Tiny New Hampshire Could Have a Big Election Impact

When it comes to battleground states this political season, New Hampshire may be the smallest, but it could have the biggest impact on who occupies the Oval Office next year.

Polls in the Granite State show President Obama and Mitt Romney statistically tied. And with New Hampshire's electorate notoriously fickle, capable of shifts in the polls in the final days before the voting, pollsters on both sides of the political divide aren't quite sure what to expect on Election Day.

But the stakes are high. With a presidential race growing tighter in its final days, New Hampshire's four electoral votes could prove pivotal in the competition for the 270 electoral votes needed to win the White House.

In a testament to just how important New Hampshire has become to the candidates, both President Obama and Mitt Romney are using the final days of the presidential campaign to squeeze in last-minute campaign stops there.

Mitt Romney, the Republican presidential nominee, campaigned in the state over the weekend and returns to Manchester tonight for his final rally of the presidential campaign. The president, meanwhile, was in Concord Sunday before heading to the other key battleground states of Ohio, Florida and Colorado.

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Political observers say the campaign visits underscore just how critical each camp views a win in the state.

"There's no question about just how close this race is shaping up to be," says Melvin Dubnick, a professor of political science at the University of New Hampshire. "Voters here are essentially behaving very much like other swing states and they're completely engaged in this presidential campaign."

The Obama and Romney campaigns differ about where the race stands but a new poll shows Mitt Romney gaining ground on the president.

The WMUR Granite State Poll conducted by the University of New Hampshire Survey Center shows Romney closing the gap on the president among likely voters with each drawing 47 percent of support. Four percent of likely voters in the survey are undecided. When undecided voters are asked which candidate they lean toward, Obama and Romney remain tied, with 48 percent for Obama, 48 percent for Romney. The margin of sampling error for the survey is +/- 4.4 percentage points.

The survey's results are an improvement for Romney, who has lagged the president in the state for months.

The poll shows Obama losing considerable support since 2008 as only 87 percent of 2008 Obama voters say they will vote for him this time while 94 percent of McCain voters say they will vote for Romney. Romney runs strongest in the vote-rich Manchester area and in towns along the Massachusetts border while Obama gets more support in the North Country and in the Connecticut River valley.

There is a pronounced gender gap, but neither candidate benefits. Obama leads among women by 58 percent to 40 percent while Romney leads among men, 57 percent to 38 percent. Independents, who often wait until the very end before deciding how they will vote, are breaking heavily to Romney -- 54 percent say they will vote for Romney while only 32 percent say they will vote for Obama.

"The movement of Independents to Romney is the most significant factor in his making this race a dead heat," said Andrew Smith, Director of the UNH Survey Center. "Two weeks ago, independents were divided in who they would support."

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