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A New Hampshire Primer: Everything You Need To Know

Sure, the eyes of the world are on Iowa right now, but the New Hampshire primary is a mere five days away, and as soon as the votes are counted in Iowa, it's a guarantee that attention is going to whip to the Granite State faster than you can say "Live Free or Die." Below, a primer on the nation's first primary.

Which candidates have the strongest organization?

We've all read paeans to the power of the Edwards, Obama, and Romney organizations in Iowa. But who's ahead in New Hampshire? On the Democratic side, hands down, the organization battle comes down to Clinton versus Obama. Warm memories and lingering support from Bill Clinton's "comeback" in the 1991 New Hampshire primary have helped Hillary throughout the year. Big names in state politics, including the now-controversial Bill Shaheen, signed up to run her campaign, and she has spent much of her time reconnecting with towns and groups she has met at least once before. But two are playing the numbers game. Clinton's campaign boasts about 100 New Hampshire staffers and said it has made 1.4 million calls to Democratic primary voters, knocked on 162,000 doors since October, and handed out 5,000 yard signs. The Obama campaign claims over 100 workers on the ground, nearly 1.5 million phone calls  more than 340,000 doors knocked on behalf of their man. Between the two small armies, the ground game on January 8 is anybody's guess.

By all accounts, Mitt Romney's field organization is tops among the Republican field, and has been since the summer. John McCain retains a die-hard group of supporters who have been with him since 1999, and of late has focused nearly all his attention on the state, but his organization remains a notch below Romney's. No other candidate comes close--Giuliani made an effort to build an organization, but his inability to do so was a major factor in his decision to focus his advertising dollars on Florida. One wild card: Will Ron Paul be able to effectively use his money and cadre of likable young nerds to make up for his lack of traditional support in this libertarian-leaning state and crack the top three?

What role will Independents play?

As in the Iowa caucuses, registered independent voters may participate in either party's primary. Their disproportionate influence stems from sheer volume: In New Hampshire, independents make up more than 40% of the electorate, both in general and most primary elections. They have accounted for an average of 42% of the vote in the last six New Hampshire Democratic primaries and 35% in the last five Republican votes. And in 2000, over 60% of the New Hampshire undeclared stormed the Republican primary and pushed John McCain over George W. Bush by a landslide.

To gauge just who will benefit this year from this bumper crop of independents, the Iowa results will be instructive. Obama and McCain poll the best among the demographic, and should Obama do well in Iowa, or McCain pull out a strong third-place finish, independents will take a long, hard look at each to decide which primary to join. The conventional wisdom, however, suggests that the Democratic race is the more exciting one this election cycle. Also, it's worth noting that New Hampshire has been trending blue lately, which could make Obama-ites out of independents who choose to vote with the Democrats in 2008.

And it's unwise to discount the libertarian streak among independents in the Live Free or Die state, which could push tax- and big government-loathing Ron Paul into a competitive finish.

How is the youth vote likely to impact the race?

While New Hampshire doesn't have many young people--its median age is 40--the state numbered in the top five nationally for youth turnout (at 58 percent) in the 2004 general election. Similar numbers in this year's primary may well tilt the result in favor of candidates that do well among the young.

Much has been made about Obama's appeal to younger demographics. In New Hampshire both he and Edwards have made appearances at MTV/Rock the Vote sponsored events, while Clinton declined to do so. A November survey, however, suggested that among 18-29 years olds nationally, Clinton held a strong lead among those who identified as Democrats.

But there are, count 'em, thirty accredited universities of varying size throughout the state, where other candidates could gain traction. A December mock poll at the University of New Hampshire put Giuliani and Obama over the top for their parties; with Clinton and Edwards lagging and Paul and McCain tied in second place for the Republicans. New Hampshire voting laws also allow same day registration, which could boost youth participation. Such voters, however, are notoriously flaky, and not always well-informed--participants in the UNH mock poll apparently believed they had already voted in the primary.

What have been the key endorsements in the state? Are there any more big ones on the way?

On the Republican side, the biggest potential endorsement isn't from a local politician or newspaper, but from Fred Thompson, who, depending on the outcome in Iowa, is rumored to be considering dropping out of the race and endorsing John McCain before New Hampshire votes. McCain has already scored the endorsements of the state's four main newspapers: the Union Leader, the Nashua Telegraph, the Concord Monitor, and the Boston Globe (which has significant New Hampshire readership). McCain leads Mitt Romney, who owns a vacation home on Lake Winnipesaukee and was the governor next door for four years, with 18 state legislative endorsements to Mitt's 14, but Romney has scored the highest-profile endorsement, that of Senator Judd Gregg (New Hampshire's other Republican senator, John E. Sununu, faces an uphill battle for re-election and has said he will not endorse during the primary season).

On the Democratic side, Obama has earned the support of the state's two newly elected Democratic members of Congress, Paul Hodes and Carol Shea-Porter, as well as the Globe and the Nashua Telegraph. Clinton has the backing of the Concord Monitor (the conservative Union Leader did not endorse a Democrat) and holds a sizable lead in terms of state legislative endorsements with 57 (versus 34 for John Edwards and 32 for Obama). Edwards has been endorsed by the influential Service Employees International Union in the state. The two most well-known and popular Democrats in the state, Gov. John Lynch and former Gov. Jeanne Shaheen, will remain neutral (though Shaheen's husband is supporting Hillary--see the next item below).

What are the four most important events that have already happened in New Hampshire?

1. Giuliani looks south. Rudy held an early lead in polls among Republican primary voters, but started slipping and soon thereafter announced a major reduction in his advertising presence in the state in order to focus on Florida and the February 5 states. Most of Giuliani's support, which was concentrated among security-oriented voters, seems to have migrated to McCain's column, helping explain his remarkable surge there.

2. The Anti-Endorsement. If the Concord Monitor was looking for a way to increase its visibility, it found it: The newspaper's remarkable, scathing anti-endorsement of Romney as a "phony" gained national media attention, though Romney's poll numbers haven't fallen much.

3. Bill Shaheen's blunder. Though Hillary still stands to benefit from the Shaheens' substantial organizing presence in the state, her campaign suffered a major blow when he was forced to resign as a state campaign co-chair after asking whether Obama might have dealt drugs in college. (Although this may have hurt Hillary more among African-American voters in places like South Carolina than in lily-white New Hampshire.)

4. Obama's gradual rise. New Hampshire, once thought to be a "firewall" for Hillary--not anymore. Obama still looks weaker there than in South Carolina, but in the past two months Obama has cut Hillary's lead from twenty points to around five, without any major catalyzing event.

When the New Hampshire votes are counted, who might drop out?

Barring a major resurgence, Thompson seems unlikely to stick around much beyond New Hampshire, if he even gets that far. A resounding loss to McCain could spell major trouble for Romney, though he remains strong in Michigan and certainly has the resources to compete until February 5, at least.

On the Democratic side, Sens. Chris Dodd and Joe Biden have bowed out following poor showings in Iowa, giving the Saturday New Hampshire debate a short field. Bill Richardson says he has made it to "the final four," and, full of western pride, wants to give it one last shot in Nevada. The three top-tier candidates seem likely to stay in the race through February 5; in 2004, none of the major Democratic candidates dropped out between New Hampshire and South Carolina.

--Dayo Olopade and Josh Patashnik

[Updated Jan. 5