NH shift brings new dynamic to GOP contest


Associated Press

MERRIMACK, N.H.

The political world shifts 1,300 miles east later this week.

And the end of Tuesday’s Iowa presidential caucuses will give way a day later to a very different contest in New Hampshire, thrusting a new set of faces, issues and political challenges onto the Republican presidential contest.

Abortion will yield to taxes and budget deficits. And then there’s something known locally as the curse of the front-runner.

“I don’t think Iowa’s going to have much influence on New Hampshire either way, truthfully,” said Sen. Kelly Ayotte, one of Mitt Romney’s most prominent New Hampshire supporters. “I think they probably don’t like to hear it, but that’s the reality.”

Iowa and New Hampshire voters are more likely to be white and better educated than the national average. But the similarities end there.

Where a relatively small group of conservative activists usually dominate the Iowa Republican caucuses, the nation’s first Republican primary Jan. 10 is open to a broad spectrum of voters: tea party activists, moderates and left-leaning independents alike. That means who you see and what they say on the campaign trail likely will change.

Romney is considered the overwhelming favorite in New Hampshire, where Ron Paul also enjoys a passionate following. And former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman, the only candidate skipping the Iowa caucuses, is lying in wait in the first-in-the-nation primary state.

While the state of the race here today likely will change with the Iowa result, New Hampshire voters delight in upsetting the conventional wisdom. Chalk it up to the state’s fierce independent streak, but pre-primary poll leaders have had mixed success over the years.

Indeed, an Iowa Republican caucus winner has never won a contested New Hampshire presidential primary in the modern era.

The New Hampshire political terrain is so different than Iowa, where influential evangelicals dominate, that some Republicans already are bypassing the state.

Perry plans to head straight from Iowa to South Carolina, the site of the subsequent contest. Bachmann’s campaign reports similar plans, while Santorum hasn’t been active in New Hampshire for months.

New Hampshire is the second least religious state in the nation, according to a 2008 Gallup poll. And Republican voters here are much more likely to support abortion rights and gay marriage than their partisan friends elsewhere.

Look no further than Mike Huckabee, the former pastor who soundly defeated Mitt Romney in the Iowa Republican caucus four years ago. Huckabee would finish a distant third in New Hampshire on his way to fading from the nomination contest ultimately won by the New Hampshire primary victor, Arizona Sen. John McCain.

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