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High stakes as New Hampshire holds key White House primary

(AFP)

Democrats voted Tuesday in a high-stakes primary in New Hampshire as leftist Bernie Sanders and young challenger Pete Buttigieg battle for pole position in the race to challenge President Donald Trump in November.

A light snow fell in the northeastern Granite State’s capital as voters known as politically astute and independent-minded headed to the polls in town halls, fire stations or school gyms.

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White House hopefuls have been courting votes in the state’s small cities, rolling farm country, lake-side towns and snow-covered mountain hamlets, seeking to ignite the momentum to carry them to the Democratic nomination.

At a Boys and Girls Club in Concord, people showed a voter ID, received a paper ballot and went to one of 33 voting booths curtained by red, white and blue plastic or to table top voting spots. 

Mike Schowalter, a 39-year-old lawyer who says he normally supports small government and open markets, said this time he voted for Sanders, a self-declared democratic socialist who critics complain is proposing a health care overhaul and other sweeping ideas that are just too expensive.

“It does seem kind of strange, but I do think a lot of stuff going on in our country right now is a bit broken,” Schowalter told AFP. “I think he’ll get us talking.”

New Hampshire is home to just 1.3 million people but it is a battleground that plays a hugely influential role in the American political landscape.

It hosts the nation’s first primary, eight days after the Iowa caucuses kicked off the nomination process, and it could narrow the Democratic field of 11 current candidates.

The 78-year-old Sanders is a big favorite here as a senator from neighboring Vermont; four years ago he won New Hampshire by a landslide.

The RealClearPolitics polling average showed Sanders at 28.7 percent in New Hampshire, tailed on 21.3 percent by moderate rival Buttigieg, whose Iowa win boosted his presidential bid.

– ‘Nation’s future’ –

As New Hampshire undergoes its quadrennial close-up, an anxious Democratic Party is searching for the best way to beat Trump.

Will it be the “political revolution” espoused by Sanders? Or the more moderate tacks from either Buttigieg, the 38-year-old former mayor of South Bend, Indiana, or former vice president Joe Biden?

A late surge in New Hampshire has also lifted the fortunes of Amy Klobuchar, with two new polls showing the senator from Minnesota jumping past heavyweights Biden and Elizabeth Warren, the main progressive in the race alongside Sanders.

“New Hampshire, the choice you make today will shape our nation’s future,” tweeted Buttigieg as polling began on Tuesday, depicting himself as a fresh new force that can lead a drive to beat Trump.

“Together we will build the coalition we need to defeat Trump in November.”

Complicating Tuesday’s vote, independents — who outnumber both Democrats and Republicans in the state — can vote in either primary, potentially tipping the scales in a tight race.

Looming over the nomination race, Trump jetted to New Hampshire on Monday night aiming to steal the limelight with a large Manchester rally.

“Remember this: Washington Democrats have never been more extreme,” Trump told cheering supporters.

“We are saving your health care while the socialist Democrats are trying to take away your health care.”

– Bloomberg surge –

Trump’s attack appeared aimed at the root-and-branch health care reform advocated by Sanders — who buoyed by a strong Iowa showing has emerged as the national Democratic frontrunner with 25 support according to a new poll.

Calling Sanders’ surge a “dramatic shift,” the Quinnipiac University survey also showed billionaire Michael Bloomberg vaulting into third place on 15 percent behind a struggling Biden at 17. 

Bloomberg’s strong showing suggests a possible upset when New York’s former mayor — who is skipping the first four nominating contests — throws himself fully into the race.

Competing with Biden, Buttigieg and Klobuchar for the moderate vote, Bloomberg is focusing on March 3’s Super Tuesday, when 14 states vote — spending a record $260 million of his personal fortune on his campaign, to Sanders’ fury who accuses him of trying to “buy the election.”

Michael Mathes

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