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While Candidates Battle in Iowa, McCain Rises in N.H.

Tuesday, 01 Jan 2008 06:56 PM

White House foes hunted down last wavering voters two days before Iowa's cliffhanger first nominating clash, as Republican John McCain made a splash in New Hampshire, which votes next week.

In the penultimate full day Tuesday on the trail before the Iowa caucuses, Democrat Barack Obama basked in a poll giving him a surprise seven point lead, but rival Hillary Clinton refused to cede any ground.

"We stand on the brink of something very, very special here in Iowa," Obama told 400 cheering supporters thrilled by a trademark soaring speech delivered in a crammed school gymnasium.

"Now after 10 months it looks like it might just work ... the polls look good," he said, but warned against complacency.

Arizona Senator John McCain meanwhile registered his first opinion poll lead in the Republican race in New Hampshire, which with Iowa, makes up a one-two punch which could go a long way to shaping Republican and Democratic nominees.

The 7News/Suffolk University poll had McCain ahead of rival Mitt Romney 31 to 25 percent in the northeastern state, after being written off earlier this year over a cash crunch and unpopular stands on Iraq and illegal immigration.

The Vietnam war prisoner and American hero would, at 72 be the oldest president ever inaugurated for a first term.

"This is going to come down to the wire and people are not going to make up their minds until the very end," McCain told CNN in New Hampshire.

Candidates also unveiled new, inspirational videos, hoping to influence voters huddled around their televisions watching traditional New Year's Day college football games.

"Many are pessimistic, I am not ... our next president must unleash the promise and innovation of the American people," said Romney, in a sunny ad in sharp contrast to his negative attacks spots on his rivals.

Romney, a former Massachusetts governor, is now under severe pressure with ex-Baptist preacher Mike Huckabee ahead of him in some Iowa polls and now trailing McCain in New Hampshire. He needs both states to build up heat behind a nationwide challenge.

Clinton's top strategist meanwhile hit back at Obama in the war of political spin over polls, seizing on two surveys showing her leading.

"Voters should understand this is a very close race, and that their participation on caucus night could make all of the difference," Mark Penn said.

Clinton aides said a Des Moines Register survey, which had Obama on 32 percent, the former first lady on 25 percent and ex-senator John Edwards on 24 percent, overstated the role independent voters would play in the caucuses.

They said in the 2004 turnout model been used, Clinton would have led by two points.

Deepening the confusion, two new polls published Tuesday had Clinton leading. A Zogby poll had Clinton leading Obama 30 percent to 26 percent. A CNN/Opinion Research poll has her on 33 percent, Obama on 31 and John Edwards on 22.

The spat between the two camps revealed the possible key to the caucuses -- if Obama can get the legions of previously fickle young and first-time caucus goers to show up on Thursday, he has a good chance of victory.

Clinton, though also targeting first-time caucus goers, holds events packed with older, and female voters -- a demographic more likely to caucus in large numbers.

Edwards Tuesday took out an advertisement in the Register, pointedly suggested Obama might be a fresh face, but was not tough enough.

"Why on earth would we expect the corporate powers and their lobbyists, who make billions by selling out the middle-class, to just give up their power because we ask them nicely?" Edwards wrote.

Among Republicans, the Register poll had former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee holding his lead on 32 percent over the ex-governor of Massachusetts Mitt Romney on 26 percent.

Arizona Senator John McCain, was third among Republicans in Iowa on 13 percent -- raising the prospect of a morale boosting showing in a state where he was not expected to do well.

The Washington Post reported Clinton and Obama had both raised a stunning 100 million dollars to finance their campaigns in 2007, the first time two hopefuls hit the threshold before any votes were cast.

© 2008 Agence France Presse. All rights reserved.


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