MANCHESTER, N.H. -- After an intense five-day sprint out of Iowa, New Hampshire voters appear poised to give their support to the youngest Democrat in the race and the oldest first-tier Republican -- an unlikely pair that would be united by a restless moment.
The first primary contest of the race for 2008 appears likely to impose a measure of order on the chaotic Democratic and Republican presidential fields, defining the terms of much of the rest of the campaign -- though surely not leaving anything settled.
Voting started at most polling places at 6 am ET, after a tense, sleepless final day of campaigning that saw Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y., overcome with emotion, and her husband venting frustration at what he views as the media's soft treatment of her chief rival, Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill.
It all served to underscore the remarkable stakes in the Granite State on Tuesday: The Democratic race pits the Clinton legacy against the Obama phenomena, with a dash of old-fashioned populism tossed in by John Edwards.
On the Republican side, a former governor from neighboring Massachusetts stakes his wallet against an old hero who is trying to make a comeback. Wild cards include America's mayor, an Internet superstar, a former star of "Law & Order," and an obscure former governor who just last week rocketed to victory in Iowa.
Independent voters could determine both contests, powering both Obama and Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., though more are expected to vote in the Democratic primary than in the Republican contest.
Polling locations close by 8 pm ET, with about three-fourths of the vote in by 7. The results will be eagerly awaited by all the campaigns -- but the stakes are highest for Clinton and former governor Mitt Romney, R-Mass.
Both were long considered frontrunners in New Hampshire, and while the latest polls show them trailing coming into Tuesday's balloting, both have seen their deficits stabilize in the closing hours.
The latest WMUR/CNN poll has Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., held a 39-30 edge over Clinton, with Edwards at 16 percent.
On the GOP side, McCain was up 31-26 over Romney, with former governor Mike Huckabee, R-Ark., at 13 percent, and Rep. Ron Paul, R-Texas, and former mayor Rudolph Giuliani, R-N.Y., tied at 10.
Polls aside, neither Clinton nor Romney is ceding New Hampshire. Clinton capped a hectic final day of campaigning -- marked by a rare moment of raw emotion where tears welled up in her eyes (and she managed to stay on message) -- by telling Diane Sawyer on ABC's "Good Morning America" that she's been held to a different standard than her male opponents, whom she said have been given a "free ride."
"They are obviously in some kind of a buddy system here, and that's fine," Clinton said. "For both Sen. Edwards and Obama, they've been given pretty much a free ride, and that's fine. . . . But at some point the free ride ends -- maybe it ends now, maybe it ends in a month, maybe it ends in the general election. You cannot be elected president if you do not withstand the tough questions."
And at one of his final campaign appearances, former President Bill Clinton -- 1992's "Comeback Kid," with his own reputation on the line 16 years later -- lashed out at Obama and the news media
"It is wrong that Senator Obama got to go through 15 debates trumpeting his superior judgment and how he had been against the war in every year, enumerating the years, and never got asked one time -- not once, 'Well, how could you say that when you said in 2004 you didn't know how you would have voted on the resolution?' " Clinton said, per the New York Sun's Josh Gerstein.
He wasn't done yet: "Give me a break. This whole thing is the biggest fairy tale I've ever seen," the former president said.
Obama, meanwhile, is closing the campaign brimming with confidence, catching a strong current that's carried him through the five-day sprint between Iowa and New Hampshire.
"I'm riding the wave. You are the wave, and I'm riding it," he told an overflow crowd in Lebanon, N.H.
And, mocking a line Clinton used in Saturday night's debate, he said: "False hopes! False hopes! There's no such thing." He continued: "If anything crystallizes what this campaign is about, it's that right there."
It was a strikingly different message from a candidate at a headier stage of his campaign. "He showed a different kind of emotion from Clinton: the ebullient confidence of a man on a roll," Peter Canellos and Michael Kranish write in The Boston Globe. "Obama suggested that Clinton's attitude would have led President Kennedy to forgo moon travel and the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. to abandon his dream."
On the Republican side, McCain is the big story, as he seeks a repeat of the upset victory that carried him over George W. Bush in 2000. He rebranded his own campaign slogan -- "The Mac is Back" -- in his final, frantic push for votes.
"It is kind of a flashback," McCain said on Monday, per The Washington Post's Dana Milbank.
Milbank: "Ladies and gentlemen, John McCain is back. Left for dead when his campaign ran out of cash last summer, he returned to his endless town hall meetings and freewheeling talks on his campaign bus -- and he's risen to the top of the Republican primary polls in New Hampshire, just as he did eight years ago."
