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New Hampshire Goes to Polls in First Primary

Voters filed into polling stations in New Hampshire on Tuesday in the nation's first presidential primary, a crucial test for candidates who only five days ago squared off in the Iowa caucuses.

Sen. John McCain and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney were battling for the top spot amid the crowded Republican field, while Sen. Barack Obama was hoping for a repeat of Iowa, when he won an upset victory over Sen. Hillary Clinton.

Supporters mobbed an upbeat McCain at a Nashua polling station, making it hard for him to reach voters as they filed inside. Noting he outpolled rivals in two tiny northern hamlets that voted before the rest of the state, McCain joked: "It has all the earmarks of a landslide, with the Dixville Notch vote."

Weather was spring-like and the turnout, according to early signs, brisk. At Brookside Congregational Church in Manchester, 50 voters lined up before dawn and people waited in their cars for a parking space after doors opened. When former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee passed fellow GOP candidate Rudy Giuliani outside, Huckabee jokingly asked the former New York mayor for his vote.

"We get along beautifully on the trail," Huckabee said. "No animosity."

Long-shot GOP hopeful Rep. Duncan Hunter attended the vote in Dixville Notch, where results were announced before 12:06 a.m.

"It epitomizes people-to-people politicking," Hunter said minutes before the votes were cast. He received no votes in either Dixville Notch or Hart's Location, where voters also cast ballots just after midnight.

While most New Hampshire residents have to wait until daybreak to vote, those in the two far northern towns have been going to the polls at midnight for decades, under a state law that says municipalities with fewer than 100 people can vote early.

Obama has been drawing large, boisterous crowds since he won the Iowa caucuses, and a spate of pre-primary polls showed him powering to a lead in New Hampshire, too.

"You're the wave, and I'm riding it," he told several hundred voters who cheered him Monday in 40-degree weather after being turned away from an indoor rally filled to capacity.

Clinton runs second in the surveys, with former Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina third, and the former first lady and her aides seemed to be bracing for another setback.

At one stop, Clinton appeared to struggle with her emotions when asked how she copes with the grind of the campaign — but her words still had bite.

"Some of us are ready and some of us are not," she said in remarks aimed at Obama.

Opinion polls showed the Republican race a close one between McCain, the Arizona senator seeking to rebound from last summer's near collapse of his campaign, and Romney, the former governor of Massachusetts.

Romney cast himself as the Republican best able to hold the White House.

After first declining to predict victory in a state where he had led in surveys for months, Romney exuded confidence by the end of the day.

"I'm convinced we're going to win tomorrow," he boasted at a rally for his staff at the campaign's headquarters. He attributed the change of heart to 100,000 telephone calls made by his staff, and his performance in back-to-back nationally televised debates on Saturday and Sunday.

McCain set out on a packed day of campaigning through seven cities. In a snow-draped setting in Keene, there seemed little doubt he had Romney in mind when he said voters would reject negative campaigning.

"I don't care how many attack ads you buy on television," he said.

Romney has run several TV commercials against McCain in New Hampshire, arguing that the senator's immigration plan would offer amnesty for illegal immigrants and painting him as a disloyal Republican for twice opposing President Bush's tax cuts. McCain responded with an ad that includes a quote from The Concord Monitor that suggested Romney was a phony.

From NPR reports and The Associated Press

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