McCain, Romney Seek Paths to a N.H. Victory

Sen. and presidential contender John McCain (R-AZ) speaks as his wife Cindy looks on. Mario Tama

hide captionSen. and presidential contender John McCain (R-AZ) speaks as his wife Cindy looks on at a 'The Mac is Back' rally in Keene, N.H. McCain is banking on a win in the state.

Mario Tama/Getty Images

In New Hampshire on Monday, several new statewide polls point to a big win for Illinois Sen. Barack Obama over New York Sen. Hillary Clinton, repeating the stunning results of last week in Iowa.

A much closer race is shaping up between Republicans John McCain and Mitt Romney. McCain, a senator from Arizona, hopes his appeal to independents will make the difference. Romney, former governor of neighboring Massachusetts, is setting his sights on traditional Republican voters.

McCain's volunteers used snow shovels and wooden sticks to scrape the ice off the sidewalk before a rally in front of Nashua's City Hall Monday morning, but if they had waited a few hours the sun might have done it for them.

New Hampshire is enjoying a warming trend, and for the Arizona senator, it feels like home. McCain won the New Hampshire primary eight years ago, and he's hoping for a repeat on Tuesday.

McCain Woos Voters

"My friends, thanks for coming out this morning. Thanks for your support. I've got to tell you, there's a lot of nostalgia associated with this morning. We've had a great time. This has been a wonderful experience, again," McCain told the crowd.

The Nashua rally was the first of seven for McCain on Monday. In the state capital of Concord, McCain said if he's elected, he won't need on-the-job training.

"I'm asking for your vote because I believe I can lead this nation in difficult times, and — like another president we had who came out of California — I believe our best days are ahead of us," McCain said.

McCain only managed a fourth-place finish in last week's Iowa caucuses, but he has spent a lot more time campaigning in New Hampshire, where he is popular with voters.

"He had my vote last time, and he has it this time because of his experience; because he's consistent in his positions; and because he says what he believes, not what he thinks is popular," said voter Roberta Barrett. "That goes a long way."

Richard Reeve also came to a rally this morning, but he said he hasn't decided whether he'll vote for McCain or former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee. They both seem like "straight shooters," he said. He doesn't feel that way about Romney.

"They use the term flip-flopping these days, and that's the biggest turnoff. Rather than flop, McCain explains what he did, why he did it, and doesn't change where he's going," Reeve said.

McCain's fortunes in New Hampshire may rest with independent voters. They lean his way in a USA Today/Gallup poll, while committed Republicans favor Romney.

Romney's Strategy

Hoping to shore up his base, Romney hit two local businesses and a country club in Nashua, where he stood in front of a giant to-do list and cast himself as a proven manager who could get the job done.

"You see, in the private sector if you don't change and improve, you go out of business," Romney told the crowd.

The point hit home with lots of men in business suits and women who were impressed by the well-coiffed and well-spoken candidate.

"He is presidential in every way," said 79-year-old Doe Shagnon is exactly the kind of voter Romney needs now — a loyal Republican who was committed to the candidate before he even started running.

But other Republicans are still not swept off their feet.

"I've always liked Romney but not been in love with the guy — but I do like him," said Wally Ammon, an undecided voter from Francestown. Ammon said he may vote for Romney.

"He's a good man," Ammon said, adding that Romney is competent, if not passionate.

If Romney can't make it on passion, campaign manager Eric Fernstrom is making a more practical appeal. He's warning voters that McCain would be just the kind of Washington insider who would be destroyed by a Democratic nominee like Obama.

"The lesson from Iowa is that Barack Obama is a senator killer," Fernstrom said, referring to Obama's win over Clinton.

But voter David Quimby said being an outsider has its downside, too.

"It's a good argument, but if you're an outsider you don't have the connections you need to get it done. So, an outsider can be bad, too."

Reported by Tovia Smith with the Romney campaign in Nashua, N.H., and Scott Horsley with the McCain campaign in Concord, N.H.

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