've got to do is translate talk into action and feeling into reality. I have a long record of doing that, of taking on the very interests that you have just rightly excoriated because of the overdue influence that they have in our government."Skip to next paragraph
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Clinton also managed a moment of levity, when she was asked why so many voters don't like her. "Well, that hurts my feelings," she said, to audience laughter. And she noted the historic nature of her own candidacy: "I embody change," she said. "I think having the first woman president is a huge change, with consequences across the country and the world."
Obama fought back against Clinton, as did former Sen. John Edwards, the second-place finisher in Iowa, whose populist, pugilistic style contrasted with Obama's message of hope and unity. Mr. Edwards, who used the word "fight" 24 times in the debate, may also find it difficult to keep his campaign going if he does not do well here. The Democrats' next significant contest, South Carolina, is shaping up as a two-person contest between Clinton and Obama. Half the Democratic electorate there is black, and though the Clinton name is gold among African-Americans, Obama – who is half white, half black – could find a wholesale shift to his side if he wins in New Hampshire.
In the GOP debate, Romney appeared to be fighting a two-front war against both McCain and Huckabee, but did not appear to gain any traction. McCain zinged Romney when he called him "the candidate of change" – an allusion to how Romney changed his positions on social and other issues in advance of the primaries to appeal to the conservative Republican base.
The McCain comeback, if it transpires, will be one of the big stories out of New Hampshire. Romney topped the polls here for months, but fell flat in face-to-face contact with voters.
"He's stiff, he's programmed, he knows what to say and do," says Dick Bennett, a New Hamsphire-based pollster. "But he tends to talk at voters, not with voters."
McCain, in contrast, enjoys give and take with voters and isn't shy about disagreeing with them. But voters here come away respecting him and, as often as not, willing to vote for him, even if they don't agree with him on every issue.
In an interesting side contest, Obama and McCain are both going after New Hampshire's considerable population of registered independents – 44 percent of the state's electorate. In this cycle, two-thirds of independents are leaning Democratic – and if the predicted record turnout takes place, Obama is the likely beneficiary, as he was in Iowa. But McCain can still win the Republican primary, even without a majority of independents. To win a primary here, candidates must appeal first and foremost to base voters in their respective parties.
"After today, I'm leaning toward McCain," said Anthony Dinino of Peterborough, a recent transplant from Long Island in New York. "But I tend to lean liberal on social issues" – and therefore Mr. Giuliani is still in the running. Then there's Obama: "I like his message of hope and optimism."