McCain targets comeback as focus turns to New Hampshire

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The Independent US

Mike Huckabee's private jet touched down at Manchester airport at 4am yesterday. No one on board, least of all the candidate, had slept en route from Iowa to New Hampshire. By breakfast time, Barack Obama was addressing a meeting of supporters in Portsmouth. There is no rest for the winners.

The instant switch of focus from Iowa to New Hampshire comes as the Granite State prepares to hold its primary on Tuesday, leaving scant time for the victors in Iowa to capitalise on their new-found momentum or for the runners-up in each party to regain their balance.

The stakes here for everyone could not be higher and there are no guarantees for anyone. Indeed, history shows that New Hampshire voters rarely pay much attention to the choice made by Iowans. The caucuses are peculiar to Iowa. New Hampshire, as required by tradition, now takes the spotlight, holding the first fully fledged primary in the 2008 contest. Other states follow with theirs in the weeks ahead.

Moreover, New Hampshire has a strong, but not unbroken record, of picking the candidates who emerge at the end of the process with their respective party's nomination. Thus at campaign events across the state last night, candidates were pressing their cases more furiously than ever.

Of the two winners on Thursday night, Mr Huckabee has arrived in New Hampshire the more vulnerable. Still lagging his Republican rivals in organisational heft and in cash, he also knows this state lacks the large conservative Christian constituency that helped so much in Iowa.

Playing down his appeal to the religious right last night, he said: "What we're seeing is that this campaign is not just about people who have religious fervour. It's about people who love America, but want it to be better and believe that change is necessary and it's not going to happen from within Washington."

Polls before Tuesday's primary suggest a resurgence here for John McCain, the Republican senator and former Vietnam prisoner of war who, in essence, tied in third place in Iowa with Fred Thompson. Mr McCain, who did little campaigning in Iowa, may be poised to secure a surprise win here on Tuesday. A remarkable comeback, if it happens, after months of bad numbers and dwindling campaign cash.

Indeed, the Huckabee win in Iowa was not bad news for McCain, who considers Mitt Romney, the former Massachusetts governor, his more likely rival over the longer term. For that reason, it was Mr Romney he went after yesterday, calling his occasionally negative campaign in Iowa a "little bit desperate". McCain added: "It didn't work in Iowa, I don't think it will work in New Hampshire."

A comeback, of course, is what Hillary Clinton will be hoping for after coming third, just behind John Edwards, on Thursday. Indeed, it was here in New Hampshire that her husband, Bill Clinton, gained his "Comeback Kid" moniker in 1992, even though he came second to Paul Tsongas. Mrs Clinton has led in national polls among the Democrats for months, but is neck-and-neck with Obama in this state.

Nor can she ignore Mr Edwards, who urged voters in New Hampshire last night to join him. "I am the candidate who will fight with every fibre of my being, every single step of the way, for you, for your children and for your grandchildren," he told a crowd of mostly campaign workers in Manchester.

The pressure on a deeply disappointed Mr Romney is intense. He was governor of neighbouring Massachusetts and is a part-time resident of New Hampshire. "It will be a different race here," he told reporters in Portsmouth early yesterday, taking aim at Mr Huckabee and his preacher past. "Mike had a terrific base as a minister," he contended, referring to the results out of Iowa. "He drew on that base, got a great deal of support from it. It was a wonderful strategy that he pursued effectively. I don't think that's the strategy that's going to work in every state."

A wild card for Republicans here is Congressman Ron Paul, an anti-war renegade who has an enthusiastic following in New Hampshire, fuelled by the internet and a handy amount of cash.

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