Romney, seeking to grab the mantle of change that helped Obama and Huckabee win Iowa, sought to recalibrate expectations for his finish. His campaign was built from the start on winning Iowa and New Hampshire; now he stands on the precipice of losing both, despite having outspent all of his opponents combined on TV ads in both states.
"If I come in a second-place finish, that will actually say that I am clearly one of the leading contenders," Romney said Monday, per the Concord Monitor's Lauren R. Dorgan. "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."
But spin is spin, and expectations are stubborn things. "Romney seemed to be trying to rewrite history," write the Chicago Tribune's Jill Zuckman and Rick Pearson. "He spent millions of dollars of his personal fortune to establish himself as the front-runner in Iowa, where he lost to former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, and in New Hampshire, a state where he owns a vacation home and is well known from his days as governor in next-door Massachusetts."
And he didn't finish the day without one of those killer quotes: "I'm not ending my campaign in New Hampshire. Let me be clear about that."
A Romney loss on Tuesday would makes next week's Michigan primary perhaps his last chance to grab a victory. Still, he told ABC's George Stephanopoulos on "Good Morning America" that between Iowa, Wyoming, and New Hampshire, he'll almost certainly have received the most votes of any Republican candidate by the time the day is through.
And he's not setting his own bar, but . . . "I've obviously gotta win, and I've gotta win somewhere," he told Stephanopoulos.
The favorites notched early victories up in tiny (and often off-base) Dixville Notch, which votes at midnight of primary day by tradition. McCain picked up 4 votes, Romney 2, and Giuliani 1. Among the Democrat, it was Obama 7, Edwards 2, Bill Richardson 1 -- and Clinton was shut out, per ABC's Karen Travers. (And if it means anything for turnout purposes, 17 voters showed up, even though the town clerk thought only 16 registered voters lived in the hamlet."
In Hart's Location, that other midnight voting town that grabs a dateline precisely once every four years, Obama received 9 votes, Clinton 3, Edwards 1. On the Republican side: McCain 6, Huckabee 5, Paul 4, Romney 1.
As it was in Iowa, the dominant theme in New Hampshire was change -- a word that all of the candidates sought to embrace in one way or another.
"On a day that crackled with historical possibility, the candidates fell over themselves with pledges to change the nation's course as the presidential contest, for the moment at least, coalesced around a dominant theme," Adam Nagourney writes in The New York Times. "Their words -- in speeches to packed halls across the state and in television advertisements -- were testimony to the extent Mr. Obama has transformed the race and capitalized on public disenchantment with Washington."
Dave Barry has a slightly different take: "Everybody in this race, Democrat and Republican, is now officially for Change. They get more fervent about Change every day; it's only a matter of time before they start calling for tactical air strikes on Washington. I'll be honest with you: I'm getting tired of Change. I think it'd be nice, for a change, if a candidate came out against Change, maybe with a catchy slogan like, 'Remember: It Could Get Worse,'' or 'Hey, At Least You're Not Dead.' "
New Hampshire, like Iowa, is likely to sort out (and maybe shrink) the field. Edwards, D-N.C., needs to stay close to the frontrunners after coming in a disappointing second in Iowa, and Gov. Bill Richardson, D-N.M., can't afford another distant-fourth finish if he wants to have the resources to compete.
On the Republican side, Huckabee would love to take a third-place finish into South Carolina, where evangelical voters will play a much larger role. Giuliani has long looked past the first batch of states, but coming in fourth or fifth place would be an embarrassment to a candidate who has made efforts in New Hampshire.
"The New Hampshire first-in-the-nation primary will . . . set the tone for the rapid fire of primaries and caucuses to come in more than 30 states over the next month," John DiStaso writes in his New Hampshire Union Leader race overview.
In a tacit acknowledge of Obama's momentum, Clinton is already looking beyond New Hampshire to the huge block of voters in more than 20 states who weigh in on Feb. 5. The strategy gives her four weeks to change the campaign's dynamics -- and (very likely) regroup with new staffers in charge.
"Whether to go negative against Obama -- and precisely how to do so -- was a topic of debate," Anne Kornblut and Michael Shear write in The Washington Post. "Although Clinton had long doubted her ability to finish first in Iowa, her campaign never anticipated such a resounding defeat stretching across broad demographic lines, and her team always expected to recover quickly here."
"With polls showing her trailing Obama by double digits in the Granite State, Clinton is now carefully weighing her prospects in South Carolina, a state where she amassed broad support among black leaders early on but where her strategists are increasingly concerned that she has not built a sufficient grass-roots infrastructure," they continue.
And if this is a preview of her message, she'd be well-advised to stay out of the Palmetto State. Asked about Obama's citing of Martin Luther King Jr., Clinton told Fox News: "Dr. King's dream began to be realized when President Lyndon Johnson passed the Civil Rights Act of 1964. . . . It took a president to get it done."
