Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Campaigns Work to Turn Out N.H. Voters

New Hampshire voters streamed into polling places in large numbers today to select candidates in the state's first-in-the-nation presidential primary, as the contenders vied for support from the undecided and worked to turn out their backers.
Seeking to continue the momentum he gained from his victory last week in the Iowa Democratic caucuses, Sen. Barack Obama (Ill.) appeared to be in a strong position today to deal another major setback to his chief rival, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (N.Y.), who trails him by double digits in the latest New Hampshire polls.
The Republican front-runner in the state, Sen. John McCain (Ariz.), looked for a decisive win over former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney in an effort to cement his comeback status in a wide-open GOP race.
Polls opened statewide at 6 a.m. Eastern time and turnout was reported to be brisk, with voters lining up at polling stations in unseasonably balmy weather. The polls were scheduled to close at 8 p.m., with results expected to start rolling in soon after that. Temperatures today were forecast to reach the low 60s, bolstering state election officials' predictions of a record primary turnout.
At one polling place, Brookside Congregational Church in Manchester, N.H., dozens of voters lined up before dawn and found three Republican contenders stumping for their votes. On hand at the church were former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee, former New York mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani and Romney. Huckabee, who won the Iowa GOP caucuses, was running third in New Hampshire, according to pre-primary polls, followed closely by Giuliani and Rep. Ron Paul of Texas.
Attempting to stave off a second defeat following her third-place finish in Iowa, Clinton began campaigning before dawn at a Manchester elementary school. Joined by her daughter, Chelsea, she poured coffee for voters at the school and pledged, "We're going to work all day to get the vote out."
Like other candidates, she sought support from New Hampshire's large bloc of independent voters, estimated at 45 percent of the nearly 830,000 people registered to vote. Independents can vote in either party's primary, giving them added importance and prompting candidates to reach out beyond their bases to broaden their appeal.
But Clinton faced a tough road ahead in her bid to become the nation's first woman president, with polls showing Obama widening his lead over her in New Hampshire and drawing even with her nationally.
According to the latest USA Today/Gallup poll, Obama, the freshman senator seeking to become the country's first African American president, is now tied with Clinton nationally at 33 percent support, having closed a gap of 18 percentage points in less than a month. Former senator John Edwards of North Carolina is running third in the national poll with 20 percent.
Nationwide, the USA Today/Gallup poll now has Huckabee leading the Republican field, having vaulted ahead of Giuliani since his victory in Iowa. Following Huckabee (25 percent) and Giuliani (20 percent) were McCain (19 percent), former Tennessee senator Fred D. Thompson (12 percent), Romney (9 percent) and Paul (4 percent).
Polls of likely New Hampshire voters in recent days have shown Obama opening a substantial lead over Clinton, with Edwards in third place among Democrats. Polls on the Republican side show McCain leading Romney by several percentage points, followed by Huckabee, Giuliani and Paul.
In the first votes of the primary--by tradition in the northern New Hampshire hamlets of Dixville Notch and Hart's Location, where the polls opened at midnight -- Obama and McCain finished ahead of their respective fields. The combined 46 votes were split evenly between Democrats and Republicans.
Combined results from both places showed Obama with 16 votes, Clinton and Edwards with three each, and New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson with one, the Associated Press reported. Among Republicans, McCain received 10 votes, Huckabee five, Paul four, Romney three and Giuliani one, AP said.
By William BraniginWashington Post Staff Writer Tuesday, January 8, 2008; 12:52 PM