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Poll: 9-point lead for Obama on eve of N.H. primary

  • Story Highlights
  • Obama leading Clinton 39 percent to 30 percent in recent N.H. poll
  • McCain is leading the GOP pack in New Hampshire
  • Romney was front-runner in most New Hampshire polls until last month
  • New Hampshire holds its primaries January 8
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By Paul Steinhauser
CNN Washington Bureau
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MANCHESTER, New Hampshire (CNN) -- On the eve of the New Hampshire primary, Sen. Barack Obama has a nine-point lead over Sen. Hillary Clinton in the state, according to a CNN-WMUR poll out Monday.

Obama, the first-term senator from Illinois who won last week's Iowa caucuses, led the New York senator and former first lady 39 percent to 30 percent in a poll conducted Saturday through Sunday evening -- a sharp change from a poll out Saturday that showed the Democratic front-runners tied at 33 percent.

Preliminary results from the poll released Sunday night showed Obama with a lead of 10 percentage points.

Support for former Sen. John Edwards, who edged out Clinton for second place in Iowa, dropped from 20 percent in Saturday's poll to 16 percent.

New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson ranked fourth among the Democratic contenders with 7 percent, while Ohio Rep. Dennis Kucinich trailed at 1 percent. Former Alaska Sen. Mike Gravel had less than one half of 1 percent support.

"The Iowa caucus results have convinced growing numbers of Granite State voters that Obama can really go all the way," CNN Polling Director Keating Holland said. "In December, 45 percent thought Clinton had the best chance of beating the GOP nominee. But in Saturday's poll, Clinton and Obama were tied on that measure, and now Obama has a 42 percent to 31 percent edge over Clinton on electability."

The CNN/WMUR polls is consistent with six other non-partisan polls taken since the Iowa caucuses. All seven polls show Obama leading Clinton by margins ranging from 1 to 13 points -- with the average Obama lead at 7 points. All the polls show Edwards in third place.

The CNN/WMUR polls "strongly suggests an Obama surge in New Hampshire," CNN Senior Political Analyst Bill Schneider said.

So is it all over? Not necessarily, according to Schneider.

"The CNN poll shows Obama and Clinton nearly tied among registered Democrats. Obama's lead is coming from independents," he said.

Obama's success depends on whether independents turn out in large numbers on Tuesday and vote in the Democratic rather than Republican primary, according to Schneider.

On the Republican side, Sen. John McCain leads former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney by a narrower margin -- 31 percent to 26 percent, the survey found. Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee -- whose upset win in Iowa came after being outspent by millions of dollars by Romney -- passed former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani to gain third place.Video Watch Candy Crowley explain the high stakes in New Hampshire »

In Saturday's poll, Giuliani had 14 percent and Huckabee had 11 percent. In Monday's poll, Huckabee had the support of 13 percent, while Giuliani had 10 percent.

The results suggest that Huckabee's win in Iowa, which saw him win strong support among evangelical Christian voters, is giving him momentum in more secular, libertarian-oriented New Hampshire, CNN Political Analyst Bill Schneider said.

Among other Republicans, anti-war Texas congressman and onetime Libertarian Party presidential nominee Ron Paul was in fifth place at 10 percent in the poll, with Rep. Duncan Hunter of California and former Sen. Fred Thompson of Tennessee both at 1 percent.

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The poll, conducted by the University of New Hampshire, surveyed 599 likely Democrats and 492 Republicans likely to vote in Tuesday's primary. It had a sampling error of 4 percentage points.

Crucial to the outcome in New Hampshire are the state's independent voters, who make up around 40 percent of the electorate, and who can vote in either party's primary.

With time running out, 6 percent of likely Democratic primary voters and 5 percent of those likely to vote in the GOP primary remain undecided.

The poll indicates that a growing number of registered independents say they will vote in the GOP contest, which is a switch from just a month ago.

Whether independents decide to vote in the Democratic or Republican primaries could affect the outcome of both races, Schneider said, noting that McCain ties Romney among registered Republicans but has an 11-point lead when independent voters are included.

"So McCain is not just running against Romney. He's also running against Obama for independent support."

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Obama appears to be pulling even with Clinton among women, a voting bloc that she once dominated in the polls. And when asked which candidate has the best chance of beating the Republican presidential nominee, likely Democratic primary voters now choose Obama over Clinton 42 percent to 31 percent.

That's a dramatic reversal from the last CNN/WMUR New Hampshire poll taken after Christmas and just before the Iowa caucuses, when Clinton beat Obama in electability by a two to one margin. E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

CNN's Bill Schneider and Keating Holland contributed to this report

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