Blogs ABC's Jake Tapper: "So . . . Obama is MLK, a good talker who never accomplished anything, and thank heaven for Clinton-slash-LBJ? Am I reading that right? And is this really a smart message to make just a few days before the South Carolina primary?"
"We are going all the way to the convention," Clinton spokesman Howard Wolfson said on Monday, after Drudge circulated rumors of a quick Clinton drop-out. But getting there with pride (not to mention delegates) intact will be difficult: "The road may get harder immediately after New Hampshire," The Wall Street Journal's Jackie Calmes writes.
"The all-important Culinary Workers union in Nevada, the next state to vote on Jan. 19, is considering backing Sen. Obama a day after a New Hampshire win, say some high-ranking Democrats," Calmes reports. Playing for "Super Tuesday" has the advantage of slowing the clock: "In that span, reporters will have more time for further examination of the Obama record in the U.S. Senate, and his eight years in the Illinois state senate -- helped along by opposition research on Sen. Obama in the Clinton campaign files."
But even choosing a handful of states in the de facto national primary Feb. 5 is an expensive prospect. "With momentum against her and a battle plan that appears to be staking everything on the big and expensive states like New York and California that hold their primaries on February 5, Clinton's campaign is putting new pressure on its fundraisers to come up with the cash she will need to carry her through," Time's Karen Tumulty writes.
"Clinton spent lavishly on what turned out to be a debacle in Iowa," Tumulty continues. "Numbers circulating among fundraisers -- but not confirmed by the campaign -- suggest that the campaign may have as little as $15 million to $25 million left on hand."
ABC's Teddy Davis plays out one potential scenario for a re-launched Clinton campaign -- focusing heavily on the Feb. 5 states of California, New York, New Jersey, and Arkansas.
"Everything is on the table inside Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton's campaign if she loses the New Hampshire primary on Tuesday, her advisers say -- including her style of campaigning," Patrick Healy writes in The New York Times. "If Mrs. Clinton loses badly on Tuesday, campaign officials say she may shake up her team and replace one or more of her senior aides, such as her campaign manager, Patti Solis Doyle; her chief strategist, Mark Penn; her advertising adviser, Mandy Grunwald; and her communications director, Howard Wolfson."
Former President Clinton drops a hint about the not-so-secret post-New Hampshire strategy, in the context of complaining about how close Iowa and New Hampshire were this year: "The point is the momentum is broken when people get to think for themselves and not get caught up in the press hysteria," he said, per the Union Leader's Kristen Senz.
And there's this, also from the former president's "fairy tale" event. "What did you think about the Obama thing calling Hillary the senator from Punjab?" Bill Clinton said. "Did you like that? Or what about the Obama handout that was covered up, the press never reported on, implying that I was a crook. Scouring me -- scathing criticism over my financial reports. Ken Starr spent $70 million to find out that I wouldn't take a nickel to see the cow jump over the moon."
One big factor in the possibility of a Clinton surge on Feb. 5: Can Obama's campaign go national? Obama starts testing that prospect on Wednesday, with a high-dollar fundraiser in New York City and a campaign rally in New Jersey.
Obama "has been able to make his case face to face with large proportions of the electorate and aides had the time to build support precinct by precinct," Alec MacGillis writes in The Washington Post. "For Obama supporters around the country, the question becomes: Where next? Can the campaign, with all its momentum, hold its own in a nationwide fight for delegates against Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (N.Y.), who despite her current troubles still has most of the Democratic establishment behind her?"
The McCain comeback will be the big story if he's able to hang on in New Hampshire. "If so, he will have pulled off a rare feat in U.S. politics: going from front-runner to has-been to front-runner again in the space of less than a year," Bloomberg's Ed Chen writes. "His rebound resulted from a combination of grit, luck and a hospitable terrain in New Hampshire."
A last blast from Union Leader publisher Joe McQuaid: "In case you haven't noticed, we have endorsed Sen. John McCain for President. He will get our vote today, and we hope he will get yours, too."
Robert Novak isn't ready to give up on Mitt yet. "McCain had seemed a clear winner over Romney in New Hampshire with two days left before the Republican voting, but Romney is coming back fast," he writes.
One big factor working in Romney's favor, in New Hampshire and beyond: Nobody else seems poised to hammer the nomination down. "Some political observers said the wide-open nature of the GOP primaries meant that Romney could still recover, even if he does not win New Hampshire," Michael Finnegan and James Rainey write in the Los Angeles Times.
The candidates on Tuesday make a final dash to polling places, before settling into their hotel rooms to watch the returns come in. Get all the times and locations in The Note's "Sneak Peek."
