With New Hampshire's primaries just two days away, the presidential candidates blanketed the state this weekend in a near non-stop frenzy of rallies, debates and speeches.
Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney, the former governor of neighboring Massachusetts, wasted no time trying to sell himself as a favorite son and exploit what he hopes will be his home field advantage. In the past, New Hampshire voters have been kind to candidates from Massachusetts: former Gov. Michael Dukakis, former Sen. Paul Tsongas and Sen. John Kerry have all won the state's Democratic primary.
Romney is hoping his familiarity — and his conservative fiscal stance — will appeal to voters in the "live free or die" state. He brought up his friend and anti-tax crusader Barbara Anderson to the stage on Sunday to remind voters of the uphill battles he has fought in Massachusetts, such as opposing a retroactive capital gains tax. It's a storyline that resonates with many New Hampshire voters, such as Steve Presstack.
"It can't be an easy thing to do, to be a Republican in a Democratic state," Presstack said of Romney. "Just to get elected was amazing."
But New Hampshire voters' familiarity with Romney doesn't always work in his favor. "It's a double-edged sword," said Chris Lonus, 30, who remembers when the pro-life, anti-gay-marriage Romney was a pro-choice politician vowing to be a stronger advocate for gay rights than Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-MA).
The more he knows Romney, "the more I second-guess him," Lonus said.
Making Connections with Voters Beyond Religion
Romney rival and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee also spent Sunday rallying his supporters.
Huckabee, a Baptist minister, placed first in Iowa's GOP caucuses last week, largely on the support of the state's evangelical voters. But New Hampshire doesn't have that many evangelicals. So instead, Huckabee speaks to Granite State voters about his rural upbringing and the economy – sometimes simultaneously.
"Man, we can fix anything in the South with WD-40 and duct tape – except the tax code of the United States of America. It needs a total overhaul," Huckabee joked with supporters Sunday.
He converted Steve Moore, from the town of Wyndam, N.H. And Moore doesn't vote just based on religion. "I voted for Perot, too," Moore said. "I want government shaken up and I want taxes to be revamped, and I think Mike Huckabee is going to do it."
After his win in the Iowa caucuses, Huckabee said that he didn't expect to win in New Hampshire – he hasn't campaigned vigorously in the state. But he told the crowd Sunday that all he has to do is surprise people again to do well.
Wooing Independent Voters
Meanwhile, the Democratic winner of the Iowa caucuses, Illinois Sen. Barack Obama, spent Sunday striking an optimistic tone. At a speech at the old Palace Theater in downtown Manchester, N.H., Obama roused the crowd with his ever-present campaign theme of hope. It won over 22-year-old student Ashley Currey of Bedford, N.H.
"Like he says, 'I talk about hope and people kind of talk down upon that,'" Currey said. "But, I mean, how could you? Hope is what gets people through every day. Hope is all people can have sometimes, and what a better thing to run on but hope?"
Curry is a Democrat. But Obama events are also attracting many undecided voters and independents, including Manchester attorney Chris Winzer, 54.
"I'm looking for inspiration. I think I found a little bit here today," Winzer said after attending Obama's speech.
Winzer, who says she voted for George W. Bush in the last two elections, says she still wants to see New York Democrat Sen. Hillary Clinton in person before making a decision.
Clinton on the Offensive
Polls show a tight race in New Hampshire between Obama and Clinton, who has stepped up her attacks of the junior senator from Illinois since placing third in Iowa.
Speaking to an overflow of more than 3,000 people at a high school in Nashua, N.H., Sunday, Clinton took the opportunity to pick apart Obama's record on Iraq. She noted that though Obama had spoken against the war in Iraq in 2002, he later said he was not sure how he would have voted on authorizing war if he'd been in the Senate at the time – and later still, he voted to authorize war funding. "That's not change," Clinton said.
Clinton followed that line of attack throughout the day. Her advisers backed it up with a conference call to reporters insisting that the media ask tougher questions about Obama.
Sarah Reyes, a New Hampshire voter who attended the Nashua event, said she was turned off by Clinton's attack. " In talking about somebody else, I don't think that's going to get anything done," Reyes said.
Reyes attended the Nashua event with her 4-year-old son. She said she was undecided between Clinton and Obama, and especially interested in the issue of immigration. Her husband is from Mexico and became a legal U.S. resident in 2006. By chance, an audience member asked Clinton about the issue. Reyes said she liked hearing Clinton say that those in the country illegally should have a shot at becoming a citizen. Clinton's response, she said, helped her decide on a candidate.
"I think I'm going with Hillary," Reyes said.
Then again, she said, Obama and Clinton will still have her ear for another two days.