1ST LEAD: Clinton leads Obama in early New Hampshire voting
( dpa )- Former first lady Hillary Clinton took the lead over Democratic rival Barack Obama in early voting Tuesday in the New Hampshire primary, the second contest to nominate the two big-party US presidential candidates.
On the Republican side, US Senator and Vietnam war hero John McCain, 71, seemed headed for victory over former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney, once the New Hampshire front-runner, who was running second.
Clinton, running on her political experience, was polling 40 per cent with 15 per cent of precincts reporting. Obama , who is seeking to become the first black president, was at 36 per cent. Former senator John Edwards was trailing in third place.
In the hunt for momentum toward the Democratic nomination, Clinton, 60, was under pressure to bounce back in New Hampshire after placing third in last week's Iowa caucuses. Obama , 46, won Iowa among Democrats, rallying voters inspired by his message of change and pledge to overcome political bickering in Washington.
New Hampshire Republicans gave McCain 37 per cent and Romney 28 per cent in early voting in the small northeastern state, which traditionally holds the first presidential primary in the race to the November general election.
McCain, an outspoken supporter of the 2007 US troop buildup in Iraq, would be the oldest US president. He won the New Hampshire primary in 2000 before seeing his presidential fade.
Only days ago, New Hampshire appeared to be in Clinton's corner. Polls showed her with a double digit lead. But Obama capitalized on his momentum after Iowa and quickly overtook Clinton in the polls.
Candidates had only five days after the opening Iowa caucuses to reshape their strategies and launch a massive final campaign blitz in New Hampshire as they seek to represent their parties in the November 4 general election.
Clinton grew emotional during last minute exhaustive campaigning on Monday, in response to a question about how she kept up the gruelling pace on the campaign trail.
"Some people think elections are a game. They think it's like who's up or who's down," she said, speaking softly as her voice began to crack. "It's about our country, it's about our kids' futures, and it's really about all of us together."