New Hampshire goes to the polls Tuesday for the second key clash of White House hopefuls, with surging Democrat Barack Obama likely to deal a second defeat to former first lady Hillary Clinton.
Just five days after his Iowa triumph spun momentum into his White House quest, Obama enjoyed a solid lead in New Hampshire and for the first time shattered Clinton’s advantage among Democratic voters nationally, polls showed.
In a rare emotional display, Clinton choked back tears on the campaign trail Monday as the strain of her damaged White House bid showed through.
Republican John McCain meanwhile looked set to lock in his advantage over rival Mitt Romney, who needs a strong showing after coming in a grim second last week in the Iowa caucuses, which launched this year’s White House race.
Polls opened in the tiny resort village of Dixville Notch, New Hampshire at midnight (0500 GMT), and closed minutes later after all 17 of its registered voters had cast ballots, in keeping with an eccentric tradition.
Results written on a board showed Obama with seven votes; former senator with John Edwards with two; and New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson one, on the Democratic side.
McCain was the Republican victor with four votes, while Romney took two and former New York mayor Rudolph Giuliani, one.
There were no votes for Clinton or Iowa Republican victor Mike Huckabee, who has vaulted to pole position among Republicans nationally in the latest polls.
The New Hampshire primary begins in earnest when polling stations throughout the state open starting at 6:00 am (1100 GMT).
Obama wrapped up his New Hampshire campaign with a raucous rally in Concord late Monday, soaring to rhetorical heights in a bid to rally turnout.
“Starting tomorrow, we’re going to make history, we’re going to repair the nation, we’re going to repair the world!” he cried in a 45-minute speech frequently drowned out by the roars of the crowd.
In a tactic that has begun to draw scorn from Clinton, Obama invoked a pantheon of American political icons, from the founding fathers to the pioneers of the American civil rights movement.
Voice thick with sarcasm, Clinton Monday accused Obama of inflating a thin resume by comparing himself to Democratic icon John F. Kennedy, and civil rights icon Martin Luther King, “two of our greatest heroes.”
“Martin Luther King led a movement… he was beaten, he was jailed, and he gave a speech that was one of the most beautiful, profound speeches ever delivered in America.”
“President Kennedy was in the Congress for fourteen years, he was a war hero, he was a man of great accomplishment,” Clinton said.
Separately, the strain of the Obama juggernaut appeared to be taking its toll, when Clinton welled up when asked how she manages to keep going every day.
“It’s not easy, and I could not do it if I just didn’t passionately believe it was the right thing to do,” she said, her voice quavering, after talking with voters in a coffee shop.
“This is very personal for me … it is not just political … I see what’s happening … we have to reverse it.
“Some people think elections are a game,” said the New York senator, her voice breaking again. “It is about our country, it is about our kids’ futures.”
The latest polls showed Obama as the favorite going into Tuesday’s crucial nominating clash, after he beat Clinton into third place in Iowa after John Edwards.
And a national poll by USA Today/Gallup said that Obama and Clinton each drew 33 percent support from Democrats, compared to an 18-point lead for the former first lady in mid-December, well before Obama’s win in Iowa.
New Hampshire’s primary meanwhile did not look set to clarify fortunes among the crowded Republican field.
McCain is seen as the favorite here, with national frontrunner Huckabee trailing in third and Giuliani still waiting in the wings to attack in subsequent primaries in more populous states.
McCain drew hundreds of people out in cold, wet weather Monday in the state capital Concord for a speech stressing his orthodox budget policies and experience in defense affairs.
“I believe that better days are ahead of us, but it requires leadership with no on-the-job training,” said McCain, who in a debate Sunday said he knew how to get Osama bin Laden and vowed to do so if elected.
McCain, 71, has capitalized on his war hero status, earned by years in a Vietnamese prisoner of war camp.
Former Massachusetts governor Romney is running second to McCain in New Hampshire, a state all the more important to the Mormon following his loss to Huckabee in Iowa.
For the first time, former Arkansas governor Huckabee has vaulted to first place nationally among Republican voters, running at 25 percent to 20 for Giuliani, the USA Today/Gallup poll said.