Tuesday's New Hampshire primary looks to be a key test in the battle for the Republican Party's presidential nomination. The latest polls have put Senator John McCain of Arizona in the lead, followed by former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney. VOA National correspondent Jim Malone has a report from Bedford, New Hampshire.
The New Hampshire primary is demonstrating just how unpredictable the Republican presidential race is this year.
Former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee emerged from relative obscurity to win last week's presidential caucus vote in Iowa. But, in New Hampshire, Huckabee is trailing well behind leaders McCain and Romney.
McCain has a lot riding on the New Hampshire vote, and a victory in Tuesday's primary would cap a remarkable political comeback.
McCain's presidential aspirations appeared all but over six months ago when he dipped badly in the polls, ran low on money and had to restructure his campaign.
McCain is well remembered here for his victory in the 2000 Republican primary over then Texas Governor George W. Bush, who, despite his loss to McCain, went on to the win the party nomination and the presidency.
In this campaign, McCain argues that he is the candidate best able to fend off the challenge of radical Islam.
"We are in a greater struggle that is going to be with us for the next century," said McCain. "And, my friends, I believe that I have the experience and the knowledge and the judgment."
McCain's recent surge in the polls has come largely at the expense of Mitt Romney. Romney held a lead in New Hampshire for months, based in large part on the fact that voters here remember Romney when he was governor of neighboring Massachusetts.
Romney contends his extensive business experience before he became governor makes him an ideal candidate to bring change to Washington.
"But I can tell you, I have been in the economy," said Romney. "I have been there in the real world, and we need a president who knows how the economy works, knows why jobs come and go."
Mike Huckabee is looking to capitalize on his Iowa victory here in New Hampshire. But Huckabee may have to wait until the campaign turns south on January 19 with the Republican primary in South Carolina.
Former Senator Fred Thompson and former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani are trailing behind the leaders in New Hampshire. Thompson hopes to do well in South Carolina, while Giuliani is waiting for larger states like Florida and New York to hold primaries in late January and early February.
Republican voters like this man in Nashua appear concerned about a range of issues, from the war in Iraq to cutting taxes and cutting back on government spending.
"For me, it is where we head with spending in this country and how we do with making sure we win in Iraq and give a free country to those people," he said. "I think a lot of domestic issues as well, [such as] safety in this country."
Political commentator Pat Buchanan is familiar with Republican politics. He worked for former presidents Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan, and won the 1996 New Hampshire Republican primary over Senator Bob Dole, the eventual nominee that year.
Buchanan tells VOA that both McCain and Romney have a lot at stake in Tuesday's primary.
"Well, McCain has to win in New Hampshire or he is finished, I would think," said Buchanan. "And, it looks like he is going to win right now. And, Romney is in real trouble if he loses, but he is not quite finished, because Michigan is a week later, which is his father's home state. His father was governor."
McCain is hoping to draw the support of independent voters in New Hampshire, much as he did in his primary victory over George Bush in 2000. Independents make up about 45 percent of the voters here, and are allowed to vote in either party primary as they wish.
But McCain has stiff competition this year for the support of independents from Democrat Barack Obama. Obama drew a lot of independent voters in Iowa, and has made direct appeals for their support during his campaign stops in New Hampshire.
Recent public opinion polls give Obama a healthy lead over Senator Hillary Clinton in the Democratic race in New Hampshire.