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New Hampshire Takes To Polls

By David Paul Kuhn Chief Political Writer

Ed White voted for Sen. John Kerry because of "electability." White's unemployed. He's only lived in Manchester four years. He takes this seriously.

"Bush's ratings are still very high right now," the 35-year-old sighed, lifting his baseball cap and rubbing his head.

"The majority in this country, here too, really likes Bush," White lamented, clean-shaven and bundled up for the single-digit temperatures outside. "John Kerry just seems to be the strongest against Bush's approval ratings, because of his experience."

Electability, one of those words invented by politics, was the theme running through Kerry supporters Tuesday morning as they headed to the polls. High school teacher Nikki Moutsioulis used the same language as White, "Oh also, he's a great guy," she added, wearing her reward sticker for having just voted.

An estimated 184,000 New Hampshire residents are likely to vote today, according to the Secretary of State's office. The nation's first primary, New Hampshire only has 22 national convention delegates but it carries what is traditionally seen as invaluable momentum. The campaigns spent about $9 million here on television advertising alone.

In Ward 8, one of 12 in Manchester, voters first arrived at 6 a.m. (most polls close at 8 tonight). By 9 a.m., more than 450 of the Ward's 9,480 registered voters had turned out. They entered the small Jewett Elementary School, the yellow gym, checked in at the little brown tables, and went behind the barbershop-like curtains. Colors: red, white and blue.

Korean War Veteran Stan Muesk voted for Wesley Clark. "I'm a vet and Clark has the experience as a leader," he explained, shrugging, giving a crooked smile. Muesk considered Kerry but decided on Clark, a former NATO commander. "We need someone with executive experience," Muesk explained, quoting Clark's stump speech almost verbatim.

Outside the school, supporters of the former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean, Clark, and Kerry, brandished signs and bounced cheers off one another like ping pong balls. A common sight during this intense last week of campaigning.

Retiree Anne Pappas didn't know why "they have to be so tough on him," she said, looking at the Democratic signs, just having voted for President George W. Bush. Expected to visit the state on Thursday, President Bush is technically running against nearly a dozen obscure candidates in a Republican primary. It's no contest.

"I want to see Bush when he gets here," Pappas continued. "I'm a bit worried about these Democrats, their favorite topic is him and I'd like to see them run this country."

They'd like the chance.

"I want every vote here," the front-running Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry said, shortly after Pappas left. After greeting those from several campaigns rallying outside (Kerry was an equal opportunity handshaker), the candidate stood off to the side for a rare breather on Election Day.

"I wanted to thank them all because they're working so hard," he continued, pushing his gloved hands together and looking at the nearly 50 party activists. "It's so cold out here. I appreciate it."

Dan Lehman appreciated it too. A software engineer from Kerry's home state, Lehman traveled to New Hampshire for Dean.

"It's good of Kerry to talk to us also - like Howard said (only Dean's supporters consistently refer to him by his first name) we're all in this together," Lehman said after shaking Kerry's hand. "Kerry's a good guy but I like Howard, I just do."

Just as quickly as Kerry stopped by, he was off. Like most of the candidates, he will visit numerous voting locals today. All are hoping to woo the nearly one-third of registered voters who are not Democrats but can vote in the Democratic primary. About 60,000 people will walk into polling places as an independent or undeclared.

"I woke up, took a shower, kissed my kids and wife goodbye and came here to vote for Dean," Independent Matthew Gould said.

"As crazy as this sounds, I voted for Dean because of the whole scream speech," the smirking 31-year-old stock broker continued. "Someone that enthusiastic would do a great job because he has the passion. I was on the fence between him and Kerry, but Dean seemed more genuine and that's really what counts for me."

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