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The final hours in New Hampshire


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Twenty-eight hours into a blistering, 36-hour campaign tour of New Hampshire, John Edwards told a group of several hundred onlookers packed into a high school lobby in the southern coastal town of Hampton, that "we're going to surprise people tomorrow."

By the time you read this, tomorrow will have arrived, and the New Hampshire primaries will be over. Polls show Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton with sizeable leads over Edwards in the Democratic field. But pollsters have a tricky time predicting behavior in New Hampshire, where more than 40 percent of the population is unaffiliated with a party, and many consider candidates until the final hour.

A CNN/WMUR poll released late Sunday, for example, placed Edwards at 16 percent—far behind Obama and Clinton—but it tallied a mere 6 percent of likely Democratic primary voters who were still undecided. According to many in New Hampshire, that number may be misleading.

About half of the voters who agreed to speak with the Indy as they walked through a middle-school parking lot on their way to a polling station in Derry said they were still trying to make up their minds.

"Probably Obama," one young woman said.

"Can I be honest?" a middle-aged man asked. "I'm torn between Obama and [Bill] Richardson, and I probably won't decide until I get there, to tell you the truth."

At a Sunday rally in Derry, Obama asked the audience of about 1,000 if anyone was still undecided. About two-thirds of the people in the room raised their hands. Of the four people the Indy interviewed there, only one was decided; she was voting for Clinton.

Mark and Joyce Waterhouse attended the Derry rally to help them decide among the top three Democratic candidates. Joyce referred to Edwards and Obama as "candidates of integrity," but said she couldn't say the same of Clinton.

"I want to like him," Mark Waterhouse said of Edwards. "I like his message; it's the only one that has made an issue of corporate corruption of government. I don't think that resonates with a lot of people, which is an important point."

Joyce said that New Hampshire was "slowly turning into a blue state," largely due to Bush's presidency. She predicted more independents would vote in this Democratic primary than in years past.

Asked if he would consider a candidate's viability at the voting booth, Mark Waterhouse said, "I think it's important to kill the conservatism of a generation. That's what I want this election to be about."

At a rally in Dover late Monday night, Brigit Ordway, a 50-year-old volunteer with the Edwards campaign, said she believed the former North Carolina senator could win, citing the self-selection of caller ID and the state's resentment toward predictions.

"That's what happened with McCain," she said, referring to the Arizona senator's upset of George W. Bush in the 2000 Republican primary.

Ordway said she "loves" Obama too, but finally decided on Edwards because of his ability to answer tough questions, something Obama has not done in New Hampshire.

Ray Bridges, who attended the Dover rally with his girlfriend, an Edwards supporter, said he was still deciding between Edwards and McCain. He said he typically votes Republican, but he liked Edwards' plan for universal health care and his focus on the middle class. Last year, he was laid off from his job as a manufacturer of auto interior parts.

"A lot of people don't realize that—young, old, there's no reason anybody should go without health care, ever," he said. "If you're an American, you should be taken care of."

He added of insurance companies, which Edwards has targeted in his stump speech, "I hope that they do butt heads with these people—it's just outrageous."

Part of Edwards' stump speech included a reference to Nataline Sarkisyan, a 17-year-old leukemia patient who died last month waiting for her insurance company to approve a liver transplant. On Monday, her family joined the Edwards campaign.

Nataline's brother, Bedig, said he was campaigning with Edwards, instead of mourning his sister at home, because he promised her that he tell the world her story.

"I promised her the world needs to change," he said, in an emotional testimony that broke up the typical polish of Edwards' 20-minute stump speech. "When I look over at Sen. Edwards, and he talks about change, I believe him. I've seen his résumé. He's fought against these companies. This is who I'm going with."

One day earlier, a Clinton aide accused Edwards of using the Sarkisyan family, and others, as "talking points." Edwards fired back, in a rare moment of baring his teeth, telling reporters that the Clinton campaign "has no conscience."

At a Clinton rally in Hampton, shortly after the press circulated that story on Sunday, Matthew Van de Mark said he would vote for either Edwards or Clinton, based on their health care plans.

"Even with medical insurance, it's still a nightmare," he said of the current system.

He attended an Edwards rally the day before in Lebanon, and was impressed by Edwards' response to an attendee who called his health-care plan "patchwork" during the Q&A session, a format Clinton began incorporating into her speeches.

"You've got 47 million people without coverage," Edwards said in Lebanon. "We got millions more who are terrified about losing their coverage. There's a huge division in America. Some people believe what the two of you believe—there's a great argument for single-payer. But there are a lot of people who don't. What I want to do is get universal health care in place quickly and get people covered quickly."

In Hampton on Monday, Edwards tried desperately to insert one final distinction between him and the Democratic front-runners:

"You tell your friends and neighbors, and anybody you talk to, because we don't have much time; if they're choosing between John Edwards, Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, and if they care about this issue, I am the only one who is completely opposed to the building of more nuclear power plants."

On Election Day in Derry, Edwards' message reached some, though they ended up voting for other candidates. Terry Coleman, an African American in a largely white state, had never voted before. He said he admired Edwards' assertiveness and heartfelt message, but the excitement Obama had generated among his college-aged employees finally drew him to the voting booth.


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