Act II: A Change In States, Stakes

On the eve of New Hampshire's Jan. 8 presidential primary, the Democratic and Republican candidates made their final appeals to voters.
By Dan Balz and Shailagh Murray
Washington Post Staff Writers
Saturday, January 5, 2008

PORTSMOUTH, N.H., Jan. 4 -- Barack Obama brought his surging presidential campaign to New Hampshire on Friday, looking to put himself in control of the Democratic race with a victory here Tuesday, while Republican Mitt Romney sought to head off a potentially crippling loss by launching a fresh attack on the revived candidacy of John McCain.

Thursday's results in Iowa, which saw onetime front-runner Hillary Rodham Clinton run third behind Obama and former senator John Edwards (N.C.), and former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee handily defeat Romney despite being heavily outspent, dramatically recast both nomination battles.

But while Huckabee will probably be content to look ahead to the Jan. 19 GOP primary in South Carolina to build on his Iowa victory and to allow McCain and Romney to bloody each other in New Hampshire in the meantime, the Democratic contest here will be a critical test for Obama. If the senator from Illinois can defeat Clinton here, he could potentially erase doubts about his viability among voters in subsequent contests and seize the front-runner's mantle. Clinton's camp, fearing the impact of back-to-back defeats, moved quickly to renew attacks on Obama's experience Friday.

The top candidates in both parties will meet on prime-time television Saturday night, with separate Republican and Democratic debates in Manchester, N.H., that will air consecutively on ABC starting at 7 p.m.

His voice croaking as he operated on only a few hours of sleep after an overnight flight from Iowa, Obama bounded on stage and urged his supporters to help make history next week. "In four days from now, New Hampshire, you have the chance to change America," he said.

Clinton, too, was running on little sleep and had her own message for New Hampshire voters as she scrambled to avoid a second consecutive loss that would leave her candidacy crippled. At a rally in Nashua, the senator from New York urged voters not to be swayed by the results of the Iowa caucuses and to exercise their own judgment about the candidates during the next four days.

"It's a short period of time, but it's enough time," Clinton said. "Time for people to say, 'Wait a minute. Number one, who will be the best president for our country on Day One? . . . And who will be able to withstand the Republican attack machine to get elected in November?'

"I'm well aware that New Hampshire, and America, has a lot of voters who don't think they need a president right now, they're doing fine, they're well educated," she said. "So for them this election isn't about 'me and my family,' it's about, you know, 'how I feel' and 'what I hope for.' And that's great, but there are more people in New Hampshire who need a president who will be your champion." Later, speaking to reporters between campaign events, she said that in the days ahead, she will be "drawing contrasts between what I've done for 35 years and what my leading opponents have done."

Clinton said it is essential to show differences among the candidates, but she stopped short of all-out attacks and gave no overt sign that she intends to turn negative in the final days in New Hampshire.

Advisers said they plan no immediate change to the generally positive television ads Clinton has been airing here, arguing that there may be too little time to make such attacks stick. Instead, they said they hope the contrasts between Iowa and New Hampshire voters' views of Clinton will help her pull out a victory on Tuesday and turn around her campaign.

In contrast to the Democratic race, the war of words was far sharper among the Republicans, with Romney, a former Massachusetts governor, triggering another back-and-forth with McCain in what has rapidly escalated into a bitter feud.

Huckabee's victory in Iowa on Thursday dealt a major blow to Romney's hopes of capturing the GOP nomination in a sweep of the earliest contests. Stung by Huckabee, Romney now faces the real possibility of a defeat here at McCain's hands that would severely damage his candidacy.

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