NH Voters Come Out in Large Numbers

John McCain placed his revived Republican presidential campaign on the line against a weakened but determined Mitt Romney as New Hampshire primary voters came out in large numbers Tuesday.

Barack Obama declared Americans were ready to "cast aside cynicism" as he looked for a convincing win in the Democratic contest.

Weather was spring-like and participation brisk, although it remained to be seen whether New Hampshire would match the record-busting turnout of the Iowa caucuses won by Obama and Republican Mike Huckabee only five days earlier. Republicans, their national race for the nomination tangled, watched a New Hampshire contest unfold between McCain and Romney at the top of their field, polls indicating McCain had an edge but no clear-cut advantage.

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 cracked: "It has all the earmarks of a landslide, with the Dixville Notch vote." Romney boldly predicted: "The Republicans will vote for me. The independents will get behind me."

Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York promised a daylong blitz to get her supporters out, even as those closest to her acknowledged the difficulty of trying to counter Obama's momentum so soon after the Iowa caucuses.

Obama spoke at Dartmouth College - his relatives in Kenya, meanwhile, gathered outside near a radio, waiting to hear the New Hampshire returns.

"Today you can make your voice heard - you can insist that change will come," Obama told the crowd. "The American people have decided for the first time in a very long time to cast aside cynicism, to cast aside fear, to cast aside doubts."

Looking back at his Iowa victory, the man who would be the first black president said: "The state was not, according to the experts, designed for me. There were not a lot of people who look like me in Iowa."

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 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.

Giuliani waved off a question about his decline in the polls, pointing to the church and saying, "The only poll I'm interested in is the one that goes on inside there." That wasn't exactly so. At his New Hampshire headquarters, he asserted that opinion polls in some 15 states find him on top.

The nation's first primary offered Obama a chance to become the clear favorite for the Democratic presidential nomination while McCain and Romney competed head to head in a Republican race that seemed bound to sink the aspirations of one of them.


Rooting from distant sidelines, Obama's Kenyan relatives sat in plastic chairs at the end of a dusty road lined with mango and mimosa trees, listening to the radio. The Democrat's uncle, Said Obama, commented that his nephew "has proved to be a beacon of hope here and shown that even in difficult circumstances you can make it to the highest height of achievement with just determination and hard work."

Kogelo, the western Kenyan home village of Barack Obama's father, has been spared the violence that has erupted elsewhere after a disputed presidential election. Obama called Kenyan opposition leader Raila Odinga on Monday and was expected to do the same Tuesday with President Mwai Kibaki to express concern about the election outcome.

Former President Bill Clinton dampened expectations for his wife, saying the unusually short stretch between Iowa and New Hampshire presented little chance to counter Obama's bounce.

Boisterous supporters chanted John Edwards' name as he left a polling site in Manchester. The former senator from North Carolina hoped Clinton would be sufficiently weakened Tuesday to give him an opening.

He finally won over Suzanne Keach, a retired state employee in Concord who also considered Clinton and Obama in what she called a tug between heart and head. The heart won.

"Oh, I have been vacillating," said Keach, who backed McCain when he won New Hampshire in 2000. She made her final decision "probably this morning when I got up." She said of Edwards: "I think he has some solutions that will help a lot of people, not just a specific group."

Paradoxically, the struggle for primacy in the Democratic and Republican campaigns was, to an outsized degree, in the hands of independents who make up a large share of the voters here and by definition are not loyal to either party.

Clinton and her daughter Chelsea poured coffee for voters and a police officer at a Manchester elementary school before dawn. They were greeted by a dozen voters and twice as many supporters outside. "We're going to work all day to get the vote out," she said.

Her next stop was at a polling place in a Nashua high school, where pupils who had just arrived by bus screamed with excitement and enveloped her. She worked her way to a group of 50 supporters, some hugging her as she moved down the line greeting them.

At a school in a working class Manchester neighborhood, Anna and Adam Helbling looked beyond the passions of the moment to the Democrat they think could win in the fall, and voted for Obama. "I really wanted to vote for Hillary, but I think Obama has a really good chance against a Republican rival," Anna said.

Huckabee wooed independent Joe Legay by pouring him coffee from a doughnut-shop container. "I'm independent so I have to be quiet," Legay said when Huckabee asked how he would vote. He said later he voted for Obama.

Kathy Nadeau, 49, a property manager, backed Clinton because of her experience. "Hillary has done a good job in Washington," she said, "and I think she can bail us out."

The high number of independents presented an opportunity for McCain, a GOP iconoclast who won New Hampshire against establishment pick George W. Bush in 2000, and for Obama, pressing hard to build a constituency broader than his party. But it also was a complication because they were dipping into the same nonaligned pool.

Even so, polls indicated Obama had pulled ahead of Clinton as she fought to write a "comeback kid" story to rival that of her husband in 1992.

In a northern New Hampshire hamlet tradition, voters of Dixville Notch and Hart's Location cast the first 46 ballots of the primary season - half for Democrats and half for Republicans - at midnight, hours before polls began opening elsewhere at 6 a.m. EST. Polls close at 8 p.m. Obama and McCain came out on top.

The gym at Dartmouth was only about two-thirds full, in contrast with Obama's packed events over the last few days. A young woman near the front of the crowd passed out while he was speaking, and he stopped his speech for a full nine minutes, staring down with his arms crossed, until she was taken out on a stretcher, alert and talking.

McCain held a statistically insignificant lead over Romney in late polls. Obama had a clear advantage over Clinton in surveys and Edwards trailed both, with Richardson, the New Mexico governor, in the rear.

Iowa GOP winner Huckabee campaigned vigorously in New Hampshire in the final days but without expectations of victory. He, former Tennessee Sen. Fred Thompson and one-time national poll leader Giuliani looked to later contests. Thompson campaigned in South Carolina as New Hampshire voted.

Coyright 2008 Associated Press

This program aired on January 8, 2008. The audio for this program is not available.


More from WBUR

Listen Live