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."