MANCHESTER, N.H. --
About that firewall . . . can somebody help us move it -- just by a few weeks?
If New Hampshire isn't quite lost yet for Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-N.Y., it sure looks like it's getting there. After months of witnessing her lead whittle, a series of new polls show her down substantially down post-Iowa, with late-breaking voters joining the party that look like more fun -- and that looks at this moment like it will end later.
The latest WMUR/CNN poll has Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., opening up a 39-29 lead over Clinton in New Hampshire, with Edwards grabbing 16 and Richardson 7. Obama even leads narrowly just among registered Democrats, and his 20-point edge among independents who plan to vote in the Democratic primary sets him up for what could be a wide margin of victory.
His edge is even greater in the USA Today/Gallup Poll out Monday. Clinton strategist Mark Penn wanted to know where the bounce was, and Obama has found it: He is up 13 points in that poll, taken in the first three days after the Iowa caucuses.
This is a particularly worrisome sign for Camp Clinton: "Obama's victory in Iowa has cost Clinton the aura of electability," USA Today's Susan Page writes. "In December, Democrats here said by 47%-26% that she had the best chance of winning in November. Now, by 45%-34% Obama is favored on that point."
A roughly similar dynamic is playing out on the Republican side, where the longtime New Hampshire frontrunner, former governor Mitt Romney, R-Mass., is staying close but definitely lagging behind Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz. He's down four in the USA Today/Gallup Poll, and down six in the latest WMUR/CNN numbers.
Romney performed well in the final candidates' forum before New Hampshire, held Sunday night on Fox News Channel. But the exchanges didn't rock the race, and Romney is fiercely managing to recalibrate expectations even as he keeps up his pressure on McCain.
"This is a must-win state for [McCain]," Romney told Politico's Jonathan Martin and Jim VandeHei. Said the man who is (again) spending more money on TV ads than all of his opponents combined, in a state where he owns a vacation home and was governor in a shared media market: "If I can come in a close second, that also says something."
Beyond the fact that nobody will buy another silver as looking like a gold, Romney and Clinton have a similar coaching challenges: They desperately need to slow the clock, and they have no timeouts. Tuesday is their two-minute warning.
Clinton has a newly aggressive campaign tack -- hoping Obama's victory can be staved of by raising a blizzard of question, starting with his voting record, illegal robocalls, and Obama lobbyist/adviser Jim Demers. Her campaign makes valid points in each case, but does anyone think it's going to stop a tidal wave in the final 24 hours?
(She's also going door-to-door and answering plenty of questions now, too -- more than 30 at a single event in Hampton on Sunday, per ABC's Eloise Harper. And if you're a reporter who wants an interview, this may well be your chance.)
The best bet (and surely the hope) is that these efforts could have a cumulative effect by Feb. 5, where enough states vote to effectively settle everything. The calculation (perhaps all they have left): Things will get sane again on Wednesday, after the pace of voting subsides, and Democrats will get resist the notion that two states just chose a nominee in five days' time.
Though they'd never say this, that's also essentially conceding the point that New Hampshire won't have another Clinton "Comeback Kid." Inside the campaign, the hopes are for a second place finish, which could at least allow them to say they did better than their third-place showing in Iowa. (Though it would take some shameless spin to argue that second place is enough to declare victory; yes, Bill pulled it off, but Barack Obama is not Paul Tsongas, and Hillary is a former first lady, not an obscure Arkansas governor.)
"Advisers to Mrs. Clinton were privately looking ahead to the next Democratic contest with delegates at stake, the Nevada caucuses on Jan. 19, in hopes of revitalizing her candidacy," Jeff Zeleny and Patrick Healy write in The New York Times. The campaign "ended up muddling through 48 hours before New Hampshire's primary on Tuesday. Some pleaded to put a negative commercial against Mr. Obama on the air, but senior campaign officials judged there was not enough time for it to have impact. Leaflets criticizing Mr. Obama were mailed instead."
"Hillary Clinton's campaign, anticipating probable defeat here in New Hampshire on January 8, is gearing up for an extended trench-warfare battle against Barack Obama," HuffingtonPost's Tom Edsall reports.
The good news for her: After New Hampshire, she's got the Nevada caucuses Jan. 19 -- where she appears to have the best organization in place. And the next really high-profile, monumentally important Democratic contest isn't until Jan. 26, in South Carolina. It's followed closely by the de facto nationwide primary Feb. 5, super-duper-tornado-tsunami-overall-big-deal Tuesday.
