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Candidates scramble for votes on eve of NH primary

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GLEN JOHNSON
January 7, 2008
— Barack Obama, the new Democratic front-runner, told cheering supporters, “You’re the wave and I’m riding it” as the presidential contenders hurtled toward Tuesday’s New Hampshire primary.

Democratic rival Hillary Rodham Clinton said that whoever wins “we’re going on,” while Republicans John McCain and Mitt Romney sniped at each other with ever more bite.


Romney declared, “We need some voters,” one sentiment that could be embraced by all the contenders.


Clinton and Romney suffered defeats in last week’s Iowa caucuses and are struggling to avoid a second major loss. McCain is surging on the Republican side, and polls show Obama leading for the Democratic primary here.


Fighting back, Clinton questioned the substance behind the Illinois senator’s soaring rhetoric. She said Obama “is a very talented politician” but is not living up to his claim to be a new type of politician.


Interviewed on ABC’s “Good Morning America,” Clinton pointed out that Obama has portrayed himself as being outside the influence of special interests yet picked a New Hampshire lobbyist to co-chair his campaign in the state. She also accused him of changing positions on issues, even though he criticizes other candidates for the same thing.


“All of a sudden you start to ask yourself, Wait a minute. I mean, what is the substance here?” she said. “What, as famously was said years ago, where’s the beef? You know, where is the reality?”


As for Obama, he had an enviable logistical problem. Hundreds of people couldn’t get into his speech at the Lebanon Opera House, so he addressed them with a microphone from the steps.


“You guys caught us a little by surprise,” he said. “You’re the wave and I’m riding it.”


Earlier, in Claremont, the long days seemed to be taking a bit of a toll on him – he flipped one of his signature campaign lines during a rally, saying, “The time for come has change.”


He also saw a doctor Sunday about losing his voice. The advice, Obama wryly told the audience in Claremont was “shut up.”


Democrat John Edwards, meanwhile, mounted an all-night bus tour of the state, with early morning stops planned for Berlin, Littleton and Claremont, with 10 more events throughout the day and evening. “While everyone else goes to bed tonight,” he told a Nashua audience, “I’m going to be out working.”


Romney scheduled six events, an end-of-the-day rally and a two-minute television ad, while McCain pushed into what he called “The Mac Is Back” bus tour, flanked by dozens of friends and relatives who turned out for the final New Hampshire push. Optimism mixed with nostalgia as the Arizona senator sought a repeat of his surprise win here during his first White House run eight years ago.


“Tomorrow is the day when we will tell the world that New Hampshire again has chosen the next president of the United States,” McCain told a couple of hundred sign-toting supporters.


With his wife, Cindy, and two of their daughters behind him, McCain’s tone was a bit wistful at a chilly morning rally on the steps of the Nashua city hall. “There’s a lot of nostalgia associated with this morning. We’ve had a great time,” he told said. “My friends, it has been an uplifting and wonderful experience.”


Iowa’s GOP winner, Mike Huckabee, said he wasn’t counting on winning a top spot in New Hampshire’s primary Tuesday. “If we come in anywhere in the third and fourth slot, we’re going to do great. I’d like to do better than that, but you have people who have had a lot more money spent here,” he told CNN.


The once front-running Romney was also circumspect about his chances.


“If I come in in a second-place finish, that will actually say that I am clearly one of the leading contenders. I will have come in second in Iowa, first in Wyoming, second in New Hampshire. That will mean that I probably have more votes than anybody else in those first three states,” he said.


Romney’s first stop was the entrance of BAE Systems North America, where he found reporters and camera crews far outnumbered arriving workers. That prompted the former Massachusetts governor to exclaim, “We need some voters.”


After a speech to employees at the Timberland shoe company in Stratham, Romney argued that McCain would not be the best candidate to compete against a Democrat such as Obama.


“I think Barack Obama would be able to do to John McCain exactly what he was able to do to the other senators who were running on the other side” in Iowa, he said.


Told about Romney’s comments, McCain said, “I appreciate all those predictions about my political future, and I know they come from a vast storage of knowledge and background. ... I’ll let the voters make a decision.”


Romney planned to air a two-minute television ad Monday evening, portraying Washington as in need of a president with the business and government background and experience that he has.


“It’s long past time to bring real change to Washington,” he says in the ad. “That’s never going to happen if all we do is send the same people back to Washington to sit in different chairs.”


The line echoes Obama’s appeal to voters: “The real gamble in this election is to do the same things, with the same folks, playing the same games over and over and over again and somehow expect a different result.”


A new survey showed Obama opening a lead over Clinton, while the Republican race remained a statistical dead heat.


Obama had 41 percent, up from 32 percent in mid-December, in a new USA Today/Gallup poll. Clinton was at 28 percent, down from 32 percent. Former North Carolina Sen. John Edwards had 19 percent, New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson had 6 percent, and no other candidate had 3 percent.


On the Republican side, McCain had 34 percent, up from 27 percent in mid-December, while Romney had 30 percent, down from 34 percent. Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee was third with 13 percent, while Rep. Ron Paul of Texas and former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani were tied at 8 percent. No other candidate, including former Tennessee Sen. Fred Thompson, who conceded Sunday he was focusing on South Carolina rather than New Hampshire, was above 3 percent.


Both surveys had a margin of error of 4.4 percentage points, a small enough gap to consider the GOP race tied.


“Undeclareds” make up the majority of registered voters in the state, and they are free to vote in either primary on Tuesday. Romney aides hope for a surge in favor of Obama, denying McCain the independent votes that catapulted him past Bush in 2000.


Huckabee – and free pancakes – lured more than 400 people to tiny Mason, N.H., Monday morning to hear his populist economic message. The crowd had to be divided into two seatings to hear Huckabee and his campaign sidekick, actor Chuck Norris.


Huckabee encouraged voters to bring their friends and neighbors to the polls with them. But, he added, only if they supported him.


“If they’re not going to vote for me ... let the air out of his tires. Shovel your snow into his driveway,” he joked. “Don’t let this person do damage to this country while you’re trying to do a good thing.”


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Associated Press Writers Nedra Pickler, Liz Sidoti, Charles Babington, Beth Fouhy, Libby Quaid, Holly Ramer and Philip Elliott contributed to this report.



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