MANCHESTER, N.H. – This isn't Iowa anymore. As fast as you can say "Kerry wins," the Democratic presidential candidates are retooling their campaigns in an appeal to New Hampshire's independent voters.
The White House hopefuls also are making decisions on the fly about the vital next stage of the campaign -- a spate of February elections in 17 states and the District of Columbia, starting Feb. 3.
And they're doing all this without the presence of Dick Gephardt, bounced from the field after an Iowa caucus contest that has candidates thinking twice about going negative in the fast-shifting race headed toward the New Hampshire primary on Tuesday.
"Everything has changed since Iowa," said Joe Trippi, campaign manager for Howard Dean (search). "It always does."
The change starts with the voters themselves. Only registered Democrats were allowed to vote in Iowa, and few independents took advantage of rules allowing on-the-spot registration. But New Hampshire has a history of crossover voting.
In 2000, about 40 percent of voters in both the Republican and Democratic primaries identified themselves in exit polls as independents. Bill Bradley defeated Al Gore (search), 55-43 percent, among independents on the Democratic side; Republican John McCain (search) swamped George W. Bush, 61-19 percent, on his way to a landslide victory over the future president.
Echoes of that GOP race reverberate this year in New Hampshire, where private campaign polls suggest Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts, winner of Monday's caucuses, has surged to a slight lead over Dean.
Reeling from his distant third-place Iowa finish, Dean is telling New Hampshire voters that he is the one candidate who has produced reforms, instead of just talking about them. Bush used a similar strategy to salvage his campaign after the 2000 New Hampshire primary, calling himself a "reformer with results" as Texas' governor.
In a nod to McCain, who made campaign finance reform the centerpiece of his 2000 bid, Dean will offer a proposal Thursday to lower the limit of individual campaign contributions.
He also will spend tens of thousands of dollars on TV, radio and mailings to promote himself as a politician willing to take unpopular stands, such as opposing the Iraq war and backing civil unions in Vermont.
Sen. Joe Lieberman (search) of Connecticut has touted his ability to draw former McCain backers to his campaign.
Kerry cast his prescription drug plan Wednesday as a sign that he's "willing to take on the powerful special interests in Washington."
The shift drew a word of caution from state Democratic chairwoman Kathleen Sullivan.
"There's a problem with tailoring a message that just appeals to independents, because they've got to get Democratic rank-and-file to vote, too," she said.
They also must look beyond New Hampshire to Feb. 3, when seven states hold contests from South Carolina to Arizona and as far north as Delaware. That next stage poses a problem for Kerry, who pulled staff out of the Feb. 3 states to save his sagging campaign in Iowa. He also had money problems, which kept his ads off TV while retired rival Wesley Clark, Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina, Dean and Lieberman spent millions of dollars in the seven states.
Kerry borrowed money against his family fortune, but needs more. He has asked supporters to donate $1 million between the Iowa and New Hampshire elections.
Even Dean, the race's top fund-raiser, would be forced to trim his Feb. 3 ad plans if he doesn't get the money and momentum he needs out of New Hampshire. "The calendar moves so fast, and there's so many states coming," Trippi said. "We have more money than all those folks, but we don't have more than all of them combined."
Clark is airing ads in five Feb. 3 states, Lieberman in four, Dean in three and Edwards in two.
No decisions will be made until this weekend -- and some may wait until Tuesday night -- but aides say Kerry will try to cherry-pick delegates with a small investment in some states while playing for victory in a couple others.
Oklahoma is not a good state for him, but Arizona and South Carolina are full of fellow military veterans.
Kerry will stake a claim to Michigan, site of a Feb. 7 primary. One of his top strategists, Jill Alper, left Iowa this week for Michigan to oversee his team. Alper has worked for Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm, who is thought to be leaning toward endorsing Kerry.
Edwards' focus is South Carolina and Oklahoma. Clark, who skipped Iowa and is nipping on Dean's heels here, is sticking to a multistate strategy that has him airing ads in three February-voting states without competition from his rivals -- Virginia, Tennessee and Wisconsin
Gephardt's departure put the Feb. 3 primary of his home state of Missouri into play, an expensive proposition. His negative ad in Iowa, which helped sink his and Dean's poll ratings, may have had an impact on the New Hampshire race.
Kerry's advisers had prepared ads criticizing his rivals, but the attacks were tabled -- for now, in part, aides said, because his poll numbers are rising without taking the risk of tearing down his rivals.
Instead, Kerry's latest ad stresses his experience, integrity and record of fighting special interests -- a faint echo of McCain's appeal to independents.