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Presidential campaign turns confrontational
MANCHESTER, N.H. -- Barack Obama, an Iowa winner seeking New Hampshire spoils, faced stepped-up criticism Friday from Democratic rivals now doubly determined to block his rise in the 2008 presidential race. Republican Mike Huckabee claimed momentum for a hurried five-day primary campaign.
"This feels good," Obama told cheering supporters after a dark-of-night flight from Iowa, where he trumped John Edwards and Hillary Rodham Clinton in caucuses with a pledge to bring change to Washington.
He said he had no plans to revise a winning strategy, but the same wasn't so for his rivals after an Iowa campaign almost entirely free of harsh criticism.
"The last thing Democrats need is to move quickly through this process ... without taking a hard look at all of this," Clinton said as she arrived in New Hampshire. "It's hard to know exactly where he stands, and people need to ask that," she said of the first-term Illinois senator.
Clinton, the New York senator and former first lady, wound up third in Iowa, with Edwards in second place.
If the Democratic race appeared ready to turn in a more confrontational direction, the same thing was already underway among Republicans.
"It will be a different race here," vowed former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney, defeated by Huckabee's low-budget campaign in Iowa and now confronting a challenge from Arizona Sen. John McCain in the New Hampshire primary.
A compressed calendar gave Iowa's losers only five days to readjust.
Democrats had back-to-back appearances at a party dinner Friday night, and a pair of debates on Saturday guaranteed candidates in both parties free television exposure. But there is little time for them to replenish their treasuries, conduct fresh polling to guide strategic decisions or air new television commercials crafted to sway large numbers of voters -- or to dissipate the momentum that Iowa often bestows on caucus winners.
Obama told supporters that if they follow Iowa's lead, "I truly believe that I will be the next president of the United States." As he well knew, New Hampshire frequently does not follow Iowa's lead.
Further complicating the race was the presence of a large bloc of independent voters in New Hampshire.
McCain benefited from their support in 2000 when he won the state's primary, and he is appealing to the same group to vote for him this year.
On the other hand, Obama profited handsomely in Iowa from the presence of thousands of independents who flocked to the Democratic caucuses, and he no sooner arrived in New Hampshire than he was mimicking McCain's appeal. "We need someone who exercises straight talk instead of spin," he said, a play on McCain's penchant for telling voters he'll give them "a little straight talk" even though they may disagree with what he tells them.
With little sleep, Huckabee flew out of Iowa, then pivoted to face a new audience in New Hampshire.
The former Arkansas governor pitched his plan for abolishing the Internal Revenue Service and replacing the income tax with a sales tax, and said, "What we're seeing is that this campaign is not just about people who have religious fervor. It's about people who love America but want it to be better and believe that change is necessary, and it's not going to happen from within Washington."
Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, his well-funded, methodical Iowa campaign a failure, dismissed Huckabee's victory as a phenomenon built on the support of evangelicals who make up a much smaller part of the electorate in New Hampshire. He said Huckabee ran as a Baptist minister, an option that "was not available to me."
While Huckabee was the Iowa winner among Republicans, McCain has gradually emerged as the strongest New Hampshire threat to Romney, who can ill afford a second consecutive defeat.
"There's no way that Senator McCain is going to be able to come to New Hampshire and say he's the candidate that represents change, will change Washington. He is Washington," Romney said as he arrived in the state.
McCain was ready with a rebuttal, taking credit for a shift in President Bush's Iraq strategy that has been followed by a decline in violence and U.S. casualties. "I'm most proud of the change I brought about in Iraq that saved American lives," McCain said. "No one else was ready to make that kind of reform. I'm proud to stand here as a person who has reformed and reformed and reformed."
McCain and Fred Thompson finished in a near tie for third place in Iowa, then took different paths in New Hampshire.
Thompson, a former Tennessee senator, flew home to the Washington suburbs rather than New England. Aides said he would participate in Saturday night's debate, but planned to devote much of his time in the next several days to a swing through South Carolina.
Wyoming's caucuses were the next event on the calendar, a Republican-only competition on Saturday that drew scant attention from the candidates and had only 12 delegates at stake.
Michigan holds its primary on Jan. 15, a week after New Hampshire. South Carolina Republicans vote on Jan. 19 and the state's Democrats on Jan. 26.
However the nominating campaigns end up, some Republicans were already fretting over Iowa caucus returns that showed 239,000 Democrats turned out and only about 116,000 Republicans.
"November could be dark," said GOP strategist Scott Reed, voicing a concern that others in his party expressed privately.