NEW HAMPSHIRE PRIMARY
PELHAM, N.H. — Don't even try to predict the outcome of today's New Hampshire primary.
The voters are too independent-minded, too contrarian. Stop them in the diners, shopping malls or while they're shoveling Monday's snow off their sidewalks, and many were still making up their minds.
Polls said a third to half of the voters were still undecided in the last hours before polls opened just before dawn today.
That's not unusual in the nation's first primary; since the modern New Hampshire primary began in 1952, last-minute surprises have been the norm.
That stage is set again today. Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump have held on to big polling leads in the state for weeks, and polls suggest that they'll win.
More intrigue lies with the rest of the pack. The drama here involves who's going to become politics' next big thing as the campaign caravan decamps Wednesday for South Carolina and Nevada.
Hillary Clinton, way behind Sanders in New Hampshire polls, was walking ice-lined streets Monday knocking on doors and visiting a doughnut shop, hoping for a strong enough showing that she could claim momentum.
Among Republicans, Marco Rubio seemed to be moving up after his strong showing in the Iowa caucuses, but his less-than-impressive debate performance Saturday may have stopped his climb.
Meanwhile, John Kasich, Ted Cruz, Jeb Bush and Chris Christie were getting overflow crowds in New Hampshire.
Some experts say today's primary will play on different political turf than was trod by candidates in the past.
Broad changes to the state's population — and that new population's political views — have made New Hampshire more willing to embrace the insurgent Democratic candidacy of Sen. Bernie Sanders and, potentially, Rubio.
The stereotypical New Hampshire Republican voter, a rugged, self-sufficient type fixated on limiting taxes, has given way to one living in the southern, Massachusetts-adjacent suburbs.
The Democratic Party, once buttressed by mill workers in eastern and central towns, has expanded its reach all over the state but particularly in those same southern counties and along the western edge of the state, near Vermont.
Pushing the change have been the tidal surges that reshape politics in many places: Older residents, mostly conservative, are dying off; younger and more liberal residents have moved in.
The state's attractions, including a midsection plump with lakes, have lured migrants who have brought moderating political views with them.
New Hampshire remains overwhelmingly white. But the white population is different than it once was, demographers and political analysts say. Only 45 percent of New Hampshire residents were born here, a lower percentage than in all but five states.
In Pelham, a town of 13,000 near the Massachusetts border, candidates on the stump Monday found Bill McDevitt. He's leaning toward supporting Bush, but "I could change my mind." He wants the candidate who's most electable.
They ran into Fredye Sherr, a school psychologist. She thinks carefully before making a choice. "We want to hear people in New Hampshire," she explained.
She's seen five Republicans and leans toward Christie, the governor of New Jersey.
McDevitts and Sherrs are everywhere. Two of every five voters in New Hampshire register as "undeclared," meaning they're not affiliated with political parties and can vote in either primary.
Picking a president here is a delicate responsibility. Yes, Clinton, a former secretary of state, and Cruz, a U.S. senator from Texas, won Iowa's caucuses a week ago.
But to New Hampshire voters, that was an unusual affair in a very different state. This is pure secret ballot. Turnout is usually huge; it could easily top 60 percent today.
"It's a cultural phenomenon," said Andrew Smith, director of the University of New Hampshire Survey Center. "New York has the Brooklyn Bridge, New Hampshire has its primary. It's what we do in the winter."
People are proud of their role. They've toppled presidents, fired warning shots to front-runners and upended conventional wisdom.
Polls tease. They say several candidates are poised to be 2016's breakout star. Clinton is about 13 percentage points behind Sanders in an average of the polls but eyes that all-important "beating expectations" to make her the night's media star.
Her efforts have impressed Sarah King, a student at St. Anselm College in Manchester. "I'm a very detail-oriented person, and I like her plan for college affordability," King explained.
The more volatile race involves Republicans. Trump offers that independent spirit that New Hampshire folks love. On Monday he took an unusual step — for him — of barnstorming the state.
At lot of Granite Staters like their outrage less raw, though. That's an opening for Cruz; Christie; Kasich, the governor of Ohio; Bush, a former governor of Florida; and Rubio, the Florida senator.
They have appeal as conservatives who are not too doctrinaire, show some leadership skill and have enough orneriness in them to convince people in the "Live Free or Die" state that Washington's ways won't consume them. John McCain, the no-nonsense Arizona senator who won the 2000 and 2008 New Hampshire primaries, fit the resume perfectly.
Everyone today has a list of potential choices. The deciding factors: electability and a feeling in the gut that this person could be president.
This report includes material from the Los Angeles Times.
Sanders, Kasich win 1st votes in tiny N.H. communities
DIXVILLE NOTCH, N.H. — Bernie Sanders and John Kasich picked up the most votes as the first ballots of the first-in-the-nation primary were cast just after midnight today. Sanders won all four Democratic voters in the tiny town of Dixville Notch, while Kasich sneaked past Donald Trump 3-2 among Republicans.
Under New Hampshire state law, communities with fewer than 100 voters can get permission to open their polls at midnight and close them as soon as all registered voters have cast their ballots.
While that happened in three locations, Dixville traditionally gets most of the spotlight due to its media-friendly setup at the Balsams Grand Resort Hotel. Dixville, about 20 miles from the Canadian border, exists as a town only for voting purposes.
In Hart's Location, about 80 miles south of Dixville, Sanders won among Democrats, with 12 votes to Hillary Clinton's seven. On the GOP side, Kasich bested Trump 5-4.
CNN reported that Ted Cruz won the GOP vote in Millsfield with nine votes. Trump was second with three. Clinton won two of the three Democratic votes.— AP