NASHUA, New Hampshire (Reuters) - Democrat Hillary Clinton, her back against the wall in New Hampshire, battled to keep the state from swinging to rival Barack Obama on Sunday by accusing him of talking about change but failing to get results.
In the hotly contested Republican race, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney tried to raise doubts about Arizona Sen. John McCain, who is threatening him in the state ahead of its vote on Tuesday.
The race was taking a negative turn on both sides in a state that is vital to efforts by Clinton and Romney to revitalize their campaigns after disappointing showings last Thursday in Iowa.
New Hampshire’s primary is the next battleground in the state-by-state process of choosing Republican and Democratic candidates for November’s election to replace President George W. Bush.
Clinton, a New York senator and former first lady trying to be the first woman U.S. president, launched a new get-tough strategy, a day after a debate in which she sounded frustrated that while Obama talks about changing the United States, she believes she has actually carried out change.
“It is about how we bring about change by making sure we nominate and elect a doer and not a talker, that we begin to separate out rhetoric from reality,” Clinton told a large, enthusiastic crowd in Nashua.
Accusing Illinois Sen. Obama and former North Carolina Sen. John Edwards of not showing leadership on a litany of issues, she said, “That’s not change,” and the crowd joined in with her.
“That’s not change,” they yelled.
Obama, seeking to become the first black U.S. president, fired back at Clinton at a crowded rally at a high school in Exeter. He received the endorsement of former New Jersey Sen. Bill Bradley, who finished a close second to then vice president Al Gore in the 2000 Democratic primary here.
“In the course of this campaign I have been teased, sometimes even derided, for talking about hope. Even last night, one of my opponents suggested we should stop giving the American people ‘false hopes’ about what could be done and what could be accomplished, we needed a reality check,” Obama said. “What kind of agenda is that?”
Clinton has reason to be concerned. Obama, days after winning Iowa soundly over Edwards and third-place finisher Clinton, has pulled into a virtual dead heat with Clinton in New Hampshire, according to a Reuters/C-SPAN/Zogby poll released on Sunday.
The risk for Clinton was turning off those voters who might see the strategy as negative politics. The Edwards campaign, giving its view of Clinton’s performance during the ABC News debate on Saturday, said in an e-mail, “Change won and the status quo lost it.”
Romney, a wealthy former governor of Massachusetts who would be the first Mormon president, needs to win or finish high in New Hampshire to maintain his credibility.
At a rally in Nashua, Romney said he doubted McCain would stand up well against Obama, who he said is succeeding against veteran Democratic senators in the presidential race.
“Are we going to do the same thing and put another long-serving U.S. senator up against him for him to talk about. Or are we going to put somebody -- I hope it’s me -- somebody who has spent his lifetime not just in politics, not in Washington, but changing things?” Romney said.
McCain, who is competing with Obama for New Hampshire’s large section of independent voters, said he was feeling good but still cautious about New Hampshire.
“We’re seeing obviously an increase in turnout and enthusiasm. But we still have a long and hard trip for the next 48 hours,” he said in Salem.
Republican leading candidates faced a Fox News Channel debate on Sunday night. Left out was libertarian long-shot Ron Paul, who has raised millions of campaign money but has been unable to translate that into wide voter support.
(Additional reporting by John Whitesides, Mark Egan in New Hampshire, Missy Ryan, Leslie Wroughton and David Wiessler in Washington; Writing by Steve Holland; editing by David Wiessler and Stuart Grudgings)
For more about the U.S. political campaign, visit Reuters "Tales from the Trail: 2008" online at blogs.reuters.com/trail08/