Polls and Debates

New polls show Sen. Hillary Clinton's lead among Democrats vying for president shrinking a bit in New Hampshire. Meanwhile, Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney moves up some. For both parties, the war in Iraq no longer towers over other issues; the economy does.

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LINDA WERTHEIMER, host:

If Iowa is the first stop on that train to the White House, New Hampshire is not far down the line. And a couple of new polls show some movement there among candidates of both parties.

Joining us now for some analysis is NPR's senior news analyst, Cokie Roberts.

Good morning, Cokie.

COKIE ROBERTS: Good morning, Linda.

(Soundbite of laughter)

WERTHEIMER: Let's start with the Republicans.

ROBERTS: Early morning.

WERTHEIMER: It is, indeed, it is.

(Soundbite of laughter)

WERTHEIMER: The new numbers with good news for former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney.

ROBERT: Indeed. Of course, he is the neighboring governor, and he has spent a lot of money on television in New Hampshire as well as all the free media he gets there. But in a Marist poll, he's up 11 points over Giuliani versus a six last month, and almost identical numbers in the Boston Globe poll that came out this weekend. So he's solidifying his lead in New Hampshire.

John McCain remains third. Interestingly, Fred Thompson has essentially disappeared. He had his little moment in coming in in these polls and now he's just sunk.

But you know very well, Linda, that in New Hampshire, it's independent voters who make that huge difference. They can vote in either primary, and you've been just hearing Scott's piece. The Democrats are where the excitement is. It's where people are really interested. And it's hard to say how that's going to affect the Republicans in New Hampshire this time around. My guess is that it helps Mitt Romney because Republicans will vote in the Republican primary, and they're likely to vote for him.

WERTHEIMER: The polls also say something interesting about what issues the voters are worried about and may had an issues gap between the parties.

ROBERTS: That's true. The economy is clearly coming up as an issue as we see people worried about the economy with gas prices up and the stock market faltering, and the dollar down. And that's particularly true on the Democratic side. As you inferred, the - almost two-thirds of Democratic voters in the Boston Globe poll say that health care is the most important, or second-most important issue.

So what we are seeing is the Iraq War a no longer head and shoulders above every other issue on either side - on the Republican side, it's down there among the issues. The Republicans - terrorism is back up at the top of their list, and illegal immigration is right in there.

So I think that what we are going to see is, you know, when we get to the general election, something of a real general election because the primaries are, sort of, parallel universes here - with the Democrats talking about one set of issues and the Republicans talking about another set of issues. And the Iraq War almost off the table because I guess either voters think there's nothing they can do about it until after the election, or maybe they think things are getting better there.

WERTHEIMER: The Democratic race is a little bit more unsettled. Maybe we're seeing the effect of Senator Clinton's performance in the last debate.

ROBERTS: Well, there's certainly a statistically significant shrinkage for her in both of these New Hampshire polls, down from 21-point lead, last month, to an 11-point lead, this month, in the Marist poll. And that drop is interestingly, Linda, almost entirely among men, and men aged 45 and older. The Boston Globe - she - her lead also shrunk significantly.

Now, but a part of this, of course, was that it was bound to get tighter, but that last debate has - does seem to have taken its toll. It did create an opening for her opponents to go after her, for critics in the press to go after her.

Now she's got another. There's another big Democratic debate this week. We'll see how Senator Clinton does there. But it has been something of a run for Barack Obama both on television and at that big dinner in Des Moines over Saturday night, even though it was after midnight our time.

WERTHEIMER: NPR's Cokie Roberts.

You're listening to MORNING EDITION from NPR News.

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