The U.S. presidential election is nearly a year and a half away, but voters in the northern state of New Hampshire will get their chance to help select the Republican and Democratic parties' candidates in January, in the nation's first presidential primary election. Campaigning is already increasing in tempo in New Hampshire, where all Democratic presidential hopefuls appeared together recently for a nationally televised debate about the Iraq war, domestic security, health care and other issues that are important to Americans.

You can find them on the streets.  You can find them on the phones.  People like Fran Egbers work as foot soldiers in the volunteer armies recruited by all major political candidates. Their mission is to get the candidate's message out to the public and rally support. New Hampshire is a state where every vote counts.

"It is an independent state,? Egbers explains.  ?It had been more conservative up until last year. [Now is] The first time ever that we have a Democratic [state] House and [state] Senate in New Hampshire. And we went blue, and we'll get much bluer in the years to come."

In American political jargon, a "blue state" favors Democratic candidates at election time. Although New Hampshire is now considered "blue," a majority of voters say they are independent or undecided. 

U.S. Senator Christopher Dodd is one of at least eight presidential "hopefuls" in the Democratic Party, hoping to become the party's official presidential candidate next year. He is up against big names like Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. But New Hampshire is known for being unpredictable in primary elections, and Dodd hopes support from here will help him win at the Democrats' nominating convention next year in late August.

"One thing I can tell you for certain is, it's very open,? Dodd says.  ?The idea that this is down to a two-person or three-person race, they'll tell you in New Hampshire and they'll tell you in Iowa -- that's not the case at all."

Christopher Dodd is hoping to reach voters through his volunteers and through his message, delivered on this occasion by the Cable News Network and a local television station. Those media outlets co-hosted the Democratic hopefuls' live, nationally televised debate from Saint Anselm College in New Hampshire's largest city [Manchester].

Not far away from the Saint Anselm campus, supporters of Senator Barack Obama gathered at a pub to watch the debate and cheer on their favorite. Obama has been in the U.S. Senate for less than two and a half years, but his political popularity is growing rapidly nationwide.

Like most of his competitors, the young senator from Illinois vows to bring U.S. troops home from Iraq. That promise resonates with younger voters like Jared Milrad, who sees the debate as a chance for Obama to reach a wider audience.

"There are still some people, particularly in my generation, that don't even know this guy,? Milrad says.  ?So it's going to have to be in people's homes, it's going to have to be on the streets [that we recruit voters]. A couple of months ago, we were up here for [a] 'Draft Obama' [rally] and we were just walking the street and trying to connect with people there. I think it's really going to have to be reaching out. It's not going to be this same old spin I've seen growing up.?

Presidential campaigns in this country are more than just popularity contests and political spin. There are real issues that people in New Hampshire are concerned about, such as health care and the war in Iraq. Connecting with those voters and offering a solution for their concerns are how candidates gain support. It is also how their campaigns gain political momentum in the months leading up to the New Hampshire primary in January. That first statewide popular vote will show which candidates really are on the road to the White House.