Focus Turns to the Independent Voters


By: Wall Street Journal

In New Hampshire, Unaffiliated Are Key For McCain, Obama
By MARY JACOBY

NASHUA, N.H. — As the presidential race moves from Iowa to New Hampshire, independent voters take on added importance, particularly for Republican Sen. John McCain and Democratic Sen. Barack Obama.

New Hampshire is one of the few states that allows voters who haven’t declared a party affiliation to vote in either party’s primary. Those voters represent a rich vein of potential support in the New Hampshire primary Tuesday: About 44% of the state’s registered voters aren’t affiliated with Democrats or Republicans.

After his loss in Iowa, Mitt Romney arrives in New Hampshire in hopes of winning the high-stakes GOP presidential primary in the state next week. WSJ’s Elizabeth Holmes follows the candidate from Iowa to New Hampshire.

Last night’s Iowa results benefited Mr. McCain as well as Mr. Obama. By undermining Sen. Hillary Clinton’s position as the clear Democratic front-runner, Mr. Obama’s victory makes the New Hampshire race more critical for Mrs. Clinton. Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee’s Republican victory helps Mr. McCain by weakening his chief rival in New Hampshire, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney.

Mr. McCain relied heavily on independents to win the New Hampshire Republican primary in 2000. That year, 62% of independents chose to vote in the Republican tally, and many went for the Arizona senator. But this year, 63% of New Hampshire’s unaligned voters are likely to vote Democratic, according to a CNN/WMUR poll taken Dec. 27-30.

The turn toward the Democrats is partly due to anger over the Iraq war. It also reflects New Hampshire’s overall Democratic trend. Since 2004, Republicans here have lost the governorship, control of the state Legislature and the state’s two seats in the U.S. House of Representatives.

If many independents vote on the Democratic side, that is likely to favor Mr. Obama. A recent Los Angeles Times/Bloomberg poll found that among New Hampshire independents who will vote in the Democratic primary, 37% preferred Mr. Obama and 24% leaned toward Mrs. Clinton. “Independents are just that. They tend to go with the nonconformists,” said Denis Parker, a lobbyist and former union official, who said he is supporting Mrs. Clinton because he likes her experience.

Mr. Obama’s victory in Iowa may reassure voters who have reservations about his experience and viability. It means Mrs. Clinton will face a much more difficult road to a nomination that her campaign had sought to portray as inevitable.

Among registered Republicans and Democrats, the state also has a high proportion of undecided voters, a trend that has emerged nationally but to an even greater extent in New Hampshire.

David Wunsch, a scientist, ventured out on a recent snowy night to hear Mr. McCain speak at a town-hall meeting in Laconia. Mr. Wunsch said he is “pretty sure” he will vote for Mr. McCain, but he also likes Mr. Obama. “I will probably make my decision when I pull the lever” in the voting booth, Mr. Wunsch said.

After having pumped what rival campaigns estimate to be around $40 million of his own money into the campaign, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney long held the lead on the Republican side in Iowa and New Hampshire. But he saw those leads wither in recent weeks as Mr. Huckabee surged in Iowa and Mr. McCain rose in New Hampshire. Mr. Huckabee’s success in Iowa could further fuel his fund-raising efforts and fire up his supporters in New Hampshire and beyond.

Among Democrats, Mrs. Clinton held a 29% to 23% lead over Mr. Obama in a Suffolk University/WHDH tracking poll of New Hampshire voters taken Tuesday and Wednesday. Former North Carolina Sen. John Edwards was third at 17%.

The poll pegged Mr. McCain’s support in the state at 29%, followed by Mr. Romney at 25%, Mr. Huckabee at 12%, former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani at 9% and Texas Rep. Ron Paul at 8%, with 14% undecided. But the numbers have been volatile.

Mr. Giuliani is counting on a big win in Florida on Jan. 29 to send him with momentum into a megaround of voting on Feb. 5, when big states like New York and California chose nominees.

