The Democratic and Republican debates Saturday night in New Hampshire showed that the presidential primary battles are in flux in both parties. Polls show that Sen. Barack Obama, while not necessarily experiencing a bounce from his victory in the Iowa caucus, is closing the gap in the state with rival Sen. Hillary Clinton.
On the GOP side, Sen. John McCain has continued a surge he began a few weeks ago in New Hampshire and is now leading former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney who was defeated in Iowa by Mike Huckabee. Romney, the former leader in New Hampshire is fighting a two front war and this new dynamic was on full display. Saturday, he clashed with Huckabee after the former Arkansas governor criticized Romney for failing to support the surge in Iraq.
"I supported the surge when you didn't. I'm not a person who is out there taking cheap shots at the president. I worked really hard to get him elected," Huckabee said. "But I'm not running for George Bush's third term. I want to be president of the United States on my own terms."
"I did support the surge," Romney retorted. "But ... Governor, don't try and characterize my position."
In New Hampshire, the bigger threat to Romney is John McCain, he won state's primary in 2000 and has focused almost exclusively on there since his campaign ran out of money in the spring. In his commercials, Romney has been hammering McCain for his position on tax cuts and for supporting amnesty for illegal immigrants. McCain responded, insisting he never supported amnesty and pointing out that at one time Romney had agreed with him.
"No better authority than Gov. Romney believed that it's not amnesty because two years ago, he was asked, and he said that my plan was, quote, "reasonable, and was not amnesty." And for you to describe it as you do in the attack ads, my friend, you can spend your whole fortune on these attack ads, but it won't be true."
The Republican candidates will continue their argument Sunday night when they meet again for another debate, their final encounter before Tuesday's primary.
Clinton is trying to stage her version of the famous comeback that her husband pulled off in New Hampshire 16 years ago. After coming in third in the Iowa caucuses, behind both former Sen. John Edwards and Obama, Clinton came to the debate Saturday night determined to direct more scrutiny toward Obama's record.
"You know, Sen. Obama's chair in New Hampshire is a lobbyist. He lobbies for the drug companies," Clinton said. "So, I think it's important that all of us be held to the same standard — that we're all held accountable."
Clinton also quoted an Associated Press story that said Obama could have a debate with himself because he's changed his position on several issues.
Edwards, describing both himself and Obama as agents of change, jumped in to make common cause against Clinton.
"That's not the kind of discussion we should be having," he said. "I think that every time this happens, what will occur — every time he speaks out for change, every time I fight for change, the forces of status quo are going to attack."
Obama was clearly feeling the boost of momentum from his victory on Thursday night. His goal Saturday night was to appear calm and presidential and to remind voters in New Hampshire that he has just won in Iowa.
"What I think is important that we don't do is to try to distort each other's records as election day approaches here in New Hampshire," he said. "Because what I think the people of America are looking for are folks who are going to be straight about the issues and are going to be interested in solving problems and bringing people together. That's the reason, I think, we did so well in Iowa."
Obama spent the day Saturday giving speeches to overflow crowds — senator Clinton held an unusually long town hall meeting taking questions for two hours in an effort to showcase both her depth of knowledge and her approachability. In the debate last night she was asked about the problems she has to overcome.
This was the last Democratic debate before New Hampshire votes and all the Democratic candidates will be holding events practically around the clock until the polls close here on Thursday night.