What's at Stake in the New Hampshire Primary
ROBERT SIEGEL, Host:
And now, to New Hampshire and the first primary in the nation. Turnout is expected to be high and without results to talk about, the big story there is the weather. It felt more like Florida than New England today in New Hampshire.
NPR's national political correspondent Mara Liasson is in Manchester, she's following the candidates and talking to the voters. How are you doing, Mara?
MARA LIASSON: Good, Robert.
SIEGEL: A lot of activity out there, with talk of momentum and surges, and of course, a lot of talk about change. What are you looking for tonight?
LIASSON: Well, I'm looking to see what independent voters here do. One of the most important facts about the New Hampshire electorate is that 45 percent of them are undeclared - that's what they call it up here, more of them belong to either the Democratic or the Republican Party. And from the polls, we know that independents are mostly choosing this year between John McCain and Barack Obama.
Obama is very strong with independents. He won them in Iowa. McCain, of course, won the vast majority of independents in New Hampshire in 2000. But this year, independents have trended to the Democrats. Another interesting fact about the New Hampshire electorate is that 25 percent of them are new to the state since 2000. That is a lot of New Voters. Most of them are moving up from Massachusetts. That means smaller proportions of people here who remember the storied campaigns of Bill Clinton in '92 or John McCain in 2000. Also, these new voters are more upscale, educated. They fit the profile of the Obama voter on the Democratic side and the Romney voter on the Republican side.
SIEGEL: Mara, what do you think winning, or for that matter, losing New Hampshire means to the candidates? How much has it actually meant in the past?
LIASSON: Well, it's meant a lot. A defeater can really end the race for many candidates. And I think a third-place finisher would effectively do that to John Edwards, even though he says he's going to stay in until the convention because he's hoping that Hillary Clinton will implode and he can become the only alternative to Barack Obama.
But in 1992, Bill Clinton turned a second place finish here into the greatest act of political hutzpah in history when he called himself the comeback kid. And I would watch for Hillary Clinton if she places much closer to Obama than the polls show her doing to try to spin something similar. I think on the Republican side, a Romney win would effectively end the campaign of John McCain. A McCain win would wound Romney even further, but anyone worth 250 million is not going to be thrown out of the race by a lost in New Hampshire.
SIEGEL: Yeah. But whatever happens later tonight, for now certainly, everyone is vowing to fight on, win or lose.
LIASSON: That's right.
SIEGEL: You can't...
SIEGEL: ...let the side down going into the election, going into the primary.
LIASSON: No, no, no. And everybody is already talking about what happens next. If McCain wins here, he and Romney go right to Michigan. Romney has family roots in Michigan. His father was the governor. McCain won Michigan in 2000, although, since McCain ran out of money in the spring, he has very little organization in Michigan - or anywhere else for that matter. Huckabee goes immediately to South Carolina, where he's leading in the polls, has lots of Christian conservatives support there. Giuliani goes immediately to his firewall state of Florida.
On the Democratic side, Obama and Clinton will begin a very different kind of battle. Those Super Duper Tuesday states are all about tarmac events. They do not lend themselves to the kind of individual, one on one, intense grassroots organizing that the Obama campaign has really excelled at in Iowa and New Hampshire. Obama is also going to be getting a lot more scrutiny now that he's the frontrunner. He's going to be focusing on the February states, these states that have open primaries, where independents can vote. Hillary Clinton will, of course, focus on the states that have closed primaries where only Democrats can vote. But of course, before Mrs. Clinton goes anywhere, she - if she loses here by a sizeable margin, she'll probably go home, huddle with her husband and think about a staff shake up and a retooling of her campaign. Insiders in her campaign say she needs a message more about her vision for the future.
SIEGEL: Okay, Mara, and we'll hear from you as the day goes on. Thank you.
LIASSON: Thank you.
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