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McCain, Clinton Take Round Two

Author: Robert McMahon, Editor
January 9, 2008

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In the crucial second round of the U.S. presidential selection process, New Hampshire primary voters revived (Union Leader) two familiar Washington figures—Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-NY) and Sen. John McCain (R-AZ). Analysts credited Clinton and McCain, third- and fourth-place finishers, respectively, in last week’s Iowa caucuses, with running vigorous campaigns highlighting their candor and capability. Their efforts seem to have connected with both Democrats and Republicans in the state, where the economy was cited as the top concern. Exit polls indicated that Iraq remained a major concern for voters of both parties, and both immigration and terrorism were listed among top priorities by Republicans, though neither made the Democratic voters’ list.

Exit polls showed distinct differences among voters for McCain and runner-up Mitt Romney, with 46 percent of those supporting McCain placing Iraq as their top issue (CNN). McCain has been a leading Republican backer of the Bush administration’s surge policy in Iraq, but surveys show he also garnered a strong share of independent voters dissatisfied with the White House (CBS). A large margin of Romney supporters considered illegal immigration the most important issue. On the Democratic side, the initial distinctions reported were demographic, with Iowa caucus winner Sen. Barack Obama (D-IL) continuing to poll well among voters aged 18-29 and with a resonating message of change. Clinton won the majority of New Hampshire’s large pool of women voters and did extremely well with voters valuing experience.

The New Hampshire results shook up both party races (WSJ). For the Republicans, the McCain win sets the stage for a tough battle in January 15 primaries in Michigan, where Romney’s father previously served as governor. The economy will figure even more prominently as an issue due to the state’s sharp loss of manufacturing jobs (NYT)

Analysts say Obama remains a formidable candidate and both he and Clinton are considered to be in good shape approaching their party’s next tests—the Nevada caucuses on January 19 and the South Carolina primary a few days afterward. The third-place finishers—Iowa GOP winner Mike Huckabee and Iowa Democratic runner-up John Edwards—vowed to press on with a nationwide campaign as well.

Though small in electoral stature like Iowa, New Hampshire is seen by some as more representative of the country, with what BusinessWeek calls a “globally oriented services-based economy and rapidly growing exurban communities.” So the New Hampshire results will be watched especially closely by strategists plotting the next month’s busy primary campaigns. Eleventh-hour campaigning by candidates such as Clinton and Huckabee tapped into economic concerns, hitting particularly on rising energy costs. Clinton referred to an “energy crisis” with consequences “for our economy, for our security, for the problem of global warming” (NYT).

Aside from powerful campaign rhetoric about change, the sharper policy contrasts have been between the two parties rather than within each party’s ranks. Romney did outpoll McCain by more than three to one among New Hampshire voters who said illegal immigration was their top issue. But after a campaign marked by infighting over the issue, Republican candidates largely agree on the need to tighten security at the border, as expressed in a January 5 debate in New Hampshire.

In the final Democratic debate before the New Hampshire polls, the candidates squabbled over the extent of expanding government health care but they all favor such a move. The Democratic front-runners have also clearly projected a slowdown in free trade agreements, and generally embrace the same ideas on broadening energy alternatives and combating global warming. Outside of economic matters, they generally approve of an early withdrawal of troops from Iraq, just as most Republican candidates, with the exception of Rep. Ron Paul (R-TX), generally support the troop surge in Iraq.

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