Rattled Clinton decides on get-tough strategy

HILLARY Clinton yesterday launched a fightback to prevent the state of New Hampshire from swinging to her rival, Barack Obama, in the race for nomination as the Democratic candidate for the presidency of the United States.

The former First Lady revealed a new get-tough strategy following a televised weekend debate in which she expressed frustration that Mr Obama has become characterised as the favourite choice of voters seeking change.

"There's a big difference between talking and action, between talking and performing and I am going to make that case to as many people in New Hampshire as I possibly can," she told supporters in the city of Manchester.

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The state's primary election tomorrow is the next battleground in the state-by-state process of choosing Republican and Democratic candidates for November's election to replace George Bush.

New Hampshire is vital to efforts by Mrs Clinton, and the Republican candidate Mitt Romney, to revitalise their campaigns after disappointing showings in Iowa last week.

Mrs Clinton, a New York senator, is seeking to become the first woman president. Mr Romney, a wealthy former governor of Massachusetts, would be the first Mormon president.

Mrs Clinton has reason to be concerned. Mr Obama, days after winning Iowa soundly ahead of former Democratic Senator John Edwards and third-place finisher Mrs Clinton, has pulled into a virtual dead heat with Mrs Clinton in New Hampshire.

On the Republican side, rivals Mr Romney and John McCain, the winner of the 2000 New Hampshire primary over former Texas governor Mr Bush, are also deadlocked as the White House races in both parties tightened.

Mandy Grunwald, a campaign strategist for Mrs Clinton, said: "We're in a tough race here and it's time to make some comparisons."

The risk for Mrs Clinton is turning off those voters who might see the strategy as negative politics. The Edwards campaign, noting Mrs Clinton's performance during the debate on the ABC television network on Saturday, said in an e-mail: "Change won and the status quo lost it."

Mr Obama, an Illinois senator, took some swipes at Mrs Clinton in front of a packed audience at Manchester's Palace Theatre, saying he was running for president "not because I feel it's somehow my turn".

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He added: "For many months I have been teased, almost derided, for talking about hope.

"We saw it in the debate last night when one of my opponents said we can't just offer the American people 'false hopes' of what we can give them. False hopes?"

Mr Romney needs to win or finish high in New Hampshire to maintain his credibility, and is threatened by Mr McCain, the 71-year-old Arizona senator who clashed with Mr Romney during the Saturday debate.

"He talks about changing Washington. But he's been there so long, he's got so many lobbyists at each elbow, he's worked so long – in many cases, he's a maverick against his own party," Mr Romney said.

Mr McCain, who is competing with Mr Obama for New Hampshire's large numbers of independent voters, those who are not registered members of either the Democratic or Republican party, rejected Mr Romney's claim that he has not been for change.

He told the CBS network's programme, Face the Nation that his record in the Senate had been one where he had "tried to eliminate waste and unnecessary spending".

Also looking for an edge was another Republican contender, the former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee, who won Iowa with big support from Christian evangelicals, but who may not be able to repeat that in New Hampshire.

Mr Huckabee and Mr McCain both took on Mr Romney during the Saturday debate.

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Mr Huckabee told the Fox News channel he and Mr McCain had "created a brotherhood here" because both have come under withering attack from Mr Romney.

He said he would be delighted with a third-place finish in New Hampshire to propel him into presumably friendlier territory in South Carolina on 19 January.

Among the weaker contenders on the Republican side is libertarian long-shot Ron Paul, who has raised millions in campaign funds but has been unable to translate that into wide voter support.


LATEST opinion polls last night showed Democratic hopeful Barack Obama in a virtual dead-heat with former front-runner Hillary Clinton in New Hampshire, two days before the state's presidential nominating contest.

The Reuters/C-SPAN/Zogby poll also showed Republican rivals Mitt Romney and John McCain effectively deadlocked as the White House races in both parties tightened ahead of tomorrow's primary.

About half of the polling in the four-day "tracking" survey was conducted after the Iowa caucuses last Thursday, when Mr Obama and Republican Mike Huckabee, right, sailed to easy wins in the opening test of the US presidential campaign.

Mr Obama, an Illinois senator vying to be America's first black president, pulled to within one point of Mrs Clinton in the New Hampshire stage of the Democratic race, according to the poll, and experts agreed her lead was statistically insignificant because of a 3.4-point margin of error.

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Mrs Clinton, a New York senator and former First Lady, led Mr Obama by 31 per cent to 30 per cent. Before Iowa's caucuses, Mrs Clinton led Mr Obama by six points.

"We are seeing clear movement in Mr Obama's direction, from Clinton," pollster John Zogby said. "There isn't much time for her to regroup here."

Mr Romney, the former Massachusetts governor who lost in Iowa to Mr Huckabee, gained two points to move ahead of Mr McCain by one point, 32 per cent to 31 per cent – also well within the margin of error.

Mr Huckabee, a Baptist minister and former Arkansas governor, was in third place with 12 per cent. "It's too close to call on the Republican side," Mr Zogby said.

• Bookmakers William Hill say Mrs Clinton was no longer the clear favourite for the presidency, offering 13/8 on both her and Mr Obama.