But if New Hampshire brings another loss, Mark Penn cannot be long for this part of the world: "If a campaign doesn't evolve, it's dead," Clinton said Sunday on the trail.
Nobody's fired yet, but . . . "In an unscheduled conference call with senior aides on Sunday morning, Clinton took what her advisers described as an unprecedented level of control over the direction of the daily message -- issuing orders rather than soliciting advice," Anne Kornblut and Shailagh Murray write in The Washington Post. "According to one participant in the call, Clinton did not explicitly relieve any advisers of responsibilities, but she made it clear that she intends to reorient her campaign toward sharpening her differences with Obama on the trail."
That means doing her own dirty work: Campaigning in Nashua, "the senator rattled off a series of charges, rapid fire," per ABC's Kate Snow. "You know, if you give a speech saying you're going to vote against the Patriot Act, and you don't, that's not change," she began, referring to a speech Obama once gave. "If you say that you're going to prevent members of Congress from having lunch with lobbyists sitting down, but they can still have lunch standing up, that's not change."
Clinton "has stepped up her assaults against her Democratic rivals, questioning their records, their resolve, and their ability to deliver on their promises of change," Scott Helman writes in The Boston Globe. "Clinton has spent much of the campaign seeking to be the candidate of both change and experience, at times uncomfortably. But she and her campaign have concluded that her best shot at winning the nomination that once seemed hers to lose is to link the two, while contrasting her track record with those of Obama and Edwards."
But Obama is in the comfortable position of looking past all of this, into the optimistic middle distance. "The manner in which they've been running their campaign is sort of depressing lately," Obama told ABC's Diane Sawyer, for a "Good Morning America" piece that aired Monday. "I mean you can picture JFK saying, 'We can't go to the moon -- false hope. Let's get a reality check.' It's not . . . what our tradition has been."
Obama wouldn't play on the subject of expectations-setting: "I think we are going to do well in New Hampshire," he said. "Well, as in good."
ABC's George Stephanopoulos reports that Clinton is running her own war room out of her hotel suite, and Clinton is saying no shake-up -- yet. And she pushed back against Obama's characterization of her campaign as "depressing," while seeking to keep the focus on Obama's weak spots.
"That is the kind of characterization that is made by candidates who are trying to avoid scrutiny of their own records," Clinton said on "GMA." Of Obama, she said, voters are beginning to ask, "Wait a minute, what is the substance here? Where is -- as famously was said years ago -- where's the beef?" (And there's the quote we've all been waiting for.)
But you know things are bad in Camp Clinton when even Bill can't light a fire in New Hampshire. "Is this what it would have been like had Elvis been reduced to playing Reno?" The New York Times' Mark Leibovich writes, finding small, listless crowds, and even folks who are walking out on the former president mid-speech. "Mr. Clinton's presence is at the heart of the tricky two-step that Mrs. Clinton's campaign has been trying with mixed success -- to convince voters that it is wise to reach into the past to change the future; that these old familiar faces can convincingly sell a 'new beginning.' "
New Hampshire remains Clinton country -- but only to a point. "The campaign is using the former president as Surrogate in Chief, and he is canvassing the state with characteristic energy," Jill Zuckman writes in the Chicago Tribune. "But he is coming to a place that is much changed from the early 1990s, both in its people and its economy. Few of the new voters in the state have a frame of reference that includes the Clintons."
And Clinton still has former senator John Edwards, D-N.C., to contend with, as he (almost formally) joins an alliance with Obama to defeat Clinton. With his "underdog" ad and 36-hour bus tour, he's signaling not only that he's still in the fight but that he plans to be in the race long enough to see Clinton drop out (whether or not that's realistic).
In his ad, he repeats a line he unveiled on ABC's "This Week with George Stephanopoulos" on Sunday, promising to "fight to save the middle class all the way to the convention and the White House." Adviser Joe Trippi tells the Los Angeles Times' Seema Mehta and James Rainey: "It is going to be a really long, long, grinding campaign."
In the wake of the dust-up over the recent death of 17-year-old Nataline Sarkisyan, Edwards said "that Clinton's "campaign doesn't seem to have a conscience," per ABC's Jake Tapper.
Obamaland is pure confidence these days. "Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) is increasingly confident he will win Tuesday's primary here, the Democratic nomination and be elected president -- bolstered by new polls handing him a decisive lead and big crowds coming out to hear him speak," Lynn Sweet writes in the Chicago Sun-Times. "Something is stirring out there," Obama said at his final stop Sunday, where he filled a hall in a school, with the overflow spilling into an auditorium.
