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Poll: New Hampshire primary race tightens

By Bill Schneider
CNN Senior Political Analyst
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- We have the latest New Hampshire primary polls. It's getting real interesting -- The race on the Republican side is now neck-and-neck!

The CNN/WMUR presidential primary poll, conducted by the University of New Hampshire, found Sen. John McCain of Arizona the choice of 28 percent of voters who plan to vote in the state's Republican presidential primary next January, compared with 27 percent for Giuliani.

The results were a statistical dead heat, given the poll's sampling error of plus or minus 5.5 percentage points. (Complete poll results -- PDF)

The poll involved interviews with 311 New Hampshire residents who say they will vote in the 2008 Republican primary conducted by telephone by the University of New Hampshire Survey Research Center on February 1-5, 2007.

The poll is not good news for McCain. McCain won the New Hampshire primary in 2000 and he's been leading polls of New Hampshire Republicans for the past two years -- until now.

Giuliani seems to have gotten a boost from his visit to New Hampshire last month.

Is Giuliani crowding McCain for the support of moderate Republicans? Actually, no. McCain leads Giuliani by nearly two to one among moderate Republicans -- 41 percent to 22 percent.

McCain has been currying favor with conservatives. But despite his views on abortion rights, gay rights and gun control, Giuliani seems to be rallying conservative voters in New Hampshire.

"We have to reassert the basic core principles of the Republican Party," Giuliani told New Hampshire party activists in January. "We've got to be about being Republican strong, not Democrat light."

Giuliani leads among conservatives in New Hampshire, where McCain's support drops by half. The CNN/WMUR poll found 31 percent of conservatives had Giuliani as their top pick, while only 20 percent of conservatives tapped McCain.

New Hampshire Republicans seem to remember McCain as the anti-Bush candidate in 2000. McCain leads Giuliani among New Hampshire Republicans who are critical of Bush. But that's only about a third of Republicans. Most Republicans like Bush -- and Giuliani.

In 2000, McCain was helped by Independents who voted in the Republican primary. But this year, two thirds of New Hampshire Independents say they plan to vote in the Democratic primary.

Independents strongly anti-war

Independents are strongly anti-Bush and antiwar, and that's drawing them into the Democratic contest where they make up more than half the primary voters.

Hillary Clinton is still in first place among New Hampshire Democratic primary voters with 35 percent naming her as their top choice. But Barack Obama has vaulted into the number two spot with 21 percent, and former Sen. John Edwards is at number three at 16 percent.

The margin of error for the poll is plus-or-minus 5 percent. The poll of Democrats involved interviews with 353 New Hampshire residents who say they will vote in the 2008 Democratic primary conducted by telephon by the University of New Hampshire Survey Research Center on February 1-5, 2007.

Clinton commands the loyalty of registered Democrats -- 39 percent of registered Democrats preferred her, compared to 18 percent who planned to vote for Obama.

But Clinton's lead is considerably smaller among Independents who intend to vote in the Democratic primary. Only 30 percent of registered Independents preferred Sen. Clinton compared to 24 percent who planned to back Obama.

Independents like Obama's stand on the war.

For voters, the toughest choice is usually between candidates with similar views -- McCain and Giuliani; Clinton and Obama.

That's why the New Hampshire primary could get very close in both parties. And very exciting.

Former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani has significantly cut into Sen. John McCain's lead among New Hampshire Republican primary voters, a new CNN/WMUR poll found.



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