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.” American Research Group, which is New Hampshire’s leading polling company and has been operating in the state since 1976, polled 1,200 likely Granite State voters in the survey. Bennett says ARG is finding a similar trend in other states polled, including early primary battlegrounds like Iowa and Nevada. “We’re finding this everywhere,” he says. The main reason isn’t hard to find: His hawkish stance on the Iraq war, which is tying him ever more closely to an unpopular president. “Independent support for McCain is evaporating because they view him as tied to Bush,” says Bennett. The McCain camp yesterday said the senator, who is pushing for a bigger troop surge in Iraq than the president, will stick by his guns. “He has been and will remain committed to achieving victory in Iraq,” a spokesman said.
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