New Hampshire, with its “live free or die” motto, is the early state where Mr. Paul’s message and movement are likely to have their biggest resonance. The advocate of small government, who opposes the Iraq war and has raised an impressive $20 million in the final three months of last year, remains a wild card on the Republican side. His supporters say polls are missing many of them because they are younger or more tech-savvy and don’t have telephone land lines, which is how pollsters contact people.

Democratic voters in both Iowa and New Hampshire favored the same candidate in 2004 — Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry — and Democrats in the two states tend to share similar concerns. Iowa Republican caucus-goers, however, are generally more conservative, religious and interested in social issues like abortion than are New Hampshire Republicans. That’s one reason why Mr. Huckabee, a Baptist minister who has reached out to Christian conservatives, has been in the lead or close to it in Iowa while trailing in New Hampshire.

In 2000, the last time the Republicans had a contest for the presidential nomination, George W. Bush won the Iowa caucus and Mr. McCain won by 18 percentage points in New Hampshire. Even with that boost, Sen. McCain lost in South Carolina and failed to win the nomination — which could happen again even if he wins New Hampshire.

This time, Mr. McCain started as the early front-runner for the nomination, but had a tumble. After his campaign nearly went broke in July, he retrenched to focus on New Hampshire and has staked his comeback bid here.

Between 20% and 35% of the state’s eligible voters have moved to New Hampshire from elsewhere since 2000, said Andrew Smith, the director of the University of New Hampshire Survey Center, which conducted the CNN/WMUR poll. Others are young people who weren’t eligible to vote in 2000. “There’s been a big churn in the electorate,” Mr. Smith said.

Many registered Republicans and Democrats say they might not decide how to vote until the last minute. Thirty-eight percent of Democrats and 42% of Republicans in New Hampshire said it was very or somewhat likely they would change their minds before Tuesday’s primary, according to this week’s Suffolk University/WHDH tracking poll.

Judi Hess, a small-business owner and registered Republican, had narrowed her choices down to Mr. McCain and Mr. Giuliani when she came out Wednesday evening to hear the former New York mayor speak at a town-hall event in Hooksett, N.H., that attracted about 80 people.

Ms. Hess asked Mr. Giuliani how he would differentiate himself from Mr. McCain. Mr. Giuliani gave a rambling answer that focused on 9/11 and how he had reduced crime and taxes in New York City. “He mentioned he had foreign-policy experience. I want to explore that more, because, other than 9/11, I am not familiar with his experience,” Ms. Hess said. She remained undecided.

Mr. McCain has attracted bigger crowds in New Hampshire recently, where he has won a slew of newspaper endorsements, including from the influential Union Leader in Manchester. He is stressing his foreign-policy experience, including service on the Senate Armed Services Committee and as a naval aviator and former prisoner of war in Vietnam.

On the stump, he talks about the recent assassination in Pakistan of opposition leader Benazir Bhutto, playing up his official visits to the nuclear-armed country and acquaintance with major players like Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf. “I’ve met Musharraf many times,” he told a gathering at the home of a supporter in Tilton, N.H.

Except for a few stops by Mr. Giuliani, Mr. McCain has virtually had New Hampshire to himself this week. Mr. Romney and the Democrats were concentrating on Iowa.

Mrs. Clinton has the backing of much of the state’s Democratic establishment, and her supporters tend to be older and more likely to vote. The undeclared voters who are leaning Democratic — and toward Mr. Obama — are less likely to show up at the polls. While undeclared voters constitute 44% of the electorate, they are likely to make up only about 30% of voters, said Mr. Smith.

Mr. Obama is counting on a strong showing by people under 30, a group that doesn’t usually show up to vote in force. Mr. Obama’s New Hampshire campaign headquarters in Manchester was buzzing Wednesday night with young volunteers — one was only 13 years old — working the phones.

Campaign volunteer Rebecca Lee, 26 years old, who recently returned from service overseas in the Peace Corps, pitched Mr. Obama’s life history and opposition to the Iraq war to other young people she reached on the phone. “I say he represents change,” Ms. Lee said. “And I ask them to come to the polls.”

Write to Mary Jacoby at mary.jacoby@wsj.com

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