Unusually warm winter weather and intense interest are fueling a strong turnout of voters in the Northeastern state of New Hampshire in the first presidential primary of the 2008 election year. VOA National Correspondent Jim Malone has been talking to voters and has a report.
Voters streamed into a polling station at a church in Manchester to cast their primary ballots.
Among them was Heidi Perry. She voted for Democrat Barack Obama.
"I am a schoolteacher and I just feel that he is going to help with the schools," she said. "I teach here in the city and we are out of paper and supplies. I just liked his demeanor better. I just thought he was for the people and I just liked his calmness."
The latest polls show Obama with a significant lead in New Hampshire in the Democratic primary over Senator Hillary Clinton of New York. An Obama victory following his win last week in the Iowa caucuses would make him the clear frontrunner for the Democratic Party's presidential nomination.
In the Republican race, the polls indicate Senator John McCain of Arizona has a lead over former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney.
Voter Diane Beaudrey of Manchester says leadership and experience were important factors in her decision.
"I voted for John McCain," she noted. "I just think that he is a solid, grounded person, and I respect him. He has done a lot for his country and sacrificed a lot for his country and I think he has got the experience that we need."
But there is a split in the family. Diane's daughter, Ellie, voted Democratic.
"I voted for John Edwards, actually. So, I am more of a Democratic liberal and I just think that he is very globally conscious, and I am trying to think of my future," she explained.
Republican McCain and Democrat Obama are hoping to appeal to independent voters in New Hampshire. They make up more than 40 percent of the electorate and are allowed to vote in either party's presidential primary.
A McCain victory in New Hampshire would put him back in the top tier of Republican contenders along with former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee, who won last week's Iowa caucuses.
Other Republican contenders include former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, former Senator Fred Thompson of Tennessee and Congressmen Ron Paul of Texas and Duncan Hunter of California.
In the Democratic race, the top contenders are Obama, Clinton and Edwards. But New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson did win the support of Jill Swenson from Manchester.
"Bill Richardson. I just like him," she noted. "I was very undecided, but that was one of my main reasons."
Richardson tells VOA he will continue on in the presidential race no matter what happens in New Hampshire, and is focusing on later primaries in some of the Western states.
"In Nevada, we will be strong, Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico, the February 5 [primaries]," he said. "We are making the war the main issue and it is working well. Get out of Iraq, get all the troops out."
Voters in New Hampshire say they are most concerned about the war in Iraq, national security and the domestic economy.
New Hampshire is a key stop on the 2008 presidential campaign trail. In the next few weeks, the campaign will move west and south with presidential nominating contests in Michigan, Nevada, South Carolina and Florida.