Republicans, meanwhile, appear ready to give another contest to another candidate: If McCain wins New Hampshire, that's three states down, three different winners (counting Wyoming, with went with Romney).
And none of those wins, of course, belong to the longtime national frontrunner, former mayor Rudolph Giuliani, R-N.Y., who it must be remembered did try to compete in New Hampshire but opted for warmer climes when his message didn't take. (It could be Giuliani tangling with Rep. Ron Paul, R-Texas, for fourth place.)
"The Mac is Back" is now McCain's his campaign slogan, and "he is drawing large, enthusiastic crowds at almost every campaign stop," ABC's Ron Claiborne reports. "Frankly," McCain said in Salem, N.H., "we're winning this campaign."
He's feeling confident enough to look to the general election, where he says he could win "a generational-focused November election campaign against Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) on the strength of his record combating special interests and his support for President Bush's troop surge strategy in Iraq," Dan Balz and Chris Cillizza write in The Washington Post. McCain: "I've made the most significant change that you could make -- or certainly played a key role in it -- and that is the new strategy in Iraq."
The New York Times' Adam Nagourney and Marc Santora see plenty of similarities to 2000 -- but plenty of caveats worth pointing out. McCain "has nowhere near the resources he did in 2000," they write. "And Mr. McCain's post-New Hampshire prospects, should he win on Tuesday, are if anything less certain than they were in 2000, when he left this state confident that he would beat Mr. Bush. He has barely any organization in Michigan, the next state to vote. . . . He has more of a presence in South Carolina, but there he would face a tough challenge from Mike Huckabee."
In New Hampshire, Romney continues to hammer McCain over immigration -- even when he has trouble keeping his facts straight. Romney said at Saturday's ABC debate, "I don't describe your plan as amnesty in my ad." Two of his ads do use the A-word, and Romney said he misspoke. "I hadn't seen that one. And my staff told me afterwards, 'it does say amnesty.' And I said, 'well it's not supposed to.' " (Wonder what he meant when he said, "I'm Mitt Romney, and I approved this message.")
Romney used Sunday night's candidate forum "to seize back the initiative in his presidential campaign yesterday," and he hammered McCain and former governor Mike Huckabee, R-Ark., over taxes and other issues, Michael Kranish writes in The Boston Globe.
This time, Romney wasn't the only candidate facing incoming: "If Mitt Romney was in the crosshairs at Saturday night's Republican presidential debate, rival Mike Huckabee shared the heat at last night's forum, with the pair squaring off in personal terms over economic records and negative ads," Lauren R. Dorgan writes in the Concord Monitor.
John DiStaso of the Union Leader sees Romney fighting "for his political life" in the Fox forum. "Romney began the 90-minute event by pressing Mike Huckabee to admit that as Arkansas governor, he raised taxes, net, by $500 million. He later insisted that he would be a better change agent than McCain, a longtime U.S. senator, saying that Washington 'is fundamentally broken' and Americans 'want someone from the outside to deal with health care, with education, to get taxes down, to get us energy-independent.' "
Mayor Michael Bloomberg, I-N.Y., is in Oklahoma for a forum organized by centrist politicians -- and he's again making just enough news to keep himself in the mix. "Mayor Bloomberg is undertaking a two-month study to assess his chances of becoming president, a top pollster who worked on his two City Hall campaigns revealed yesterday," David Seifman writes in The New York Post. "The confirmation of Bloomberg's White House aspirations by Douglas Schoen came as the mayor arrived here for a forum at the University of Oklahoma, where he and other centrist politicians plan to urge the major political parties to adopt a bipartisan approach to America's problems."
But Obama told Diane Sawyer on Sunday that he thinks Bloomberg will stay out of the race if he wins the Democratic nomination. "I suspect that if I'm the nominee, I'm not sure that's the best of scenarios for him to want to get into the race," he said, though he added that he and Bloomberg haven't discussed that prospect in detail. "What I do agree with is that people just want to get stuff done. They're really tired of the pettiness and the back biting and the trivialization of our democracy."
The Wall Street Journal's Greg Hitt looks at another possible independent candidate: Lou Dobbs. Says Dobbs: "I haven't got the personality or nature to be a politician." But: "I cannot say never."
For the candidates who are in New Hampshire, the Union Leader writes up where they'll be on their final full day on the trail.
