New Hampshire could lift -- or detail -- Kennedy, Bush

Could New Hampshire's primaries end Sen. Edward M. Kennedy's presidential dream and make George Bush a fully credentialed front-runner? There are strong indications that voters of this state may do precisely these things.

But the imponderables outweigh the certainties at this point:

* There are 159,620 registered independents in New Hampshire (1979 figures), compared with 146,026 Democrats and 176,769 Republicans.

It is clear that which party ballot independents pick up when they go to the polls Feb. 26 -- they may vote in either the Democratic or Republican primary -- will have an important effect on the outcomes.

The Carter-Kennedy battle, according to polls, is very close, with President Carter given a slight edge. The Bush-Ronald Reagan contest is similarly close, with Mr. Bush a hair in front.

"Many independents like to vote against something or somebody," one veteran observer says. "Thus, many if not most independents in New Hampshire may be deciding whether to cast an anti-Kennedy or an anti-Reagan vote. The independents I talked to -- or most of them -- seemed to be strongly against both of these candidates.

But whether independents vote for or against a candidate in these primaries, they clearly are a powerlful force. They make up much of what polisters are calling the "big undecided vote" in New Hampshire. Poll findings show that about one-third of the New Hampshire electorate is "undecided."

* The result in the Maine caucuses, taking place only a few days before the primaries here, will have an important effect on the Carter-Kennedy New Hampshire contest.

A Carter win in Maine probably would have even more of a bandwagon impact on the race than the Iowa outcome. Should Senator Kennedy top the President in the Maine caucuses, that would provide a substantial lift to his campaign here.

* How many New Hampshire voters will vote for the Massachusetts senator simply because he is from their part of the country?The Kennedy people are trying to sell voters on this "home boy" argument. And some voters, it seems, are buying it.

* Some observers contend that, in the end, more votes will be cast for the man whom voters perceive as the "winner" than for any other reason. They see the "go" with the winner" vote as much more of a factor than the "against" vote.

If this is true, the President probably will be picking up most of the "winner" votes on the Democratic side here -- unless the Maine results cloud the picture.

Perhaps George Bush will pick up most of the "winner" votes on the Republican side -- since he seems to be out in front at the moment.

* How the President is being perceived in the "news" will figure importantly in his race against Senator Kennedy.

Are people perceiving Mr. Carter as providing leadership in foreign affairs? Are they satisfied with the way he is dealing with the Soviets and with the hostage problem" Or, by primary time, will the voters have begun to believe -- as Mr. Kennedy is asserting -- that Mr. Carter is involving the nation in "ware hysteria?"

Have voters become so impatient with the long delay in freeing the hostages that they are blaming the President for inaction or improper action?

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