Poll: Obama, McCain gain in N.H.

Amid frenetic last-minute campaigning, a USA TODAY/Gallup Poll finds the onetime front-runners in New Hampshire lagging as Democrat Barack Obama and Republican John McCain have surged to leads before Tuesday's primary.

Obama vaulted to a 13 percentage-point advantage over New York Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton three weeks after they were tied here. McCain gained a four-point edge over Mitt Romney, a former governor of neighboring Massachusetts who has campaigned almost as a favorite son.

The poll results spotlight the phenomenal rise of the 46-year-old senator from Illinois, who would be the first African-American nominated by a major party for president, and the 71-year-old senator from Arizona whose cash-short campaign was dismissed as all but over last summer.

"New Hampshire always has this insurgency bias," says Joe Keefe, a former state Democratic chairman who backs Obama. "The voters decide they're going to upset the conventional wisdom and, given the opportunity, they will change the page of history."

Clinton and Romney are struggling in New Hampshire after setbacks in the Iowa caucuses last week. She finished third, behind Obama and former North Carolina senator John Edwards, and he finished second behind former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee.

Huckabee ranks third in New Hampshire. Former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani, until recently the leader in national polls, is tied with Texas Rep. Ron Paul for fourth.

Aides to Clinton and Romney say they have the money and organization to soldier on whatever happens here. "President Clinton lost the first five states" in 1992, notes Mark Penn, Hillary Clinton's chief strategist, "and he not only won the nomination but the presidency."

Still, Obama's victory in Iowa has cost Clinton the aura of electability. 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.

"After Iowa, electability comes down to this: Winners win and losers lose, and that's about it," says Dante Scala, a political scientist at the University of New Hampshire.


In the poll, taken Friday through Sunday:

•McCain narrowly trails Romney among Republicans but leads him among independents by almost 2-1. They can vote in either primary. In a USA TODAY poll in December, Romney had led McCain by seven points overall.

•Obama leads by eight points among Democrats and 23 points among independents. Women split between them evenly; he owes his lead to his edge among men, 49%-20%. Obama also leads narrowly among seniors and by an overwhelming 3-1 among voters under 35.