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CNN Today

New Hampshire Primary: State Officials Predict Record Turnout

Aired February 1, 2000 - 1:21 p.m. ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

LOU WATERS, CNN ANCHOR: After untold numbers of speeches and those multi-handshakes and the TV spots and the rubber chicken dinners and all, it's finally here: the primary day in New Hampshire.

NATALIE ALLEN, CNN ANCHOR: The pancake flipping -- we've got it all. Not only that, the very first results are already in.

So let's go to CNN's Frank Sesno for the voting, the turnout and the totals, and the last-minute campaigning -- Frank.

FRANK SESNO, CNN ANCHOR: All of that and maple syrup, too. The tiny totals, as they are, we'll get to those in just a moment.

But after months of attention paid to the candidates, today the vote -- the focus does shift to the voters. And based upon the favorable weather and the closeness of the races, state officials here in New Hampshire today are predicting possibly a record turnout for this first-in-the-nation primary.

Speaking of turnout, all the major candidates got out early this morning. But after a round of meeting and greeting voters, Texas Governor George W. Bush said he planned to head indoors to watch a movie with his wife and daughters. Behind in the polls to John McCain, his chief Republican rival, Bush is predicting victory nonetheless.

And as we've stressed before, for McCain, today is critical to his chances of mounting a national challenge to Bush. McCain said today he's intent on winning, but if he does not, he says, he's proud of the fight he has waged.

For the Democrats today, Bill Bradley, in particular, is in need of a strong showing. Bradley emerged on primary day with the latest polls suggesting he's trailing Al Gore. Campaign aides say he'll fight on regardless of the outcome here until Democrats nationwide have their say in the sweep of primaries next month. Bradley himself is making no predictions, though he does assert he's "closing fast."

And for his part, the vice president poured coffee for potential voters this morning. Despite the polls that show him ahead, this Democratic race, like the Republican contest, appears highly competitive here on voting day. Either race could turn on the Independent vote, or voters making their minds up at the very last minute, even as they cast their ballots. Across the state, polling stations will close at 8:00 tonight. And from early indications, as we mentioned, some sites could see a very busy day right until closing.

CNN's Charles Zewe is at a Manchester polling station. He joins us now live.

Charles, what are you seeing?

CHARLES ZEWE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, what we've been seeing all morning here, Frank, is a lot of heavy activity, people turning out in large numbers. This is a precinct in the northwestern part of Manchester, in ward 12, that has voted a little bit more than 25 percent of its total registration of about 4,000 people.

But, interestingly enough, what's been going on here, if I can borrow your little registration card, is that about 176 people have shown up here today to fill out this -- this is a first-time voter registration card -- and they have voted for the first time. Independents here number about a little bit more than 1,000 people. It's a precinct that, overall, is about a little bit more than 40 some odd percent -- 48 percent Republican, the rest Democrat, and then about 20 percent Independent.

And what happens is, and the real power of the Independent in this election is that when they come over here as Independents, they can say what they want. They walk over here to Lilly (ph) and Ralph (ph) and say they want a Democrat or a Republican ballot, and then walk in and actually cast those ballots. So that is the real power of these Independents, particularly in a tight election like the Republican contest may or may not be here tonight.

People have been coming here all day today. They expect that by the time the voting is finished here, that they will get pretty much of a big turnout here, maybe on the order of about the 70 percent number that the secretary of state's office was talking about here in Manchester. Statewide, they expect about 422,000 people to cast ballots today -- Frank.

SESNO: Now, Charles, we see the turnout, we hear you talking about that. How about the enthusiasm? Can you measure that just anecdotally from the people you're talking to? They really into this thing?

ZEWE: They really are. I mean, people here are excited about this election, they are interested in coming out to vote. And we've talked to any number of people here this morning. They are very concerned about voting in this election. They want to make their points for whomever they're supporting here today. And we've seen that determination particularly among Independent voters. As I said earlier, got about 176 people who've already registered for the very first time today to vote, and we won't know in terms of voter turnout until the election is over tonight, exactly how many people turn out, because so many people are showing up deciding to vote for the very first time.

SESNO: All right, Charles Zewe at a polling place in Manchester, thanks. We'll be back to you later in the day.

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