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Crowds, barbs mark final stage of New Hampshire primary campaign
NASHUA, N.H. -- "We need some voters," Mitt Romney declared Monday as Democratic and Republican presidential contenders kicked off a final day of campaigning before the New Hampshire primary. Democrat Hillary Clinton, trying to revive her campaign, declared, "Whatever happens tomorrow, we're going on."
Both candidates suffered defeat in last week's Iowa caucus and are struggling to avoid another major loss.
Romney scheduled six events and an end-of-the-day rally as he tried to stage a comeback amid polls showing him falling behind Sen. John McCain of Arizona in the Republican contest.
McCain set off on a seven-city swing dubbed "The Mac Is Back" bus tour, flanked by dozens of friends and relatives who turned out for the final New Hampshire push. Optimism mixed with nostalgia as the Arizona senator sought a repeat of his surprise win in the New Hampshire primary during his first White House run eight years ago.
Polls show the race tight between McCain and Romney, putting added emphasis on the need to persuade a swath of undecided voters and encourage hard-core supporters to turn out Tuesday.
"Tomorrow is the day when we will tell the world that New Hampshire again has chosen the next president of the United States," McCain told a couple hundred sign-toting supporters, joking "vote early and often."
With his wife, Cindy, and two of their daughters behind him, McCain's tone was a bit wistful at the chilly early morning rally on the steps of the Nashua city hall. "There's a lot of nostalgia associated with this morning. We've had a great time," he told said. "My friends, it has been an uplifting and wonderful experience."
Iowa's GOP winner, Mike Huckabee, meanwhile, said he wasn't counting on winning a top spot in New Hampshire's primary Tuesday. "If we come in anywhere in the third and fourth slot, we're going to do great. I'd like to do better than that, but you have people who have had a lot more money spent here," he told CNN.
With Democrat Barack Obama leading in the polls, Clinton took to the airwaves with television interviews in which she questioned the substance behind the Illinois senator's soaring rhetoric. She said Obama "is a very talented politician" but "if he's going to be competing for president -- and especially to get the Democratic nomination and go up against whomever the Republicans put up -- I think it is really time to start comparing and contrasting him as I have been scrutinized for all of this year."
Clinton, asked on CBS' "The Early Show" whether the Iowa defeat indicated that voters were disenchanted with her and wanted to move on, said, "I'm just going to work as hard as I can today and tomorrow. ...I feel really good about this whole process, and you know, whatever happens tomorrow, we're going on."
Edwards, meanwhile, mounted an all-night bus tour of the state, with early morning stops planned for Berlin, Littleton and Claremont, with 10 more events throughout the day and evening. "While everyone else goes to bed tonight," he told a Nashua audience, "I'm going to be out working."
Romney's first stop was the entrance of BAE Systems North America, where he found reporters and camera crews far outnumbered arriving workers. The former Massachusetts governor largely ignored the crowd, instead talking with Sen. Judd Gregg, R-N.H., about the prior evening's debate.
That prompted Romney to plead, "We need some voters."
A new survey showed Obama opening a wide lead over Clinton, while the Republican race remained a statistical dead heat.
Obama had 41 percent, up from 32 percent in mid-December, in a new USA Today/Gallup poll. Clinton was at 28 percent, down from 32 percent. Former North Carolina Sen. John Edwards had 19 percent, New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson had 6 percent, and no other candidate had 3 percent.
On the Republican side, McCain had 34 percent, up from 27 percent in mid-December, while Romney had 30 percent, down from 34 percent. Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee was third with 13 percent, while Rep. Ron Paul of Texas and former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani were tied at 8 percent. No other candidate, including former Tennessee Sen. Fred Thompson, who conceded Sunday he was focusing on South Carolina rather than New Hampshire, was above 3 percent.
Both surveys had a margin of error of 4.4 percentage points, a small enough gap to consider the GOP race tied.
While the Iowa results influenced the demeanor of the candidates in a campaign shortened to five days by this year's compacted election calendar, New Hampshire residents have a history of keeping their own counsel in their first-in-the-nation primary.
"Undeclareds" make up the majority of registered voters in the state, and those independents are free to vote in either primary on Tuesday. Romney aides hoped for a surge in favor of Obama, denying McCain the independent votes that catapulted him past Bush in 2000.
Polls open at 6 a.m. and close at 8 p.m. EST, and the weather forecast for Tuesday was favorable: mostly cloudy and mild.
(Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)