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New Hampshire voters make choice on White House

MANCHESTER, N.H. (Reuters) - New Hampshire voters stood in lines and swarmed polling places to choose candidates for U.S. president on Tuesday, with Hillary Clinton fighting to keep her once high-flying Democratic campaign alive against rival Barack Obama's surge.

Five days after finishing a disappointing third in Iowa, the former first lady trailed Obama by double digits in several state polls but promised she was staying in the race until the Feb. 5 "Super Tuesday" round of nominating contests.

A supporter of Democratic presidential candidate U.S. Senator Barack Obama greets voters outside a polling station in Manchester, New Hampshire, January 8, 2008. (REUTERS/Jim Young)

Obama, an Illinois senator aiming to be the first black president, looked for a New Hampshire win that would solidify his hold on the top spot in the campaign to be the Democratic candidate in November and deal a second consecutive humiliating loss to Clinton, the former front-runner.

In a hard-fought Republican battle, Sen. John McCain of Arizona held a narrow lead in state polls over Mitt Romney, the former governor of neighboring Massachusetts who has poured tens of millions of dollars of his personal wealth into the race.

Campaign and state officials reported large crowds at some polling stations, aided by the unseasonably balmy weather. There were predictions of a record turnout during the most wide open U.S. presidential race in more than 50 years, with no sitting president or vice president seeking the nominations.

Polls close at 8 p.m. EST (0100 GMT Wednesday), with results expected to begin rolling in quickly.

New Hampshire's primary is the second high-profile battleground, following Iowa, in the state-by-state process of choosing Republican and Democratic candidates for November's election to succeed President George W. Bush.

The candidates made a late drive for support, visiting voting stations and holding rallies.

"The American people have decided for the first time in a very long time it is time for change in America," Obama told a crowd at Dartmouth College.

Clinton, a New York senator, and Romney are both under intense pressure to revive their campaigns after disappointing showings in Iowa. Romney finished second in Iowa to former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee.

Huckabee and former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani ran into each other at a Manchester polling site, with Huckabee jokingly asking for his support before they wished each other well, a Giuliani aide said.


A new Reuters/C-SPAN/Zogby poll showed Obama expanding his lead over Clinton to 13 points, 42 percent to 29 percent, with former North Carolina Sen. John Edwards third at 17 percent.

McCain led Romney 36 percent to 27 percent in the Republican race, with Huckabee at 10 percent.

Clinton greeted a handful of supporters at a Manchester polling place before dawn and made similar visits in Nashua, Derry and Concord.

Asked if she needed to win New Hampshire, she referred to the "Super Tuesday" round of 22 nominating contests. "I think the nominating process ends at midnight on February 5," she said. "I look forward to campaigning across the country."

Her husband, former President Bill Clinton, said Obama had gotten a free pass from the media on his claims to have consistently opposed the Iraq war.

"Give me a break. This whole thing is the biggest fairy tale I've ever seen," Clinton said.

Obama shrugged off the remarks, telling reporters he had been "knocked around" by the press last summer when he trailed Hillary Clinton by 20 points in polls "and I didn't hear the Clinton campaign complaining about how terrible the press was."

"I understand they are frustrated right now," Obama said of the Clintons.

Romney predicted the New Hampshire vote would be close and looked ahead. "Republicans are going to get behind me and independents are going to get behind me and we're going to end up winning this thing," he said.

The tiny mountain hamlet of Dixville Notch opened the state's voting shortly after midnight, as it has for every election since 1960, in a balloting display more media circus than civic event.

Before a room full of cameras, a few of the town's registered voters cast ballots. Obama won seven of the 10 Democratic votes, and McCain came out on top on the Republican side.

Huckabee said the gains in the race made by he and Obama showed the election was not "set in stone" and voters were restless for new faces.

"I think this is why you're seeing this Obama phenomenon on the Democratic side. It really speaks to the hunger in this country that they just don't want someone who's been inside the Washington bubble," Huckabee told Reuters.

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