Monday, December 24, 2007

New Hampshire is Up For Grabs

Readers at American Power know I'm pulling for John McCain in the Republican primaries. So it's probably no revelation to know that I'm giddily intrigued by the recent tightening of the race in New Hampshire, where voting takes place on January 8.

The good news keeps coming out of the Granite State, in any case,
as major media reporting this morning indicates that McCain's chances continue to improve, at the expense of Mitt Romney.

Here's a bit on Romney's evaporation in New Hampshire,
from the Los Angeles Times:

As recently as last week, Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney seemed to be holding a secure lead in New Hampshire, even as he was losing ground to former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee in Iowa.

But a Boston Globe survey released Sunday showed that the former Massachusetts governor's numbers were slipping in the Northeast as well: Romney, the poll said, now holds a 3 percentage point lead over Arizona Sen. John McCain in New Hampshire, down from 15 points in November.

The threat to Romney's early state strategy -- which aimed for a one-two win in Iowa on Jan. 3 and in New Hampshire on Jan. 8 -- appears serious enough that Romney has started criticizing McCain by name at a time when most campaigns are trying to stay positive.

At a Peterborough town hall Sunday, Romney tried to differentiate himself by telling voters that he wanted to make President Bush's tax cuts permanent.

"Right now, Sen. McCain and I are both battling for your support and your vote. He's a good man, but we have differing views on this," Romney said. "He voted against the Bush tax cuts, he voted against eliminating the [inheritance] tax forever. . . . I believe in pushing taxes down."

In 2001 and 2003, McCain did reject the Bush tax cuts as too tilted toward wealthy Americans but now says he would make them permanent.

McCain's senior advisor, Mark Salter, fired back that Romney's remarks stemmed from his angst over McCain's gains.

"Welcome to Mitt Romney's bizzaro world, where everyone is guilty of his sins," Salter said in a statement. ". . . Give it a rest. It's Christmas."

At an "Ask Mitt Anything" forum Friday night in Rochester, the candidate was questioned about whether his position on the Bush tax cuts had shifted. In 2003, the Boston Globe reported that he had told Massachusetts lawmakers he would neither support or oppose the Bush tax cuts.

Romney told the audience that as governor, he did not weigh in "on federal issues."

"Sen. McCain is different. He voted against tax cuts twice. I was the governor of a state, not a senator," Romney said.

McCain, who won the 2000 New Hampshire primary, was heavily favored here going into the 2008 presidential contest. But many conservatives were angered by his moderate position on immigration, and some liberal supporters were troubled by his close association with the Bush administration's Iraq war strategy.

Romney's well-organized campaign took advantage early on, going on the air with his first television ads in February.

But McCain's campaign has gained momentum of late with several newspaper endorsements, including the conservative Union Leader newspaper in Manchester, the Portsmouth Herald on the state's coast, and the Salmon Press, which publishes 11 smaller newspapers throughout the state. He also won the backing of Romney's hometown newspaper, the Boston Globe, and the Des Moines Register in Iowa.
The Wall Street Journal has more:

The Republican primary in New Hampshire next month is shaping up to be as frantic and unpredictable as the race in Iowa, though focusing on a different set of issues and cast of characters.

Mitt Romney remains a contender in both states. But while his closest rival in Iowa is former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, in New Hampshire, Arizona Sen. John McCain is closing in quickly. The increased competition, especially from Mr. McCain, is a blow to Mr. Romney, who has invested more time and resources in both states than his rivals.

A Boston Globe poll released yesterday shows the Arizona lawmaker threatening Mr. Romney's lead in New Hampshire, with 25% of voters supporting Mr. McCain compared with 28% for Mr. Romney, the former governor of neighboring Massachusetts and a part-time resident of New Hampshire. With the poll having a margin of plus or minus 4.9 percentage points, that is a virtual dead heat and a dramatic shift from just a few weeks ago, when a Zogby poll put Mr. Romney 18 points ahead of Mr. McCain there.

At least some of Mr. McCain's success seems to have come at the expense of former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, who has dropped in the New Hampshire polls from the mid 20s to the mid-teens.

The Globe poll shows changes in the Democratic camp as well, with Illinois Sen. Barack Obama gaining the support of 30% of voters, putting him neck and neck with the 28% supporting New York Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, who has led for much of the year. Former North Carolina Sen. John Edwards trailed with 14% of the vote, followed by New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson with 7%.

But the upheaval in the Republican race is particularly notable, and is requiring Mr. Romney to attack his opponents differently in the two states. New Hampshire's Jan. 8 primary comes just after the Jan. 3 Iowa caucuses.

The Boston Globe story is here:

Senator John McCain of Arizona, whose bid for the Republican presidential nomination was all but dead this summer, has made a dramatic recovery in the Granite State 2 1/2 weeks before the 2008 vote, pulling within 3 percentage points of front-runner Mitt Romney, a new Boston Globe poll indicates.McCain, the darling of New Hampshire voters in the 2000 primary, has the support of 25 percent of likely Republican voters, compared with 28 percent for Romney. Former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani has slid into third place, with 14 percent. A Globe poll of New Hampshire voters last month had Romney at 32 percent, Giuliani at 20 percent, and McCain at 17 percent.

A McCain win in New Hampshire might give the Arizona Senator enough momentum to cruise into the South Carolina primary for a win in the Palmetto State, or a strong second place showing. In that case, McCain could wrap-up the nomination with a series of big wins on February 5, where about 20 states are voting in what likens to be a "national primary."