Independent voters key in N.H. GOP primary

By James Pindell GLOBE STAFF 

FRANKLIN, N.H. — New Hampshire’s large numbers of independent voters have contributed to its reputation as a mercurial swing state.

But their impact may be felt like never before in February’s presidential primary, playing a crucial role in choosing the winner from this season’s crowded and tumultuous field of Republican candidates.

Unlike in many other states, New Hampshire voters who don’t register as Republican or Democrat can participate in either party’s primary. Republican officials are predicting that these “undeclared” voters — as many as 90,000 of the 250,000 Republican primary voters next year, according to one campaign’s count — will be inclined to pull a ballot for the GOP in the first-in-the-nation primary in large part because that contest is much more heated.

“There is no doubt that independent voters will decide this primary,” said Sarah Crawford Stewart, who ran former Utah governor Jon Huntsman’s independent-focused 2012 Republican campaign here. “And now is the time when every campaign begins looking for the unicorn: the truly independent voters that you know are there, but you have no idea where to find them.”