Obama bolts ahead of Hillary in New Hampshire

He has double-digit lead over his Democrat rival before state’s primary polls.

DEMOCRAT senator Barack Obama has shot to a double-digit opinion poll lead over rival Hillary Clinton ahead of the New Hampshire primary – dealing another ominous blow to her White House hopes.

With hours to go before the pivotal contest today, the candidates are frantically zeroing in on New Hampshire’s large pool of independent voters in the hope of winning the state.

In the Democrat camp, Mr Obama, an African-American senator from Illinois, has clearly benefited from his victory in Iowa last week.

A USA Today/Gallup poll on Sunday showed he had opened up a 13-point lead over the former first lady in New Hampshire – 41 per cent to 28 per cent – while 19 per cent favoured former North Carolina senator John Edwards.

A WMUR/CNN poll, conducted at the weekend, showed him leading Mrs Clinton 39 per cent to 29 per cent.

Earlier polls had shown the race to be a dead heat between the two. The new Republican front runner, Arizona senator John McCain, was also surging ahead of his closest rival Mitt Romney, a former governor of neighbouring Massachusetts, with a four- to six-point advantage in the last two polls.

For Mr McCain and Mr Obama, New Hampshire’s independent voters are critical to cementing their lead. Polls show both men are the early favourites among New Hampshire’s non-aligned voters. They make up a huge 44 per cent, or 375,000, of the registered voters.

Under the state’s rules, which differ from Iowa’s open show of support in caucuses, voters will cast secret ballots and can vote in either party’s contest.

“I am told there is a lot of voters wavering between me and Mr Obama,” Mr McCain said yesterday. “I am kind of pleased the independents have narrowed it down to a choice of two.”

The 71-year-old Vietnam War veteran knows how important this group is. His victory in 2000 over then Texas governor George W. Bush in the state was fuelled by late-deciding independents.

And in 2004, Democrat senator John Kerry won the New Hampshire primary after independent voters gave him 37 per cent of their votes compared with 23 per cent for his rival, former Vermont governor Howard Dean.

New Hampshire has traditionally supported Republicans but recent polls show that, in this year’s race, voters are favouring Democrats, with 68 per cent of independents planning to vote in the Democrat primary.

For Mr McCain, this holds the danger that he could have his base of independent supporters siphoned off by the increasingly popular Mr Obama.

Mrs Clinton, meanwhile, has levelled some of her heaviest attacks against her Democrat rival, hoping to paint him as long on rhetoric but short on substance.

“There is a big difference between talking and acting, between promising and delivering,” she said at a rally in New Hampshire, where she is fighting desperately to avoid a second defeat after coming in third in Iowa after Mr Obama and Mr Edwards.

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