Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Surging Obama leads in New Hampshire

Surging Obama leads in New Hampshire

By Tony Czuczka

Washington (dpa) - Barack Obama surged ahead of his rivals in polls Monday on the eve of the New Hampshire presidential primary, a crucial early test of momentum in his bid to become the first African-American in the White House.

Obama opened up a double-digit lead over former first lady Hillary Clinton in several polls as candidates made their last campaign pitches for Tuesday's vote, the first state primary and the second contest in the Democratic and Republican nomination battles.

"There's something stirring in the air. You can feel it," Obama, 46, told a cheering crowd Monday. "It will be your turn to stand up and say to the rest of the country: 'The time for change has come. The time for change has come.'"

On the Republican side, polls pointed to a win for John McCain, the independent-minded US senator who called for more troops in Iraq long before President George W Bush, but has drawn fire from more conservative rivals for his moderate stand on illegal immigration.

Obama, a magnet for younger voters, is looking for a one-two punch after winning last week's Iowa caucuses, the first preference vote on the long road to the November 4, 2008 presidential election.

Clinton, 60, the longtime presumed front-runner for the centre- left Democrats, was under intense pressure to bounce back after slumping to third place behind populist former senator John Edwards in the Iowa poll.

But a USA Today/Gallup poll published Monday gave Obama 41 per cent, Clinton 28 per cent and Edwards 19 per cent. A CNN/WMUR poll put Obama at 39 per cent, Clinton at 29 per cent and Edwards at 16 per cent.

Another loss in closely watched New Hampshire would be a severe blow to her bid to be the first woman to become US president.

Clinton attacked in a Democratic debate Saturday, portraying Obama's soaring message of change as just talk.

She sharpened her claim that her 1993-2001 stint as first lady and seven years as a US senator gave her the experience to lead. "Words are not actions," she said.

But Obama found a tactical ally in Edwards, who branded Clinton a symbol of the status quo.

McCain, 71, defeated later US President George W Bush in the 2000 Republican primary in New Hampshire before seeing his White House bid falter. A former prisoner of war in Vietnam, he is again touting his image as a maverick Republican with appeal to critical independent voters.

Suddenly, almost everyone was talking about change - not surprising given Obama's success, political gridlock in Washington and dismal approval ratings for both Bush and the Democratic-led Congress.

Republican Mitt Romney, the former Massachusetts governor and venture capitalist who badly needs a strong showing in New Hampshire, said he would "bring change to Washington" and tackle burning issues such as immigration, education and health care.

Baptist preacher Mike Huckabee, a Republican who rode his evangelical Christian appeal to victory in Iowa, realigned his message for less socially conservative New Hampshire and talked about the threat of globalization and the slowing economy for working Americans.

But Huckabee was running a distant fourth in New Hampshire behind McCain, Romney and Rudy Giuliani. The former New York mayor ignored Iowa and limited his campaigning in New Hampshire, gambling on later big wins in delegate-rich states such as Florida, New York and California.

The next major votes in the series of state-by-state contests to choose the Republican and Democratic presidential candidates are in South Carolina and on January 29 in Florida. Nearly two dozen states hold primaries on February 5, a crucial nationwide test some have dubbed Mega Tuesday.

02:10 Jan 08, 2008

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