NASHUA, N.H. — Republican Mitt Romney stormed across New Hampshire on Monday in a last-ditch effort to eke out a win Tuesday in a state that's considered crucial to his presidential bid, while Democrat Hillary Clinton battled hard, and at times emotionally, to prevent a runaway Barack Obama victory.
The day was marked by overflow crowds for Illinois Sen. Obama, a 36-hour campaign marathon by former North Carolina Sen. John Edwards, an energetic pitch by Arizona Sen. John McCain to the state's huge bloc of independents and New York Sen. Clinton hunting for even a whisper of momentum.
The most noted moment of Clinton's day — and perhaps of her New Hampshire campaign — came when she talked to a small group of undecided voters at Cafe Espresso in Portsmouth. Marianne Pernold Young, a photographer, asked her, "How do you do it? How do you . . . keep upbeat and so wonderful?"
As Clinton began to answer, her voice began to break and tears appeared in her eyes. "You know," she said, echoing a theme of Edwards' campaign, "this is very personal for me. It's not just political and it's not just public. I see what's happening, and we have to reverse it."
Clinton has fallen far behind Obama, who has an average lead of 8 percentage points in 11 different statewide polls that surveyed through Sunday.
On the Republican side, Romney, the former Massachusetts governor, trails McCain by about half that margin. Romney had counted heavily on winning last week's Iowa Republican caucuses, then duplicating that victory in his neighboring state.
He finished a distant second in Iowa to former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, who's seen as a distant third or even fourth-place finisher in New Hampshire, so he's campaigning as a favorite son and next-door neighbor.
Romney said Monday that win or lose in New Hampshire, he'd continue, and that finishing second wouldn't be a serious blow. The next major Republican contest is Jan. 15 in Michigan, where his father was governor in the 1960s.
"I'm not ending my campaign in New Hampshire," he said. "Let me be clear about that."
Meanwhile, McCain, who swept to victory in the state in 2000, is barnstorming New Hampshire like an old friend, saying that he remains very much his own man.
"What I will do will not be driven by any poll," he told a crowd of about 300 in Keene. "It will be driven by principle."
The line, a new one, reflects what many campaigns now say they recognize: voters' disgust with politics driven by pollsters and consultants. It's a clear play for the state's undeclared voters, who make up about 45 percent of New Hampshire's electorate.
Romney countered in his stump speech by warning listeners that Democrats seem poised to nominate Obama, the third-year senator who's not only besting Clinton but also beat three other Washington veterans in Iowa.
"If we put up a longtime-serving senator who talks about his years of experience, Barack Obama will do to him what he did to others with the same pitch," Romney said at the Nashua Country Club.
People in the audience of about 200 — like voters in many Republican audiences in recent days — included a lot of folks who still were trying to decide.
John Egan, a retired executive, voted for McCain in 2000, and still likes him. But he also found Romney's management experience appealing. "I know his style and how he'll approach things," Egan said.
On the Democratic side, Clinton is struggling to hold back an Obama surge, while Edwards remains mired in third.
Edwards finished a 36-hour bus tour late Monday. He and his wife, Elizabeth, fended off questions about how long he'd remain in the race.
"I'm in this to the convention," he said, "and on to the White House."
Clinton's pitch was that she's the candidate with toughness and experience. "There's a big difference between talk and action. There's a big difference between rhetoric and reality," she told a crowd at a community center in Dover.
Carol Davenport, from Dover, who clapped and smiled approvingly as Clinton spoke, said she planned to vote for the senator but feared that Obama might be hard to beat.
"Obama is charismatic and he says everything we feel and want to hear," she said. "But I think, especially with the young people, she (Clinton) is associated with the establishment."
Obama spoke at the Lebanon Opera house, where his high-energy closing argument centered on his two central campaign themes, "change" and "hope," and was far more about style than substance.
"There's something in the air. You can feel it," he told the packed house, as hundreds more waited outside.
He didn't name Clinton, but he zeroed in on her suggestion at a debate Saturday that he couldn't deliver on his promises.
"One of my opponents said, ugh, stop giving people false hopes about what we can accomplish. False hopes? False hopes? There's no such thing. This country was built on hope. Was JFK looking up at the moon and saying, 'Ah, false hope, too far.'
"Reality check? Dr. (Martin Luther) King, standing on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, looking out over that magnificent crowd, the Reflecting Pool, the Washington Monument: 'Sorry guys, false hope. The dream will die.' False hope? We don't need leaders to tell us what we can't do; we need those who can inspire us to do."
ON THE WEB
The latest Democratic New Hampshire polls: http://www.realclearpolitics.com/epolls/2008/president/nh/new_hampshire_democratic_primary-194.html
The latest Republican New Hampshire polls:
Clinton's discussion in Portsmouth, N.H.:
(Margaret Talev, Matt Stearns and Mark Johnson of The Charlotte Observer contributed to this story from New Hampshire.)