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Tuesday, January 08, 2008

DIXVILLE NOTCH, New Hampshire (CNN) -- Citizens went to the polls in two small New Hampshire towns just after midnight Tuesday to cast the first ballots in a 2008 presidential primary. Rick Erwin tallies the nation's first primary votes in Dixville Notch, New Hampshire. In Dixville Notch, they gave Sen. John McCain an early lead in the GOP race and Sen. Barack Obama a lead in the Democratic contest.

McCain garnered four votes, followed by former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney with two and former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani with one.

Obama, fresh off a victory in the Iowa caucuses, took seven votes. Former Sen. John Edwards won two votes, and New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson got one.

Sen. Hillary Clinton drew no votes among the 10 Democrats casting ballots in Dixville Notch, a hamlet of about 75 people near the Canadian border.

In Hart's Location, population 42, Obama received nine votes, Clinton three and Edwards one, The Associated Press reported. On the GOP side, McCain received six, Mike Huckabee five, Ron Paul four and Romney one.

For the rest of the state, most polls open at 6 a.m.; the last close at 8 p.m.

Leading up to the primary, the top contenders were scrambling to nail down supporters among an electorate notorious for its independence.

Obama worked to turn an apparent boost in the polls after the Iowa caucuses into a second victory over his leading rivals, Clinton and Edwards. And McCain expressed confidence that he would win the day's Republican primary, a contest he won during his first White House bid eight years ago.

"We are going to prove that you can't buy an election in the state of New Hampshire -- and we are also going to prove that negative attack ads don't work either," he said Monday in a jab at Romney, his leading rival.

Romney has poured $8 million into television ads in the Granite State, outspending McCain 2-to-1, according to figures from TNS Media Intelligence/CMAG, CNN's consultant on television campaign advertising.

But a CNN/WMUR poll of likely voters released Monday night showed McCain leading Romney by a margin of 31 to 26 percentage points.
Change was the buzzword on all the candidates' lips Monday. Speaking in Nashua, Romney emphasized his experience in business and in shaking up the 2002 Winter Olympic effort rather than his experience in public office.

"If there has ever been a time we need a change in Washington, it's now," Romney said. "Because in my experience, what I've heard as I travel this country is that Washington is broken."

Romney also spent heavily in Iowa, only to be beaten by Huckabee. The former Arkansas governor won Iowa with extensive support from evangelical Christian voters, but was running third in more secular, libertarian New Hampshire with 13 percent, Monday's poll found.
"If we come in anywhere in the third or fourth spot, we are going to be doing great," he said on CNN Monday.

New Hampshire's independent voters, who make up about 40 percent of the state's electorate, could throw a surprise into the primaries, however.

McCain's 2000 victory came on the backs of a strong independent turnout in the GOP primary, but a CNN-WMUR poll Sunday found independent voters split almost evenly between the parties this year.

And more than 20 percent of respondents on both sides said they either had not yet made up their minds or are still open to changing their minds before voting.

Among Democrats, Monday's poll found Obama riding a 9-point lead over Clinton, 39 percent to 30 percent. Edwards, who edged out Clinton for second place in Iowa, ran third with 16 percent.

Obama's theme of "hope" has drawn crowds, but also criticism from rivals who suggest he will be too soft to deliver the change he promises. The first-term Illinois senator defended his message Monday, telling a crowd in Rochester that hope "is not blind optimism."

"Hope's the opposite of that," he said. "Hope's not ignoring the challenges and obstacles that stand in your way, it's about confronting them."

Meanwhile, he said, "The real gamble would be to have the same old folks doing the same old things over and over and over again and somehow expecting a different result."

Clinton has tried to turn the tide by emphasizing her record as a "change agent," as a senator and as first lady. She fought tears as she described the stakes in the campaign at a forum with uncommitted voters in Portsmouth, calling it "one of the most important elections America has ever faced."

"This is very personal for me -- it's not just political, it's not just public," she said in response to a question about the stress of the campaign. "I see what's happening, and we have to reverse it."

Edwards, meanwhile, sharpened his criticism of Clinton, blasting her for taking money from the pharmaceutical and defense interests the former trial lawyer routinely excoriates on the stump.

"What has been happening in America is it is big corporate businesses and big multinational corporations that have entirely too much influence on the policy," he told CNN.

Richardson, who was polling fourth among Democrats at 7 percent, said he has set his sights on the remaining undecided voters.

"With Bill Richardson, you get change and you get experience," the former U.N. ambassador and energy secretary told CNN. "You have to have experience to change things. I have a record."

Rep. Dennis Kucinich and former Alaska Sen. Mike Gravel also remain in the Democratic field.

Among the Republican pack, former Tennessee Sen. Fred Thompson has virtually abandoned New Hampshire, while Giuliani has limited his campaigning in early states to focus on the Florida primary later in the month and the February 5 "Super Tuesday" contests.

Paul, an anti-war Texas congressman and onetime Libertarian Party presidential nominee, was drawing 10 percent support in Monday's poll, and a growing number of independents have told pollsters they are considering voting for him.

"The big trouble that we have over the last year was you know, getting our message out," Paul told CNN. "And now, the money is flowing in, the money comes in faster than we can spend it. Because when people hear this message, they get so excited about it."

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