ABC will be live nationwide with election coverage from 8:30 pm ET to 9 pm, in addition to coverage on "World News" and "Nightline" Tuesday evening.
Also in the news:
Clinton's misty-eyed appearance is hereby nominated for immediate induction in the New Hampshire primary hall of fame, no waiting period necessary. "Weary and Teary," says the New York Post. (Ed Muskie won here, remember, but Muskie comparisons are generally not positive things.)
The New York Daily News' Michael McAuliff: "Clinton's moist-eyed moment came just hours before New Hampshire voters headed to the polls - with her once-vaunted campaign juggernaut trailing badly to Obama in the polls and facing new questions about her presidential viability."
It was a rough day for Hillary Clinton in the analogy business. Not only did she cast herself as LBJ to Obama's MLK, there was this odd formulation, in an interview with ABC's Kate Snow: "I went through that with Bill -- we went with the most experienced heart surgeon we could find. Now there were some new people who were building their reputations who had a lot of pizzazz. But we went for somebody on their team who really had a track record." (Even Obama would choose experience over change when choosing a heart surgeon, don't you think?)
But this is more on target: "Today, Sen. Obama used President John F. Kennedy and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. to criticize me," Clinton told a packed high school auditorium in Salem, per the Chicago Tribune's Mike Dorning and John McCormick.
"President Kennedy was in the Congress for 14 years. He was a war hero. He was a man of great accomplishments and readiness to be president," she said. "Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. led a movement. He was gassed. He was beaten. He was jailed. And he gave a speech that was one of the most beautifully, profoundly important speeches ever delivered in America. . . . I'm running for president because I believe that there is not a contradiction between experience and change."
Gitell of the New York Sun: "Her retort amounted to a 2008 version of Senator Bentsen's jab at Senator Quayle, 'You're no Jack Kennedy.' "
Supporters of Mayor Michael Bloomberg, I-N.Y., hoped to break through on the day before New Hampshire, with their centrist gathering in Oklahoma. They didn't count on Obamamania: "the surging presidential campaign of Senator Barack Obama seemed to steal energy from the event and set off worry elsewhere among Mr. Bloomberg's supporters," Raymond Hernandez and Nicholas Confessore write in The New York Times.
Ron Paul skipped his last event in New Hampshire on Monday -- to grab a seat on Leno's couch, ABC's Z. Byron Wolf reports. And Jay was angry for him over his exclusion from the Fox News forum on Sunday: "You seem like a gentleman. But it seems like you should be kicking somebody's ass right now," Leno said.
Huckabee hit Letterman. "If I win New Hampshire, it's because I did this show," Huckabee told the talk-show host. "If I lose New Hampshire, it's because I did this show."
Looking ahead a bit, Arianna Huffington chides Clinton for the kitchen-sink strategy. "Hillary Clinton has apparently decided on which lines of attack to use against Barack Obama in New Hampshire: all of them," she writes. "The attacks are as varied as they are contemptible. Let's take a look at the dirty laundry list. Put on your galoshes, the mud is mighty thick."
A storyline we haven't seen the last of: "Democratic presidential hopeful Barack Obama has made a big deal about the fact that his campaign doesn't accept political donations from Washington lobbyists, and recently declared that 'they won't run my White House, and they won't set the agenda in Washington,' " John Solomon writes in The Washington Post. "But that ban doesn't extend to seeking their endorsements, or their advice."
If you thought Clinton's emotional outburst was a sign of fatigue, how about Edwards' decision to respond to it on camera? "I think what we need in a commander-in-chief is strength and resolve, and presidential campaigns are tough business, but being president of the United States is also tough business," Edwards said, per ABC's David Muir and Raelyn Johnson.
With the first two contests just about behind us, get ready to hear more from Giuliani -- at least if Rudy's campaign has anything to do with it. "The first two pieces of Rudolph W. Giuliani's strategic puzzle -- survive the first few contests and rally later in delegate-rich states -- have fallen into place, and his campaign manager says the other pieces will soon follow," Joseph Curl writes in the Washington Times.
"It is a second home, along with Utah, I have a second home there as well and you know there are a lot of ways to continue winning across this country." -- Mitt Romney, not giving up on winning in one of his adopted home states.
"Is that me? . . . Only Hillary has my number. It couldn't have been anybody else." -- Bill Clinton, pulling a Rudy by answering his cell phone at a campaign event in Henniker, N.H.
"I'm sure a lot of you have tripped out on alcohol. . . . It's a lot safer to do it on marijuana." -- Presidential candidate Mike Gravel, D-Alaska, offering some advice to the students of Phillips Exeter Academy.
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