N.H. Voters Leave Both Parties in Search for Front-Runner

But with the much-ballyhooed Iowa caucuses and the New Hampshire primary now in the political rearview mirror, both the Democratic and Republican nominating races remain very much undecided.

In the crush of early primaries, the candidates will get a relative breather as some Republicans head toward a devalued Michigan primary and contests in Nevada and South Carolina next weekend, leaving Sens. Hillary Clinton and John McCain a week to savor wins — as well as collect new funds for their campaigns and erase some viability concerns.

“I felt like we all spoke from our hearts and I am so gratified that you responded,” Clinton said in victory remarks before cheering supporters. “Now together, let’s give America the kind of comeback that New Hampshire has just given me.”

McCain again proved himself to be a comeback specialist, a survivor who weathered more than five years in a Vietnam POW camp, a wrenching congressional scandal and three bouts with aggressive skin cancer.

“The people of New Hampshire have told us again that they do not send us to Washington to serve our interests, but to serve theirs,” McCain said during his victory speech, amid chants of campaigns new slogan, “Mac is back!”

Once considered the favorite in a multi-candidate GOP field, McCain capsized last summer, his campaign nearly collapsing as he defended a plan to give illegal immigrants an eventual path to citizenship and the troop surge in Iraq. The issue stance angered a conservative base that had never fully trusted the maverick senator, especially after he broke with President Bush on tax cuts, the Associated Press reported.

A rash of senior McCain aides abandoned ship, and more were laid off as his campaign hemorrhaged money.

But in recent weeks, McCain shot ahead of former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani and finally former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney in polls in New Hampshire, the site of his biggest primary victory in the 2000 nominating race against George W. Bush.

McCain’s win Tuesday dealt another hefty blow to Romney’s campaign, which finished second despite its deeper pockets and advertizing deluge.

On Tuesday night’s NewsHour, David Brooks of the New York Times said McCain’s “straight-shooter” message again resonated with New Hampshire voters.

“They disagree with him on the issues, but they really don’t like Romney’s character,” he said.

Alluding to his experience as Olympics CEO, Romney thanked largely overlooked Wyoming for his first-place finish during that state’s weekend GOP primary as he tried to put the best face on the New Hampshire results.

“Well, another silver,” he said to his supporters. “I’d rather have a gold but I got another silver. There have been three races so far, I’ve gotten two silvers and one gold.”

With Obama winning in Iowa and Clinton winning in New Hampshire, fresh uncertainty was injected into the race as it moves to Nevada and South Carolina, the New York Times reported. Obama was still hoping to win a crucial union endorsement in Nevada, where he sent top aides from the successful Iowa campaign to organize the state.

Since Obama’s victory in Iowa, the volume of calls and inquiries into his campaign had more than doubled, with financial contributors, policy supporters and volunteers eager to join the campaign, the Times reported. He is flying on Wednesday to New York, in the heart of Clinton’s territory, to hold a fundraiser and to stage a campaign rally in New Jersey.

Obama may be betting big on a strong showing in South Carolina’s Jan. 26 Democratic contest. Half of all registered Democrats in the state are African-American and could opt to back the freshman senator.

Obama’s lack of experience may have proven pivotal to Granite State voters as they cast Tuesday’s ballots.

“I like him and I think he’ll be ready in eight years,” Allison Mundry, a real estate agent in Salem, N.H., told the Wall Street Journal. But for now, she says “We have to vote for someone who can get the Republicans out of office.”

Former North Carolina Sen. John Edwards finished third in the Democratic field, but pointed out to his supporters that 99 percent of the country’s population has yet to vote.

Next on the campaign calendar is the Michigan primary on Jan. 15, but don’t expect to see any Democrats there. After the state bucked both major political parties’ rules to move up its primary date, it will be stripped of half its Republican delegates and every Democratic delegate.

It will be more of test for Republicans. The Romney campaign is hoping for a win in his native Michigan — where his father, George Romney, was once governor. And McCain scored another victory in the 2000 campaign there and may hope to mount another run this year.

Of course, the crown jewel of the primary season — contests in 22 states on Feb. 5 — still looms on the horizon for the remaining candidates, none of whom immediately announced plans to drop out after New Hampshire’s vote.

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