Intense Fight Among Democrats, but a New Race for GOP

Sen. John McCain is greeted by supporters in Manchester, N.H. The GOP race in this state is expected to be between him and Mitt Romney.
Sen. John McCain is greeted by supporters in Manchester, N.H. The GOP race in this state is expected to be between him and Mitt Romney. (By Charles Dharapak -- Asociated Press)
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, January 4, 2008; Page A10

CONCORD, N.H., Jan. 3 -- As the presidential race shifts to New Hampshire, the Democratic candidates are continuing the intensive organizational battle that defined their race in Iowa. But the Republican candidates find themselves confronted with what amounts to an entirely different race, with a different slate of top contenders, a new set of issues and only five days to sort it all out.

The Iowa GOP contest became, in effect, a two-person race between former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney and former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee, with Huckabee in the end overcoming his severe financial disadvantage to win easily. The race was dominated by the issue of immigration and the spectacle of a Baptist minister taking on a Mormon in a state with a large population of evangelical Christians.

New Hampshire, however, presents a different two-man Republican showdown, this one between Romney and Sen. John McCain (Ariz.), who has focused most of his efforts in the state where he upset George W. Bush in 2000.

Former New York mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani is in the mix as well but has scaled back his campaign here in recent months to focus on Florida and other large states whose primaries will come later. Huckabee hopes to translate his Iowa victory into at least a respectable showing in a state where he has a very limited organization and a much smaller evangelical base from which to draw support. Rep. Ron Paul (Tex.) threatens to break into double digits, and perhaps embarrass Giuliani in the process, in a state receptive to his libertarian pitch.

But the focus will be on Romney and McCain, with the debate shifting to Romney's attacks on the senator over his past stances on immigration and taxes, and McCain countering by questioning the former governor's consistency on a variety of issues and lack of foreign policy experience. Harsh ads using those approaches are crowding the local airwaves.

The McCain campaign relishes its position here. After going all but broke and ceding defeat in Iowa, McCain has been able to invest more time here than Romney has, and is seeing much less competition from Giuliani for the national security-minded voters that both are pursuing. Romney's defeat in Iowa further boosts McCain's chances here.

A top McCain adviser, former New Hampshire party chairman Steve Duprey, believes that Romney's barrage of ads criticizing McCain may be muddling Romney's image among voters. The ads stand in sharp contrast to Romney's upbeat demeanor on the trail.

Duprey also predicted that Romney, who is campaigning hard in both Iowa and New Hampshire, faces the challenge of making his pitches to the two constituencies appear consistent. Romney generally has emphasized his social-conservative planks in Iowa while playing up his managerial experience in New Hampshire.

"When you're a candidate already accused of changing messages to fit audiences, running a different campaign in two different states underscores that problem," he said.

The Romney campaign rejects that criticism, saying that Romney should be credited as the only GOP candidate to be fully engaged in both states. Sen. Judd Gregg (R-N.H.), a top Romney supporter here, contends that a candidate such as McCain, who did not compete heavily in Iowa, will have just five days to seize control of the race here.

"There's not a whole lot of opportunity for candidates to change the dynamic," Gregg said. "It's such a bang-bang event."

The biggest question is which candidate will win over the state's independent voters, who typically make up about a quarter of the primary vote. McCain is pursuing them as he did in 2000, but polls have consistently shown that a majority of them are planning to vote in the Democratic primary this year, which would probably help Sen. Barack Obama (Ill.).

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