Granite up for grabs

Why McCain, Obama, and their supporters are swooping down on New Hampshire
By DAVID S. BERNSTEIN  |  September 17, 2008

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‘All’ for none
This year, for the first time, New Hampshire voters will not be able to vote a straight party-line ballot in one motion. The state banned “straight-ticket voting” in July, which will force voters to fill in their ballots in each race — previously, they have had the option of filling in an “all Democrats” or “all Republicans” oval at the top. Roughly a quarter of all voters in the state used the straight-ticket option in 2006.

Both parties are claiming that the change will help them. Democrats say that, historically, straight-ticket voting has helped Republicans. GOP sources point out that, in 2006, thanks to intense anti-Republican anger, most straight-ticket voting was Democratic.

Presidential candidates and their surrogates spend most of their time in high-population, close-contest areas, swinging quickly on runs through Minnesota-Wisconsin-Iowa, for example, or Michigan-Ohio-Pennsylvania. But in the past week, Barack Obama, John McCain, and Joe Biden went out of their way to visit New Hampshire, a small prize far removed from any other 2008 electoral contest.

There is no big secret to the gush of interest in the Granite State, which has affixed itself to the short list of presidential battlegrounds. Had Al Gore received just 7000 more votes in New Hampshire eight years ago, he would have received the state’s four electoral votes — and there would have been no President George W. Bush.

The past two presidential contests went late into election night, as states tallied their razor-thin margins with the fate of the free world in the balance. With national polls again showing a dead heat, and electoral-college projections similarly neck-and-neck, it is very possible that a few votes in one state could again make the difference.

But not knowing which state — of at least a dozen close battlegrounds, according to analysts — holds that key, campaigns are going all out for every last possible vote, in all of them. They are fighting with street-by-street urgency not only in Florida and Ohio, but in Virginia, and Colorado, and, yes, in little New Hampshire.

“New Hampshire is obviously very important,” says top Obama campaign advisor David Axelrod, in Concord this past Friday evening with his candidate. “It’s a state we have to keep a strong focus on.”

New Hampshire may be a microcosm of the national race, not only on the presidential level, but further down-ballot, as well. As the Democrats attempt to expand their majority in the US Senate — hoping to get near the coveted 60 votes needed to force bills to the floor — one of the most contentious races is the rematch between former governor Jeanne Shaheen and incumbent Senator John Sununu. National Republicans hoping to regain some of the congressional seats they lost in the 2006 anti-GOP tsunami have also targeted both of New Hampshire’s freshmen Democratic representatives.

All of this is catching the attention — and the resources — of the national parties and activists. The focus is only partly on persuading voters — those notoriously independent-minded Granite State curmudgeons — on the issues and the candidates. Observers believe that if the national election is ultimately close — close enough to once again depend on the outcome in New Hampshire — then the difference in all of these races, up and down the ballot, will be turnout.

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  Topics: Talking Politics , David Axelrod, Barack Obama, Patrick Leahy,  More more >
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