MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:
This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Melissa Block.
ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:
I'm Robert Siegel.
And we begin this hour in New Hampshire, where Republican presidential candidates are playing to a different crowd that they did in Iowa. In New Hampshire, you don't have to be affiliated with a party to vote in the primary. And so-called undeclared voters outnumber both Republicans and Democrats. As NPR's Greg Allen reports from Manchester, the New Hampshire independent vote is an elusive target.
GREG ALLEN, BYLINE: People who vote in the Republican primary in New Hampshire aren't like those who take part in the Iowa caucuses. For one thing, fewer of those who will be voting next Tuesday are officially Republicans. That's one reason why former Utah governor Jon Huntsman bypassed Iowa to focus his energies here in New Hampshire. Huntsman has a more moderate stance on social issues. He's defended evolution and says he believes the science behind global warming. And he's tried to reach out to independent voters.
JON HUNTSMAN: Ladies and gentlemen, I want your vote. I know we've got people from all different political persuasions around this table. But if I don't ask for your vote, I'm not going to get it.
ALLEN: At a gathering of business leaders in Portsmouth this week, Huntsman made his pitch for reforming the tax code, cutting the deficit and restoring trust in government. It's a campaign that helped him win an endorsement from the region's biggest newspaper, The Boston Globe. That approval reflects Huntsman's appeal to independents, people like Duncan Wood.
DUNCAN WOOD: Among the Republicans, he's, to me, the best choice this year. And I think it's refreshing to hear. I thought it was a very open and genuine talk.
ALLEN: Wood attended a Huntsman town hall last night Newport. Harking back to a political figure from a bygone era, he calls himself a Rockefeller Republican: fiscally conservative but liberal on social issues.
By maintaining an undeclared status, Wood says he's able to engage with candidates from both parties and cast his vote where it matters most.
WOOD: My wife and I, we voted in the Democratic primary last time because there wasn't really a contest we thought on the Republican side that was as interesting. And this time, we'll vote in the Republican Party. And, you know, we like living in New Hampshire because you get to see the candidates within a hundred feet.
ALLEN: But how many voters like Duncan Wood are there really? More than four in 10 voters in New Hampshire are listed as undeclared.
But don't read too much into that, says Andrew Smith. He's a political scientist who directs the survey center at the University of New Hampshire. Smith says, in New Hampshire, an undeclared voter is not the same as an independent voter. His research shows most undeclared voters connect with one of the major parties.
ANDREW SMITH: About 35 to 40 percent of these undeclared voters are really Democrats. They act like Democrats. They behave like Democrats. They vote like Democrats. About 30 percent to 35 percent are really Republicans, and about 30 percent are truly independents.
ALLEN: Smith says his surveys show Huntsman does appeal to true independents, but so does Texas Congressman Ron Paul. And because true independents have a lower turnout rate, Smith says the payoff may be disappointing.
SMITH: Huntsman is appealing to a very specific group: independent and Democrats who are going to vote in the Republican primary. But again, that's a small percentage of the overall Republican primary vote. He's appealing to the 20 percent of the voters who aren't really Republicans.
ALLEN: Because the registration rules have been eased in recent years, Smith says the number of undeclared voters has been growing. There are advantages to not being on a party list. You get fewer dinnertime phone calls, fewer fundraising appeals.
Many, like Loree Sullivan of Portsmouth, like the flexibility it gives them. Four years ago, she voted for Barack Obama. He's on the ballot next Tuesday - yes, there is a Democratic primary. But this time, however, Sullivan will vote for a Republican candidate. She's just not sure which one.
LOREE SULLIVAN: I'd like to know really specifics that are going to be done in the next four years. And, by going independent, I can wait up until that primary to make that decision - and who I think is the best candidate, not the best one from a particular party.
ALLEN: Sullivan's son Ryan is also an undeclared, independent voter. He's 23, and this will be the first presidential primary he's voted in. He's considering Huntsman, he says, but also Ron Paul. Greg Allen, NPR News, Manchester, New Hampshire.