Voters in the small New England state of New Hampshire head to the polls Tuesday in the next major test of the 2004 presidential campaign, the New Hampshire presidential primary. Seven Democrats are vying for the right to challenge President Bush in the November election. VOA's National Correspondent Jim Malone has been in "Granite State," spending some time with most of them.
Outside a high school in Nashua, campaign workers for Massachusetts Senator John Kerry are trying to line up more volunteers to help with the get-out-the-vote effort on primary day.
Inside the school, the candidate himself is whipping a large crowd of supporters into a frenzy.
Stand with me and we will take back the White House, send George Bush back to Texas and we will say to the world, mission accomplished," exclaimed Sen. Kerry.
Public opinion polls indicate Senator Kerry has a solid lead in New Hampshire over his six rivals, in large part because of his strong win in the Iowa caucuses.
Democrats here like Harry Potter - yes, that is his real name - say the reason for that is they believe he would be President Bush's toughest opponent in November.
"I'm probably like a lot of Democrats, at least, I want somebody to beat Bush," he said. "And I've come to the conclusion that Kerry, I think, can do it. I think it is very important right now for somebody to be strong on defense and national security issues and with his background as a veteran, I think he can do it."
Former Vermont Governor Howard Dean is struggling to regain momentum after a disappointing third-place finish in Iowa. The polls indicate he is in second-place here in New Hampshire.
"What this campaign has done, which is so special, is to reach out to the 50 percent of Americans who quit voting because they can't tell the difference between Democrats and Republicans anymore and give them a reason to vote," he said.
Most surveys suggest that three candidates are battling for third place, including retired General Wesley Clark who touts his military experience at every campaign stop.
"We are running to bring a higher standard of leadership to America," he said. "I need your help! I need your support! Thank you!"
The other two candidates battling for third place are North Carolina Senator John Edwards and Connecticut Senator Joseph Lieberman.
Senator Edwards has been drawing large crowds and is hoping to build on his surprising second-place finish in Iowa even as he gets to know New Hampshire's notoriously fickle voters.
"And by the way, one of the lessons I've learned is that the people of New Hampshire are very blunt," he said. "And actually, pretty proud of it from what I can tell!"
New Hampshire has held the first in the nation presidential primary since 1920 and voters here are proud of the decisive early role they have in the presidential selection process.
Since 1952, no one has been elected president without finishing either first or second in the New Hampshire primary.
New Hampshire residents expect to see the candidates up close and personal, ask them questions and get straight answers.
"I think we also give points for candidates who are straight-talkers and who don't sound like Washington politicians, 'inside-the-beltway' and so forth, said Dante Scala, a professor of political science at St. Anselm College in Manchester.
Both the candidates and the voters seem to enjoy the ritual of a presidential primary campaign here. Its focus on grassroots campaigning and one-on-one interactions with voters is a throwback to an earlier, simpler age, before television began to dominate political campaigns.
Richard Trask is from neighboring Massachusetts. But he returns to New Hampshire every four years just to experience politics the way it used to be.
"New Hampshire is a very unique place where you can get close and see the candidates and listen to them," he said. "And once the campaign goes beyond New Hampshire, it is not personal politics anymore."
After New Hampshire, the next major test comes on February 3 when seven states including South Carolina will hold primaries, forcing the candidates to disperse their resources and campaign largely through television advertisements.