Also in news you may have missed if you stole some hours to watch Eli Manning not stink:
The race is on for independents, who went overwhelmingly with McCain in 2000 and whom he needs to capture again. "The problem for McCain is . . . Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., who seems to have captured the imagination of many independent voters in this election cycle," ABC's Jake Tapper writes.
"Obama's victory in last week's Iowa Democratic caucuses and Republican Mike Huckabee's defeat of McCain rival Romney may put Obama, 46, and McCain, 71, in stronger positions to attract more party voters in New Hampshire's first-in-the-nation primary," Bloomberg's Hans Nichols writes. "Still, their success probably hinges on their ability to draw independents, who may look to the Iowa results to help them choose the party primary where their vote can make the most difference."
"A large recent influx of potential new voters could alter the New Hampshire electorate and tip tomorrow's primary contest in favor of Senator Obama," Seth Gitell writes in the New York Sun. Political consultant Michael Goldman: "These people tend to be Democrats but are not part of a tribe: labor, teachers, women. They find the Bill Bradleys, the Gary Harts, the Obamas."
The New York Daily News has the write-up on the robocall allegations, using them as evidence of a "bare-knuckled brawl" in New Hampshire. "Camp Clinton held a conference call to say at least two of their supporters on the do-not-call list got Obama robocalls, and that the callers didn't say they were from Obama soon enough, as required by New Hampshire law," write Michael McAuliff, Thomas M. DeFrank, Ken Bazinet, and Michael Saul.
Newsday's Glenn Thrush writes up the Democrats' back-and-forth over foreign policy, including Clinton joking (we presume) that Vladimir Putin lacks a soul, and this line: "After 9/11, I never would have taken us to war in Iraq." Thrush: "Obama's campaign quickly pointed out that Clinton voted to give Bush authority to invade Iraq in Oct. 2002 and that she rejected withdrawal plans for years afterward."
Ron Paul gets a measure of revenge for being left out of Sunday's Fox forum: He's Jay's guest on "The Tonight Show" Monday night, the evening before the New Hampshire primary. "Being spurned by Fox News and excluded from their forum tonight may be the best thing that ever happened to the Ron Paul campaign," ABC's Z. Byron Wolf reports.
Time's Evan Thomas and Holly Bailey look at the men who could take the first two big Republican contests: Huckabee and McCain, who share maverick streaks -- and a hatred of Mitt Romney. "Both McCain and Huckabee are refreshingly free-spirited and capable of rising above the dreariness and sordidness of the stump," they write. "But both are human, at times a little too cute, and susceptible to self-defeating behavior."
You know this Obama guy's for real when . . . Republicans stop obsessing over Hillary Clinton long enough to worry about him. "With Republicans bitterly divided and facing a difficult electoral environment, the prospect of another Clinton presidency had been seen as the one development that had the potential to unify the party," Philip Klein writes in the American Spectator. "But in Obama the Democrats have found a fresh face without Clinton's baggage, who even opponents acknowledge is charismatic and likable."
Republican pollster Frank Luntz: "If Obama's the nominee, they'll screw it up because they'll treat him like any other politician. You cannot do that. He is unlike anything we've seen since Bobby Kennedy. You have to treat him in kid gloves, and you have to do an experience versus novice [contrast]. The problem with the GOP is that it has no subtlety whatsoever."
ABC's Marcus Baram writes up the latest from an old New Hampshire tale. Disgraced former Republican consultant Allen Raymond, who has a new book out about the dirty tricks that included a phone-jamming scandal in the 2002 New Hampshire Senate race, says he's most impressed by Obama: "What is refreshing about him is that he is bringing a level of energy, to rise above the partisanship we've seen," Raymond says. Not that it matters: "I can't even vote, and no one's asked me for my support."
"The Cabinet would look like last night's debate -- with one exception." -- Rudy Giuliani. (Aides said he was talking about Ron Paul -- not Mitt Romney.)
"You make up facts faster than you talk, and that's saying something." -- Mitt Romney, at Sunday's Fox News forum, swinging back at Mike Huckabee after the ABC debate that turned into a five-on-one.
"Libertarians oppose the use of force, of course." -- Glen Jacobs, aka "Kane" from the WWE, on his role as Ron Paul's new one-man security detail.
Miss the big debates? Saturday night's Republican and Democratic forums will be rebroadcast Monday night on ABC News Now at 7 pm and 11 pm ET.
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