Many faces of New Hampshire

With the primary season so front-loaded, New Hampshire -- which clings with white knuckles to its first-in-the-nation status -- could wind up as an afterthought this presidential season. Or the Granite State could prove more important than ever. That's what New Hampshire boosters say: A victory here could provide enough momentum to seal the race for good.

The candidates think that's possible, too, so they're stumping at breakneck speed. And the wise ones understand that the Granite State is changing. Back in 2000, New Hampshire's vaunted independents broke for the Republican side, handing a primary victory to Senator John McCain. In 2004, they leaned toward Democrat John F. Kerry. And in the four years since, this iconoclastic state has begun to look steadily bluer. In 2004, New Hampshire had a Republican governor and state Legislature. Now both are Democratic, as are both members of Congress. This time, pundits expect the independents, incensed by the war, to vote in greater numbers in the Democratic race. But a population influx in the Southern-tier towns -- largely made up of Massachusetts exiles -- have brought a decided Republican streak to the state's fastest-growing region.

Still, as the campaigns know, New Hampshire's party stalwarts are hardly monolithic: Different regions bring different priorities, different preferences, and different voting habits. In fact, you might say there are five New Hampshires, five different places to tailor a messages and shore up support. We've provided a breakdown here. And we turned to Dante Scala, political scientist at St. Anselm College, for some pre-primary handicapping.

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