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New Hampshire turning 'blue'

Most independents say they'll vote Democratic.

By Ariel SabarStaff writer of The Christian Science Monitor / January 8, 2008

Democratic trend: Clinton and Obama supporters are plentiful in New Hampshire.

Nicole Hill

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Exeter, N.H.

The Republican Party in New England's only "red state" may be going the way of the Old Man of the Mountain, the craggy icon of independence that crumbled a few years back in a rock slide.

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In the last election, Democrats took both seats in Congress for the first time in nearly a century and both houses of the legislature for the first time since 1874. Democratic Gov. John Lynch won a second term with a record 74 percent of the vote, and lawmakers recently authorized same-sex civil unions and a smoking ban in bars and restaurants.

The "Live Free or Die" state is becoming "Blue Hampshire." The Granite State, said a blog for the conservative National Review, is "trending alarmingly Granola State."

The shift, driven by an influx of new residents, injects a new dynamic into the first-in-the-nation presidential primary here Tuesday. In 2000, some 62 percent of New Hampshire's independent voters – who can take part in either party's primary – cast a ballot in the GOP race, lifting Sen. John McCain to victory.

This time, however, the proportions may well be reversed. As many as two-thirds of independents at the polls Tuesday are expected to vote Democratic, shrinking the pool of free-thinking, late-deciding voters responsible for Senator McCain's triumph in 2000 and throwing a windfall to Sen. Barack Obama, who was buoyed by independents in Iowa.

In a CNN/WMUR poll of New Hampshire voters released Sunday night, Senator Obama opened up a 10-point lead over Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, in large part because of support from independents.

The shifting political landscape is mainly a product of demographics. New Hampshire is the fastest-growing state in New England, growing more than 6 percent since 2000 as the Massachusetts suburbs sprawl northward, baby boomers retire to their second homes, and vibrant high-tech and healthcare industries draw affluent city dwellers from across the country.

Around Dartmouth College in Hanover, gleaming new buildings of startup companies poke out from the woods. Upscale retirement communities with names like RiverWoods are booming. And in cities like Manchester, long-vacant mill buildings have been remade into lofts and office space.