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What's at Stake in the New Hampshire Primary

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What's at Stake in the New Hampshire Primary

Election 2008

What's at Stake in the New Hampshire Primary

What's at Stake in the New Hampshire Primary

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  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

We've barely had time to interpret the results of last week's Iowa caucuses, and now it's New Hampshire's turn. What statement — if any — will the voters in the "Live Free or Die" state make Tuesday? How will the independents vote? What will the results mean for the winners — and for the losers? And where do the candidates go from here?


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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New Hampshire Goes to Polls in First Primary

Video: Canvassing in New Hampshire
David Gilkey, NPR

Watch NPR's Video Report on Door-to-Door Campaigning in N.H.

Voters filed into polling stations in New Hampshire on Tuesday in the nation's first presidential primary, a crucial test for candidates who only five days ago squared off in the Iowa caucuses.

Sen. John McCain and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney were battling for the top spot amid the crowded Republican field, while Sen. Barack Obama was hoping for a repeat of Iowa, when he won an upset victory over Sen. Hillary Clinton.

Supporters mobbed an upbeat McCain at a Nashua polling station, making it hard for him to reach voters as they filed inside. Noting he outpolled rivals in two tiny northern hamlets that voted before the rest of the state, McCain joked: "It has all the earmarks of a landslide, with the Dixville Notch vote."

Weather was spring-like and the turnout, according to early signs, brisk. At Brookside Congregational Church in Manchester, 50 voters lined up before dawn and people waited in their cars for a parking space after doors opened. When former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee passed fellow GOP candidate Rudy Giuliani outside, Huckabee jokingly asked the former New York mayor for his vote.

"We get along beautifully on the trail," Huckabee said. "No animosity."

Long-shot GOP hopeful Rep. Duncan Hunter attended the vote in Dixville Notch, where results were announced before 12:06 a.m.

"It epitomizes people-to-people politicking," Hunter said minutes before the votes were cast. He received no votes in either Dixville Notch or Hart's Location, where voters also cast ballots just after midnight.

While most New Hampshire residents have to wait until daybreak to vote, those in the two far northern towns have been going to the polls at midnight for decades, under a state law that says municipalities with fewer than 100 people can vote early.

Obama has been drawing large, boisterous crowds since he won the Iowa caucuses, and a spate of pre-primary polls showed him powering to a lead in New Hampshire, too.

"You're the wave, and I'm riding it," he told several hundred voters who cheered him Monday in 40-degree weather after being turned away from an indoor rally filled to capacity.

Clinton runs second in the surveys, with former Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina third, and the former first lady and her aides seemed to be bracing for another setback.

At one stop, Clinton appeared to struggle with her emotions when asked how she copes with the grind of the campaign — but her words still had bite.

"Some of us are ready and some of us are not," she said in remarks aimed at Obama.

Opinion polls showed the Republican race a close one between McCain, the Arizona senator seeking to rebound from last summer's near collapse of his campaign, and Romney, the former governor of Massachusetts.

Romney cast himself as the Republican best able to hold the White House.

After first declining to predict victory in a state where he had led in surveys for months, Romney exuded confidence by the end of the day.

"I'm convinced we're going to win tomorrow," he boasted at a rally for his staff at the campaign's headquarters. He attributed the change of heart to 100,000 telephone calls made by his staff, and his performance in back-to-back nationally televised debates on Saturday and Sunday.

McCain set out on a packed day of campaigning through seven cities. In a snow-draped setting in Keene, there seemed little doubt he had Romney in mind when he said voters would reject negative campaigning.

"I don't care how many attack ads you buy on television," he said.

Romney has run several TV commercials against McCain in New Hampshire, arguing that the senator's immigration plan would offer amnesty for illegal immigrants and painting him as a disloyal Republican for twice opposing President Bush's tax cuts. McCain responded with an ad that includes a quote from The Concord Monitor that suggested Romney was a phony.

From NPR reports and The Associated Press