The political spotlight is switching to New Hampshire. And the race here is tightening, just as it had in Iowa.

While Monday's Iowa caucuses provided the first Democratic contest of the year, New Hampshire holds the first primary election, on Jan. 27.

Wesley Clark (search) and Joe Lieberman (search), who skipped the caucuses, have pretty much had New Hampshire to themselves as their major rivals campaigned in Iowa. They're about to get a lot of company.

Polls show former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean (search) remains the front-runner, but Clark and John Kerry (search) are gaining on him fast.

For more than a half-century, New Hampshire has been viewed as one of the key starting points for presidential campaigns -- unusual for a state with a tiny population, no major cities and only four electoral votes.

The primary gained national prominence in 1952 when it first listed candidates by name. Before then, voters selected only delegates.

That 1952 primary offered a surprise: Sen. Estes Kefauver of Tennessee beat President Harry Truman after spending a lot of time in New Hampshire. Not that Truman cared -- he had decided in private not to seek re-election and didn't campaign at all. After the primary he made it official.

In the 1968 primary, Sen. Eugene McCarthy's strong second-place finish helped galvanize opposition to the Vietnam War and push President Lyndon Johnson from the race.

In 1976, a little-known peanut farmer and former Georgia governor, Jimmy Carter, won the Democratic primary, helping his march to the presidency.

In the 1980 Republican contest, Ronald Reagan came back from a loss to George H.W. Bush in Iowa to win here.

Bill Clinton, burdened in 1992 with allegations of marital infidelity and avoiding the military draft, revived his campaign and finished a close second to Paul Tsongas of Massachusetts and went on to win the presidency.

However, John McCain's strong win over George W. Bush in 2000 didn't lead to a convention victory.

As many politicians have learned the hard way, it isn't always whether you win in New Hampshire -- but whether you finish stronger than expected.

In 1972, Edmund Muskie of Maine won the Democratic primary. But anti-war candidate George McGovern made a strong second-place showing, 37 percent to Muskie's 47 percent. That was enough for a launching pad for McGovern, who went on to win the Democratic nomination.

"We didn't win the New Hampshire primary," McGovern said Sunday as he campaigned here for Wesley Clark, "but everybody thought we did."

Two tiny villages in northern New Hampshire -- Dixville Notch and Hart's Location -- will be the first to vote in next Tuesday's primary, as they do in presidential elections. Both have a tradition in which all citizens vote at midnight after which the votes are counted.

Clark's campaign announced on Monday that he would end a daylong bus swing through New Hampshire next Monday near midnight in Dixville Notch. There are just 23 voters there: 12 Republicans, 11 independents and no Democrats. The 11 independents are eligible to vote in the Democratic primary.

The New Hampshire primary has also been a good winnowing process in the past.

For those able to continue, the next obstacle course is the Feb. 3 contests in seven states: Arizona, Delaware, Missouri, New Mexico, North Dakota, Oklahoma and South Carolina.