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A new dawn in New Hampshire

The morning after Iowa, pitches are tuned and barbs are sharpened.

January 05, 2008|Maria L. La Ganga, Seema Mehta and Cathleen Decker | Times Staff Writers

PORTSMOUTH, N.H. — Triumphant or chastened, candidates for president swept across New Hampshire on Friday in a fusillade of campaigning, opening a four-day battle before voters cast ballots in the first primary of the 2008 presidential contest.

Democrat Barack Obama and Republican Mike Huckabee, as euphoric as they were exhausted, sought to turn their Thursday night victories in the Iowa caucuses into momentum for Tuesday's vote.

"Last night the American people began down the road to change," the Illinois senator said in an airport hangar here. "And four days from now, New Hampshire, you have the chance to change America."

So dominant was Obama's Iowa trouncing of John Edwards and Hillary Rodham Clinton that even Republican winner Huckabee reached for his coattails.

"I think if you look at both the Democrat and Republican side, Obama and me, we both represent, frankly, a generational change, but change nonetheless," the former Arkansas governor told NBC's "Today Show," in one of a round-robin series of interviews by the candidates that delineated the thrust of the onrushing campaign.

The winners had no time to relish victory. Both Clinton, Obama's chief Democratic rival in New Hampshire, and Republican Mitt Romney, who placed second to Huckabee in Iowa, spent Friday sharpening criticism of their rivals.

Clinton told reporters in Manchester that Obama's record needed scrutiny, and her campaign aides hinted that negative ads were in the works. And the New York senator brushed aside her third-place showing in Iowa, a state she had courted for more than a year. According to a Nielsen Monitor-Plus survey, she aired 10,488 radio and television ads between early December and Jan. 1.

"Iowa does not have the best track record in determining who the party nominates," Clinton told reporters in Manchester. "Everybody knows that."

She said the caucuses, a complicated venue at best, had "disenfranchised" many voters, including those who work at night and could not attend.

A new target

Romney, for his part, turned from aiming at Huckabee to Sen. John McCain of Arizona, his main challenger in New Hampshire. He was critical of McCain's more moderate positions on illegal immigrants and his past criticism of Bush administration tax cuts.

"There's no way that Sen. McCain is going to be able to come to New Hampshire and say he's the candidate who represents change, that he'll change Washington," Romney told reporters at a hotel news conference in Portsmouth. "He is Washington."

McCain, like Romney, embraced the notion that voters in both parties Thursday had sent an emphatic rebuke of politics as usual.

"I was the agent of change," McCain said, ticking off his insistence on revising the Bush administration's Iraq strategy, his shepherding of campaign finance reform and his opposition to extravagant federal projects. He also offered a pointed criticism of Romney, who ran for statewide office as a GOP moderate but has clothed himself in conservative garb in the presidential race.

"My record is [as] a conservative Republican and it hasn't changed. It doesn't change every two years depending on what office I'm running for," McCain said.

The candidates awoke Friday to a campaign landscape dramatically altered by the events of the previous night.

Obama's 37.6% showing discarded any claims of invincibility by Clinton, on whom he had been steadily gaining for weeks. And her finish behind former Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina -- 29.7% to 29.5% -- was of only marginal help to Edwards, who had campaigned in Iowa almost nonstop since his second-place finish there in 2004.

The results propelled the Democratic contest into a state that has salved a Clinton's wounds before -- easing the controversy over draft-dodging and womanizing on the part of her husband, Bill, with a strong second-place for him in 1992. But here, too, Obama has been gaining in the polls, and Edwards, although a distant third, has been trying to set up a campaign operation.

On the Republican side, the Iowa returns fractured former Massachusetts Gov. Romney's hopes that he could ride his prodigious fundraising and personal fortune to success in the first two contests and onward to the nomination. Huckabee blistered Romney, 34.4% to 25.2%, although the Arkansan was vastly outspent. According to Nielsen Monitor-Plus, Romney aired 9,841 Iowa ads in the weeks leading up to Jan. 1, compared with 998 for Huckabee.

Because of the results, the GOP contest splayed out in different directions.

Romney and McCain are atop the heap in New Hampshire, which is next door to Romney's home state and in 2000 gave McCain's free-wheeling presidential bid its biggest boost with his trouncing of George W. Bush.

Though he is trying to ride his Iowa momentum in New Hampshire, Huckabee has no real organization in the state that, unlike Iowa, does not have a large component of his biggest supporters, evangelical Christians. He is looking ahead to South Carolina and its Jan. 19 Republican primary.

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