New Hampshire voters head to the polls
February 1, 2000
Web posted at: 6:59 a.m. EST (1159 GMT)
MANCHESTER, New Hampshire (CNN) -- For months -- years, really -- the New Hampshire political landscape has belonged to the presidential candidates. Tuesday, it belongs to the voters as residents of the Granite State cast their ballots in the New Hampshire primary.
Twenty-nine voters began early, voting just after midnight in the small northern community of Dixville Notch -- the first-in-the-state polling place for the first-in-the-nation primary. The six Democrats and 23 Republicans favored Texas Gov. George W. Bush and former New Jersey Sen. Bill Bradley.
State officials expect a record 351,000 voters to head to polling places to perform their traditional role of clarifying the presidential field. Although it is no longer true that a candidate must win New Hampshire to become president -- Bill Clinton broke that jinx in 1992 -- a poor showing here still appears almost certain to snuff out the chances of a presidential candidate.
"I urge you to go to the polls. If you're for me, bring some friends with you," said Bush, who is still considered the clear the front-runner in national Republican polls. But late surveys indicate Bush, like former Sen. Bob Dole of Kansas in 1996, may be on the receiving end of an unwelcome message from the state's voters.
Many polls -- including a CNN/USA Today/Gallup tracking poll of Sunday -- indicate Bush could lose to Sen. John McCain of Arizona. And the news for Vice President Al Gore, who faces a stiff challenge on the Democratic side from Bradley, is only slightly better right now. Gore holds a small lead in most surveys.
McCain said Monday that he is "confident of victory" in New Hampshire on Tuesday night. "The message is going to be sent from New Hampshire to America and the world that we're going to give the government back to the people of the United States, take it out of the hands of the special interests, the big money people, and give it back to you," McCain told supporters at a rally in Keene.
"The people of New Hampshire are not going to be fooled by Sen. Bradley's last-minute, manipulative, negative, politics-as-usual campaign," Gore told a rally in Somersworth, alluding to Bradley's earlier vow not to attack his rival. The language between the two has grown increasingly strident in recent days.
A long day's campaigning continued into the night Monday, with several candidates holding rallies and Bush doing some last-minute campaigning at a bowling alley. Republican Alan Keyes held a long campaign event with music by The Drifters, and Gore held what was billed as an open meeting with undecided voters.
Most of the candidates plan a round of voter meeting-and-greeting for Tuesday morning -- creating a sense of casualness that belies what will be happening at their campaign headquarters. For months, the campaigns have built get-out-the-vote efforts considered a major key to winning here; phone banks in campaign offices across the state will be busy as volunteers and staff call voters to make sure they go to the polls.
Bush's campaign refused to disclose his plans for Tuesday. Instead, reporters wishing to watch him shake hands and make his last-minute pitch for votes would have to meet him at his hotel early Tuesday, when he plans to leave for the day, spokeswoman Janna Nuzum said.
"I know that's unholy of us," she said.
For some candidates, Tuesday's results are likely to be a bitter pill. Republican Gary Bauer, whose socially conservative message has not attracted much support, is likely to finish in the low single digits if polling numbers hold true. Such a finish in New Hampshire usually triggers party pressure to leave the race.
It was a question he faced repeatedly Monday, when Bauer also faced the embarrassment of accidentally falling off a stage during a pancake 'flip-off' campaign event.
"I'm a fighter," he told reporters Monday. "I've outlasted some big names, including Elizabeth Dole and Orrin Hatch.
"I'm doing this," he continued, "because I have superior confidence to fight for conservative ideals as much as Gore and Clinton have in fighting for their liberal ideals."
Publisher Steve Forbes, who finished second in last week's Iowa caucuses, may face some of the same pressure if he fails to finish third or better in New Hampshire. However, with the independent resources available to him because of his wealth, Forbes appears unlikely to succumb to such pressure.