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Obama, McCain play 'uniter' card in New Hampshire

  • Story Highlights
  • Barack Obama and John McCain are viewed favorably by opposition party
  • Both appealing to Independent voters in Iowa
  • Hillary Clinton, Mitt Romney are not viewed favorably by opposition party
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By Bill Schneider
CNN Senior Political Analyst
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(CNN) -- Two of the front-runners in New Hampshire are trying a very different strategy than President Bush used to win.

Barack Obama speaks to a rally in Stevens High School in Clarement, New Hampshire, Mondaty.

While Bush said he wanted to be a "uniter, not a divider," he employed a very partisan strategy masterminded by Karl Rove that entailed motivating the Republican faithful to support him at the polls and attacking the Democrats.

Sen. Barack Obama, the Democratic front-runner after his impressive win in Iowa last week, and Sen. John McCain, who is neck and neck with Mitt Romney in the Republican race in New Hampshire, are trying something different.

They are portraying themselves as "uniters" with messages meant to appeal not only to the party faithful but Independent voters -- as well as members of the opposition party.

Obama and McCain regularly make appeals to Independent voters while on the campaign trail.

"At this defining moment in our history ... we have the chance to pull Democrats and Republicans and Independents together and stand up once and for all and say we are one nation, we are one people and our time for change has come," Obama told a boisterous crowd in Concord, New Hampshire last Friday, fresh from his win in Iowa.

Reaching out to Independent voters is critical to any candidate if he or she wants to come out on top in the Granite State, St. Anselm political professor Paul Manuel told CNN. Video Watch Candy Crowley explain what is at stake on Tuesday »

"Everyone's reaching out, but those two are resonating ... McCain and Obama," Manuel said.

Both Obama and McCain are viewed favorably by the electorate. According to a CNN/WMUR poll released Saturday, nearly two-thirds of New Hampshire primary voters have favorable opinions of Obama, 72 percent, and McCain, 71 percent.

Moreover, a majority of the opposition party holds favorable opinions of Obama and McCain. Nearly half, 54 percent, of Republican primary voters in New Hampshire have a favorable opinion of Obama, while 62 percent of New Hampshire Democratic voters view McCain favorably.

Voters view McCain's and Obama's main rivals for their respective parties' nominations -- Republican Mitt Romney and Democrat Sen. Hillary Clinton -- very differently. Only 15 percent of Republicans view Clinton favorably and 16 percent of Democrats have a positive view of Romney. Video Watch how a new poll has Obama leading Clinton in New Hampshire »

The poll's margin of error is plus-or-minus 5 percentage points.

The fact that both Obama and McCain appeal to voters beyond their party's base means they are both competing for Independent New Hampshire voters.

McCain's victory over George W. Bush in the 2000 New Hampshire Republican primary was due in large part to Independents voting for him in the Republican primary. In 2008, some of those Independent voters who supported McCain eight years ago may decide, instead, to vote for Obama in the Democratic primary.

Registered Independents were split evenly between Republicans and Democrats in the CNN/WMUR poll released Sunday after leaning heavily Democratic in a December survey. Among registered Republicans, 28 percent said they were still trying to decide on a candidate.

On Sunday, McCain tried to draw a distinction between him and Obama. Speaking in Salem, New Hampshire, McCain said his foreign policy and experience may persuade Independent voters to back him over Obama.


Republicans are worried Obama's message could win a significant portion of the Republican vote in a general election if he becomes the Democratic presidential nominee, a leading Republican strategist told CNN Monday.

"I think Barack Obama is a potential Robert Kennedy or Reagan figure," the strategist, who requested anonymity because this person advises a number of Republican presidential candidates, told CNN. "If he ran the right campaign he could appeal to a substantial number of Republicans and Independents." E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

CNN's Dan Lothian and Jessica Yellin contributed to this report.

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