For seven years, conventional wisdom has said that the state's pivotal independent voters would line up behind maverick Sen. John McCain, as they did so famously in the 2000 GOP primary. But new polling data, to be released later this week, will suggest that might no longer be the case.
Manchester, N.H.-based American Research Group finds that McCain's popularity among New Hampshire's independent voters has collapsed.
"John McCain is tanking," says ARG president Dick Bennett. "That's the big thing [we're finding]. In New Hampshire a year ago he got 49 percent among independent voters. That number's way down, to 29 percent now."
The frontrunner's melting down in other primary states too, and the pollsters know why: "His hawkish stance on the Iraq war, which is tying him ever more closely to an unpopular president." That could help him with Republican base voters, but it's weakening him with the swing voters who decide things in New Hampshire and weakening him with the general electorate.
McCain's basically doubled down on the Iraq War, cognizant that the media will congratulate his courage unless something goes terribly wrong. But what are the odds of that happening in Iraq? Note also that McCain has fudged the number of brigades he said would be "essential" for saving Iraq, laying the groundwork for criticizing how the Bush administration wrecked his foolproof surge plan.