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Independent voters to shape NH primary again?
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The fate of both Republican and Democratic candidates in New Hampshire rests in the hands of independent voters in the country's first 2008 presidential primary, observers are speculating.


Independent voters, who played an active role in Barack Obama's overwhelming victory in the Iowa Democratic caucuses last week, would continue to shape the primary here.


Official statistics say there are 850,836 registered voters in New Hampshire, with 44 percent being independent, 26 percent Democratic and 30 percent Republican.


The independents, who represent the biggest share of the electorate, are allowed to vote in either party primary. Polls have shown tremendous support for Obama among independents.


According to a CNN poll, Obama pocketed 44 percent of ballots from Iowan independent voters while former First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton won only 17 percent.


Exit polls were showing that Obama and Clinton were neck and neck in the race, although earlier surveys said that Obama was set to seize victory in the primary.


The Illinois senator's call for "change" and a "united America" once again prevailed among the New Hampshire independent voters, with 74 percent saying they would vote for him among Democratic candidates, the CNN poll said.


"I appreciate his policies in education, among others, and I believe he can have a different way to push for changes by unifying the country not making it divided," Paula Izbicki, a Manchester teacher, told Xinhua outside a polling station, adding that she had just made up her mind on the eve of voting day.


Inspired by Obama's vote-winning strategy, other candidates, both Democrats and Republicans, also claimed themselves to be an "agent of change" in an attempt to woo independent voters while consolidating their base, including Clinton, who said she was experienced in making changes.


New Hampshire could deliver devastating results to the former first lady, who came third in the Iowa caucuses, if Obama won the primary here, observers said.


For Republican-inclined independent voters, John McCain's experience in defense and foreign affairs is more convincing. The CNN poll showed that the Arizona Senator is the first choice among Republican candidates to 71 percent of independent voters.


New Hampshire is usually considered the most conservative in the northeast and has, historically, voted Republican except for voting for Bill Clinton in 1992 and 1996 instead of a Republican candidate.


However, it has become a "swing state" in recent years during national and local elections. For example, it was the only U.S. state to vote for George W. Bush in the 2000 election and then switch to the Democratic candidate four years later.


The Bush administration's unsatisfying performance with the budget deficit and national defense, as well as an influx of Democratic-inclined immigrants among other factors, has helped transform New Hampshire from a conservative stronghold to a politically diverse area, and increase the number of independent voters, who can vote for either the Democratic or Republican parties during a primary.


New Hampshire independent voters proved their decisive role in the 2000 primary when Bush won over most Republican voters but still lost to McCain who seized most independent votes.


(Xinhua News Agency January 9, 2008)

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