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Campaign Frenzy in New Hampshire

ALEX CHADWICK, host:

From the studios of NPR West, this is DAY TO DAY. I'm Alex Chadwick.

MADELEINE BRAND, host:

I'm Madeleine Brand.

Presidential contenders are swarming around New Hampshire with last minute campaigning, but the Republican candidate that's creating the biggest buzz is causing alarm with many Republicans. That's coming up.

CHADWICK: First, tomorrow in New Hampshire, the polls open at 6:00 o'clock in the morning. Over the past three days, voters in that Granite State have bounced from one political event to another. The candidates certainly have. I'm not so sure about all of there voters.

Anyway, New Hampshire Public Radio's Dan Gorenstein caught up with some of these voters to see which candidate they like best before the voting begins.

DAN GORENSTEIN: On Friday night, about 3,000 people came out for the state Democratic Party's fundraiser. So many people crowded the stage to see Obama, it had become a fire hazard.

Unidentified Man: Ladies and gentlemen, there are safety concerns before we can proceed. Please take your seats.

GORENSTEIN: Before people could even make it back to their seats, the Illinois senator came out.

Unidentified Man: Senator Barack Obama.

(Soundbite of applause)

GORENSTEIN: People instantaneously spun back and surged forward, nearly running. Obama left people in this typically subdued crowd dancing after his speech. But just when it seems like the Democratic race here is Barack Obama's to lose, 39 hours later something like this happens.

(Soundbite of chanting)

Unidentified People: Hillary! Hillary! Hillary!

GORENSTEIN: On a cold, overcast Sunday afternoon, a line of people stretching at least a half a mile long had come to the Nashua North High School gymnasium to see the former First Lady. And many who had waited to get inside, like Kay Loacker(ph), were with her. Loacker says she really saw a difference between Clinton and Obama during Saturday night's debate.

Ms. KAY LOACKER: With the discussions about foreign policy, I felt that Bill Richardson and Hillary Clinton were giving answers with just many more examples and substance. Whereas the other two, the answers were more still in generalities.

GORENSTEIN: Those who don't like Obama say they find him either inexperienced, vague or both, but according to a Sunday evening tracking poll done by the University of New Hampshire, he still has taken a 10 point lead over Clinton.

As for the Republicans, Iowa caucus winner Mike Huckabee isn't doing so well. The state has far fewer social conservatives. In his speech Saturday with cult hero Chuck Norris at his side, Huckabee only made one overt religious reference. Theresa Bishop(ph), says safety, not abortion or gay marriage, seems to be more important to many of her conservative friends and neighbors.

Ms. THERESA BISHOP: I hope he surprises us. A lot of our friends are looking at the terrorist issue, foreign policy, and they think McCain is going to be the best to deal with that.

GORENSTEIN: According to that same tracking poll, McCain is running ahead with a six-point lead over former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney. It's really not surprising that McCain is doing well here. He won back in 2000 and he spent more time here than most of his rivals.

But what continues to be his strength is his ability to woo independents like Kathy Wolf(ph), who make up over 40 percent of the electorate.

Ms. KATHY WOLF: I like his independence. I like that he's a moderate Republican. I like that he doesn't - he's willing to cross the aisle. You know, I appreciate him going out, doing the town hall meetings and talking with voters, willing to take tough questions.

GORENSTEIN: Whether it his independent streak or his time as a prisoner of war, many voters feel like McCain is genuine and trustworthy. The most common question about the senator is whether he's too old for the job. The biggest question Republicans seem to have for former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney is whether he believes in anything other than becoming president. What's really clear is that many Republicans are still shopping. The University of New Hampshire tracking poll found that only 44 percent of voters knew who they are definitely going to support.

I asked Lisa Berudi(ph) if she had to vote in five minutes, who she'd back? Her eyes bulged and she puffed her cheeks.

Ms. LISA BERUDI: I'd probably, oh, I don't know. I'd struggle right now. I really - I don't know what I would do.

GORENSTEIN: For Berudi and all those other undecided voters still out there, Monday offers 47 separate presidential campaign events to help people make up their minds.

For NPR News, I'm Dan Gorenstein. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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