MANCHESTER, NEW HAMPSHIRE – U.S. presidential candidates, including billionaire Donald Trump and Democrat Hillary Clinton, fanned out across snowy New Hampshire seeking to convert undecided voters with just hours to spare before Tuesday’s crucial primary.
The Granite State takes the spotlight as Republican supporters determine whether a more mainstream candidate — Sen. Marco Rubio or one of the three governors in the race — gains ground on front-runner Trump and his nearest rival, the arch-conservative Sen. Ted Cruz.
With everything to play for in the nation’s first primary after last week’s Iowa caucuses, most of the nine remaining Republicans in the race blanketed the state Monday, pressing the flesh at coffee shops, middle schools, Elks lodges and town halls in a mad dash for support.
Snow had begun falling heavily in the state by Monday afternoon, creating a last-minute obstacle for voters and candidates alike.
Trump is well ahead in polls, and it is a fierce battle for second place.
A victory or strong second — or even third-place — showing can propel a candidate onward in the race toward South Carolina and Nevada, while a poor showing will likely mark an end to some candidates’ White House dreams for 2016.
Democrats made their final pitches, too, as Clinton was left scrambling to narrow the gap against her insurgent challenger, the political revolutionary Sen.Bernie Sanders, who may well gallop to victory in the state.
The RealClearPolitics poll average shows Sanders leading 53.3 percent to 40.5 percent in New Hampshire.
Clinton won Iowa by a hair, but New Hampshire is essentially Sanders territory, and the independent senator from neighboring Vermont is keen to show that his campaign, built on economic fairness for all, is no fluke and can give the former secretary of state a run for her money deep into primary season.
“For all those of you who are still deciding, still shopping, I hope I can close the deal between now and the time the polls close,” Clinton told a crowd at a rally in Manchester.
It is a more volatile affair on the GOP side, with fully 30 percent of voters still undecided ahead of the primary, according to a CNN poll released Sunday.
Trump was seeking to reclaim his edge and Rubio sought to regain composure after taking a drubbing in Saturday night’s debate when New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie eviscerated the first-term senator for regurgitating scripted talking points.
It appeared to be do-or-die for the governors in the establishment lane — Christie, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, and Ohio Gov. John Kasich.
Kasich’s stock has steadily risen in New Hampshire, and he has signaled that a poor showing here would likely mean the end of his campaign.
Bush, who tangled with Trump in Saturday’s Republican debate, hardened his attacks on the real estate magnate, calling him unfit to be president.
“You aren’t just a loser, you’re a liar and a whiner,” Bush, the candidate hitting out hardest against The Donald, added on Twitter Monday.
Trump, who for months packed thousands into his campaign rallies while keeping crowds at arm’s length, was engaging in more traditional retail politics in New Hampshire, holding four scheduled events Monday.
For Jack Jordan, a sea captain who lost his job one month ago, it was too late. Fed up with the front-runner’s bombast and arrogance, he said he has traded “nasty” Trump for Cruz, who won Iowa.
“It’s just too much,” Jordan told AFP in Keene, where he listened to Cruz address supporters.
“I don’t want someone representing me who’s that mean.”
Clinton, trailing Sanders by an average of 12.8 points in New Hampshire, has launched a full court press, enlisting husband Bill Clinton as the ultimate campaign surrogate. The popular former president has hammered Sanders for his supporters’ “sexist” attacks on Hillary and for peddling an unaffordable single-payer health care plan.
Mirthia Prince, a 17-year-old student who will be eligible to vote in November, said she was “divided,” and was awaiting Clinton’s rally in Manchester Monday after seeing Sanders speak.
She was leaning toward Clinton. “I like her goals, she’s very experienced, she’s very realistic” and can get things done, she said.
“Of course, it doesn’t hurt that she’s a woman. It would be nice to have her in the White House.”