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Obama on Primary Eve

MADELEINE BRAND, host:

Barack Obama heads into tomorrow's primary with a strong lead. A number of polls have it in the double digits over Hillary Rodham Clinton, and many of those polled mentioned the word electability. That's a term that before Iowa was more closely associated with Senator Clinton.

NPR's senior Washington editor Ron Elving is on the ground in New Hampshire. He joins us now. Hi, Ron.

RON ELVING: Good to be with you, Madeleine.

BRAND: Well, Senator Obama had spent less time and less money in New Hampshire than has his closest rival, Senator Clinton, and the Clinton's, of course, go way back in New Hampshire. What has Obama done over the last day or so to convince voters that he is deserving of their vote?

ELVING: You know, Madeleine, I'm going to have to say it's less a matter of earning trust or deserving their vote. It's more in the realm of romance or inspiration, if you will. He's giving them a glimpse of something new, something open-ended, open-ended. He uses the word hope, of course, and we've heard that from him a great deal, politics of hope, a little bit of an irony because that was a term that Bill Clinton used a lot in 1992 as a man from hope. But you know, Barack is also about something else. Freshness, a promise, almost mystery. It is not so much about substance as it is about something else.

BRAND: And according to these polls, he has pulled even with female voters - with women, pulled even with Senator Clinton on that. Now, that's remarkable.

ELVING: It is remarkable, but we saw it in Iowa. He actually narrowly defeated Hillary Clinton among Democratic women in Iowa. And you know, we just have to think that women would want to support the first woman with a really serious chance to be the first woman president of the United States.

And while women are among her strongest supporters and always have been, they are always also among her strongest detractors, including many women who are a lot like her in a demographic sense, people with a lot of income, a lot of education, strong career women. They have frequently not been the people who were best for her.

BRAND: Now, in New Hampshire there are - about 44 percent of the voters there are independent. So he's got a challenge there, right? Because a lot of them are attracted to Arizona Senator John McCain, a Republican.

ELVING: This is always the big X factor in New Hampshire, and as you say, about 44 percent of independents. They can swing between the parties. And when they do, they can either determine the outcome in a race or the margin of victory. And in primaries like this, events, media tests, the margin matters as much as the win.

So here tomorrow, John McCain is hoping that independents turn out for him and help him win over Mitt Romney. And Obama is hoping they vote on the Democratic side and help him pad his margin.

BRAND: Now, McCain is slightly ahead of Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney, according to these latest polls. Whatever ever happened to Mike Huckabee? He was, you know, he's in all the headlines as of Friday, so where is he now, today, Monday?

ELVING: Huckabee has never been a big factor here in New Hampshire and he didn't get much of a bump out of Iowa with respect to that. He's just too different from the state. There's no big natural constituency for him here. Southerners have traditionally not done so well in this venue. And there are not so many evangelical Christians to provide and instant base for him.

He's stuck in the lowest double-digits and the polls here, doesn't seem to be breaking out of that into the teens. That puts him close to Rudy Giuliani and Ron Paul in this state, so he's right in the mix with those guys not challenging to the top.

BRAND: NPR senior Washington editor Ron Elving in Manchester, New Hampshire. Thanks, Ron.

ELVING: My pleasure, Madeleine. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

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