Candidates Gear Up for Debates Before Primary It's the last weekend before the nation's first presidential primary, in New Hampshire on Tuesday. Saturday night, there will be debates among the major candidates of both parties, Republicans first and then Democrats, at Saint Anselm College just outside Manchester.
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Candidates Gear Up for Debates Before Primary

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Candidates Gear Up for Debates Before Primary

Candidates Gear Up for Debates Before Primary

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From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Andrea Seabrook.

In New Hampshire today, it's the last weekend before the nation's first presidential primary. Candidates are campaigning in both parties and beyond, seeking the votes of independents as well.

Tonight, there will be debates among the major candidates of both parties -Republicans first and then Democrats - at Saint Anselm College just outside Manchester.

NPR is there, and two of our reporters in New Hampshire join me now to talk about the two races, Audie Cornish and Scott Horsley.

Hello to both of you.

SCOTT HORSLEY: Good to be with you, Andrea.

SEABROOK: Scott, let me start with you. We'll come back to the debate in just a second. But with that prospect in the air, how did the candidates meet the voting public today?

HORSLEY: Andrea, it was a busy day for the fire marshals around New Hampshire today. The candidates, especially the Democrats, were drawing big crowds. Some voters are just there to wave their signs and show their support. Others still gathering information, trying to make up their minds just a few days before the primary.

And the candidates went out of their way to try to oblige those information seekers. John Edwards took more questions than usual today, and Hillary Clinton held a marathon town hall in a high school gym, building questions for almost two hours.

Senator HILLARY CLINTON (Democrat, New York; Democratic Presidential Candidate): I want to take as many questions as I can. I'll stay as long as I can. I'll try to get to everybody because I know how important this election is to all of us.

SEABROOK: And Scott, how did the audiences react?

HORSLEY: Generally favorably. (Unintelligible) voter Susan Youngs(ph) was typical of the people I spoke with after the Hillary Clinton event.

Ms. SUSAN YOUNGS: Actually, I was very impressed. I'm still not 100 percent decided, but I found her impressive. She's so knowledgeable. She thinks well on her feet. And she does a good job of actually responding to the questions she's asked.

HORSLEY: But as you heard, Youngs is still not committed to Clinton and that's a challenge. Youngs also wants to hear from John Edwards in the next few days and had said she's very impressed by Barack Obama as well. Obama drew the biggest crowds today. And I heard from one voter, Martin Mary(ph), who says he's leaning Obama's direction but could cross over and vote for John McCain on the Republican side.

SEABROOK: It's an interesting point about independents, Audie Cornish. Are you hearing people mention the dilemma of choosing between two candidates and two different parties?

AUDIE CORNISH: I'm hearing a lot of that because I'm following John McCain. And there are a lot of people who go to his events who are folks, who are independent voters and who are straddling both parties here in New Hampshire. You can choose which primary you want to participate in.

Back in 2000, 62 percent of independent voters decided to go over to the GOP primary, and McCain benefited from that. This time around, you're seeing polls that are saying that 63 percent of independents are actually leaning Democrats this time. And as a result, I'm hearing folks say to me, well, I really like Senator Obama and Senator McCain, which might seem kind of like an odd pairing. But here, in New Hampshire, it's more than possible.

SEABROOK: And Audie, the other guy who's not so visible in Iowa despite his national standing in the polls is Rudy Giuliani, the former mayor of New York. You saw some of him today.

CORNISH: Yes. Former Mayor Giuliani was back in New Hampshire. He went to an event today for a robotics competition and entered on a segue and sort of made this jerky, bump-and-go entrance, which is probably not the best photo op, but that what he did. And later on, he went to a house party. And he's really focusing on this sort of smaller events and getting to know the voters and also trying to get people to see him passed, maybe, the conversation around 9/11.

Here's a cut of him sort of making that appeal.

Mr. RUDY GIULIANI (Former Republican Mayor, New York; Republican Presidential Candidate): I'm not talking just about September 11th 2001, although that is part of my history and part of what I had to handle. But I'm talking about all the things that I did before that as mayor of New York City, the problems of crime, the problems of welfare, the problems of the economy.

CORNISH: But Of course, Giuliani is coming into this race, hovering around fourth and really competitive with Huckabee at this point. The leaders here are Senator John McCain and former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney, who does have, in the past anyway, people thought had some advantage of being the governor of a neighboring state, but is most definitely setting his sights on McCain and trying to make sort of advance there.

SEABROOK: Now, of course, the most important business of today comes later, with the debates between the leading candidates in each party. There is big interest in these debates in the state and beyond. And Scott Horsley, what should Democrats be watching for?

HORSLEY: It's everything, Andrea. There's huge interest in these debates. You might think that everything that could have been said in the debate has already been said by these candidates. But I talked to a lot of voters who are going to be watching very closely. And the question is really whether Hillary Clinton or John Edwards or anyone else can put a roadblock in front of the Obama bandwagon. I'm not sure a debate is the best setting to do that.

SEABROOK: And Audie, how about the Republicans?

CORNISH: I think you're going to be looking to see how much attacking there might be on Senator John McCain. You know, in past debates, when people thought he wasn't doing so well, there was a lot of praise heaped on Senator McCain. This time around, you've got former Governor Mitt Romney, who's coming back looking to rebound and really looking to, let's say, draw appointed differences between the candidates. And well, we also see alliances, where we see former Governor Mike Huckabee and McCain maybe being a little nicer to each other and piling it on on Romney.

And so I think you should watch really for how the candidates are in relationship to each other at this sort of attack and withdraw.

NPR's Audie Cornish and Scott Horsley in Manchester, New Hampshire. Thanks guys.

CORNISH: Thank you.

HORSLEY: Good to be with you.

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