Nearly every candidate here has used the term famously independent to describe New Hampshires voters. Indeed, a majority of the states voters are unaffiliated and can cast ballots in either the Democratic or Republican primary. For the undecided—and there are still many in New Hampshire—these last few days of campaigning provide a final opportunity to make up their minds. Many will wait until Primary Day to do so, and the results may not reflect national trends or polls. In 2000, for example, John McCain—supported by 62 percent of the independent vote—defeated George W. Bush handily in New Hampshire.
At a town-hall speech in Portsmouth last Friday, John Edwards—trailing Sens. Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton in national and local polls—appealed to the states culture of autonomy:
Were going to continue to be outspent. Theyre going to spend all the money in the world in New Hampshire, he said, referring to Obama and Clinton. But whats going to happen on Tuesday is youre going to rise up and say, We dont want to be told what to do.
In the rural town of Derry, an audience of roughly 1,000 waited two hours on Sunday to hear Obama speak.
Fired up? Ready to go? a young Obama volunteer yelled into the microphone as the crowd began to stir.
Are you going to vote for Obama? she added.
The response was polite, a muffled cheer. Apparently, one does not ask that sort of question in New Hampshire. When Obama finally arrived, he posed the more tactful question, one he asks at every event: Whos still undecided? The room shot up with hands—at least two-thirds of the audience.
Sue Petrin, a 43-year-old mother from Derry with an autistic son, had already decided—but not on Obama. She planned to vote for Clinton on Tuesday, but said she is convinced Obama will win the nomination.
Call it intuition, she said, using the phrase Obama has incorporated into his speech and Clinton has derided in hers. Four years ago, when I saw him speak at the Democratic National Convention, I said, That man should run for President. Hes got the charisma, a lot of the Bill Clinton-style of talking. Hes highly intelligent, and a family man.
Her husband, Ron, was laid off from his job after 19 years when the position was moved to India. He said the housing crisis, the rising cost of oil and special education were his most important issues. He was attending the Obama event so that he could decide between him and Edwards.
I believe him, he said of Edwards. A lot of them can say things, but I believe him—not taking money from special interests. Both [Edwards and Obama] said they want to get rid of special interests, but [Edwards] said he would actually do it.
Joyce Waterhouse, who attended the Derry speech with her husband, Mark, described Obama as an honest guy. She said the same of Edwards, but didnt know about Clinton.
I like that [Obama] wants change. I just want to hear the specifics about his proposals for change, she said.
Of Edwards, she said, I like that he doesnt take a lot of PAC money—for whatever reason, he never comes out strong [in the polls]. I dont know if its because he picks the middle-class issue every time and repeats it. Hes right about it.
I dont know if he has the power and charisma that Obama does, her husband added.
Is that what we need? she asked.
Clinton has been asking the same question. She began a speech later that night in a school cafeteria in Hampton by continuing the criticism she levied against Obama during the back-to-back debate.
I think the debate was a defining moment in the election because it clarified that this election is about the difference between talk and action, between rhetoric and reality, she said. In order to bring about the changes that are so essential for Americas future, youve got to understand the difference between hoping for change and demanding change.
Clinton herself made a major change to her campaign strategy by opening her speeches to extended question-and-answer sessions, previously a format exclusive to Edwards.
Nancy Reiss and Gary Hinz, who attended the Hampton event, listed global warming as their No. 1 priority in the election. The couple, who live in East Kingston, post both Edwards and Clinton signs in their front lawn. So far, Clinton is Reiss first pick, though she wishes the two could run on the same ticket.
I got tears a couple times when [Clinton] talked to those kids and gave them hope, Hinz said of Clinton answering questions on global warming and education from several young girls. Its so great that our country can do this.