Clinton is battling hard to avoid a 2nd defeat

Today is crucial for candidates on both sides

Published: Tuesday, Jan. 8 2008 12:58 a.m. MST

Sen. Barack Obama squeezes honey into his tea Monday as he talks with John Taylor of Wilmot, N.H., at a coffee shop. Obama is leading other Democrats in the polls and has been drawing large crowds since he won the Iowa caucus last week.

Chip Somodevilla, Getty Images

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MANCHESTER, N.H. — Her voice quavering, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton struggled Monday to avoid a highly damaging second straight defeat in the Democratic presidential race. Republicans John McCain and Mitt Romney scrapped for success on the eve of a New Hampshire primary that neither could afford to lose.

"You're the wave, and I'm riding it," Sen. Barack Obama, the new Democratic front-runner, told several hundred voters who cheered him in 40-degree weather after being turned away from an indoor rally filled to capacity.

Obama has been drawing large, boisterous crowds since he won the Iowa caucus last week, and a spate of pre-primary polls showed him powering to a lead in New Hampshire as well.

Clinton runs second in the surveys, with former Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina third, and the former first lady and her aides seemed to be bracing for another setback.

At one stop, she appeared to struggle with her emotions when asked how she copes with the grind of the campaign — but her words still had bite. "Some of us are ready and some of us are not," she said in remarks aimed at Obama, less than four years removed from the Illinois Legislature.

New Hampshire fairly crawled with candidates, so much so that at one point, McCain's three-bus caravan drove past Rep. Duncan Hunter of California, a long-shot Republican standing on a street corner with two other people waving to cars.

Opinion polls made the Republican race a close one between McCain, the Arizona senator seeking to rebound from last summer's near collapse of his campaign, and Romney, the former governor from next-door Massachusetts.

After sparring over taxes and immigration in weekend debates with McCain and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, Romney cast himself as the Republican best able to hold the White House. "I think Barack Obama would be able to do to John McCain exactly what he was able to do to the other senators who were running on the other side," Romney said as he sped his way through a half-dozen events on a final full day of campaigning.

After first declining to predict victory in a state where he had led in surveys for months, Romney exuded confidence by the end of the day. "I'm convinced we're going to win tomorrow," he boasted at a rally for his staff at the campaign's headquarters. He attributed the change of heart to 100,000 telephone calls made by his staff, and his performance in back-to-back nationally televised debates on Saturday and Sunday.

McCain wasn't nearly as reluctant. "We're not gonna lose here," he boasted as he set out on a packed day of campaigning through seven cities. In a snow-draped setting in Keene, there seemed little doubt he had Romney in mind when he said voters would reject negative campaigning. "I don't care how many attack ads you buy on television," he said.

Romney has run several TV commercials against McCain in New Hampshire, arguing that the senator's immigration plan would offer amnesty for illegal immigrants and painting him as a disloyal Republican for twice opposing President Bush's tax cuts. McCain responded with an ad that includes a quote from The Concord Monitor that suggested Romney was a phony.

Obama won his Iowa victory on a promise of bringing change to Washington, trumping Clinton's stress on experience. She has struggled to find her footing in the days since, at the same time insisting she is in the race to stay.

Her husband, the former president, pointed out the obvious Sunday night in remarks before a college audience. "We can't be a new story," he said, speaking in something of a jocular tone. "I can't make her younger, taller, male."

Still, Sen. Clinton's aides have urged her to show more passion and emotion — including laughter — to give voters a sense of her warmer side.

By coincidence or not, she did so as she set out on a final day in New Hampshire.

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