Obama Carries Momentum to N.H.

Two tiny towns in the northern most region of New Hampshire gathered just after midnight to cast the first votes of the nation's first presidential primary. It's a tradition that has gone on since the 1960's. Video by AP
By Anne E. Kornblut and Michael D. Shear
Washington Post Staff Writers
Tuesday, January 8, 2008

LEBANON, N.H., Jan. 7 -- A buoyant Sen. Barack Obama, anticipating a victory in Tuesday's New Hampshire primary, told voters Monday that he is "riding a wave, and you're the wave," as presidential candidates in both parties started to look beyond the campaign here to extended nomination fights through at least the beginning of February.

Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (N.Y.) braced for a second jarring defeat to Obama (Ill.), her voice breaking as she told a questioner in Portsmouth of her experience here, "It's not easy." Her campaign, its air of inevitability gone, is now setting its sights on the large block of Feb. 5 primary contests to salvage her hopes of winning the Democratic nomination.

Former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney, who has seen his front-runner status in the Republican race left in tatters after a second-place finish in Iowa, is making similar calculations in the face of Sen. John McCain's revival here.

In the closing hours of the campaign, McCain (Ariz.) sought to win over independents, who under the New Hampshire rules can vote in either the Republican or the Democratic primary. That cross-party campaigning only added to the sense of urgency across the state, where political ads dominated the airwaves, campaign signs cluttered snow banks, and buses ferrying the candidates rolled down the highways.

Former senator John Edwards (N.C.), looking to build on a second-place showing among Democrats in Iowa, held a 36-hour campaign marathon, and frenzied supporters of the long-shot Republican Ron Paul stood on street corners waving signs and urging motorists to back the congressman from Texas. Former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee, the GOP winner in Iowa who is simply hoping for a respectable finish here, stumped with actor Chuck Norris.

The five-day sprint from Iowa to New Hampshire created a crush of events and resulted in the complete exhaustion of several of the major candidates. Obama, his voice hoarse, reversed the order of his campaign slogan at one point; Clinton, in perhaps the notable moment of her New Hampshire effort, let her emotions show during a visit to a coffee shop in Portsmouth.

In a moment that immediately dominated the day's news, Clinton responded to what seemed to be an innocent question from a freelance photographer, Marianne Young, about how the senator manages to look good under so much pressure. After an upbeat initial response, Clinton grew serious. Her voice breaking, she replied: "It's not easy."

"It's not just public. I see what's happening, and we have to reverse it," she said, referring to the direction of the country. "Some people think elections are a game, lot's of who's up or who's down. It's about our country. It's about our kids' futures. And it's really about all of us together." The moment offered a snapshot of the severe jolt Clinton has suffered in less than a week.

Across the board, the campaigns are already looking past New Hampshire and crafting long-term strategies for protracted nominating battles. Clinton strategists, still stung by the Iowa defeat and the snowball effect it created here, are scrambling to plot a national campaign that focuses on Feb. 5. Whether to go negative against Obama -- and precisely how to do so -- was a topic of debate.

In a rally in Salem on Monday night, Clinton rebuked Obama for comparing the power of his rhetoric to that of John F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King Jr. and used the occasion to strike her favorite campaign theme: experience.

"President Kennedy was in the Congress for 14 years," Clinton said with a note of indignation. "He was a war hero. He was a man of great accomplishments and readiness to be president." She continued: "I'm running for president because I believe there is not a contradiction between experience and change. I don't know since when experience became some kind of liability for running for the highest office in our land."

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.

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