Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Clinton Wins New Hampshire -- How Did Everyone Miss It?

In what may be just as stunning of a victory as Barack Obama's five-days ago (and, wow, does it not seem like that Iowa victory and amazing Iowa victory speech was a lifetime ago, when in fact less than a workweek has passed since Obama's victory) Hillary Clinton has won New Hampshire, defeating Barack Obama and John Edwards. Going into tonight, most polls had Clinton down at least 7 or 8 points, with some having her down double-digits, but something obviously changed in the 24-hours leading up to the polls (perhaps her humanizing moment when she lost her composure a bit at a lunch yesterday) and suddenly the Democratic race is back in flux -- again.

So where do we go from here? Hillary Clinton almost assuredly will not skip South Carolina and Nevada now (largely because she has a good chance at winning them), a strategy floated early in the day. The large Culinary Union in Nevada, which was set to endorse of Obama (or so the reports were when Obama was poised to win New Hampshire going away) may now endorse Clinton, adding fuel to her comeback story, and almost assuring her victory in that state. High noon may come in South Carolina in two weeks, but how February 5th turns out is a mystery at this point.

I think today was an example of a misstep of Obama's campaign, perhaps because of it's inexperience in these types of national campaigns. Whether they got a little too cocky after Iowa, or they were fooled by the polling data it seemed everyone was looking at, they allowed expectations to get way out of control. Even if Obama had won by four or five points, instead of losing by that margin, it likely would have been spun as a Clinton victory (I wrote about that fear yesterday). Clinton's campaign, on the other hand, real or not, spent the day leaking stories of a campaign overhaul and panic in the campaign and worry about a double-digit loss. They lowered expectations to the point where almost anything they did could be considered a victory, and a real victory stuns the political world and jump-starts her campaign again. Even if it was unintentional, the panic and leaks and desperation from the Clinton campaign, and the over-exuberance of the Obama campaign, led to a change in expectations, and a situation where Obama became almost inevitable, and tonight, we learned he isn't.

This is a big blow to Obama because his campaign is supposed to be more than just a campaign, it's supposed to be a movement. A movement of independents and even Republicans as well as Democrats, and tonight, in a state full of independents, he wasn't able to defeat Clinton. It takes the air of his sails as he heads to Nevada and South Carolina. Even if he loses Nevada (and should he still get the Culinary Union's endorsement, that would take the sting out of tonight's loss and change the news-cycle away from his loss) he can still win South Carolina. And that's the last primary before Super Tuesday, where I'm becoming more and more convinced California will decide the race on that day. Clinton will take the Northeast and probably Arkansas, Obama the South and states like Missouri. And then California may decide it.

Another stunning night tonight, in a series of them in this Democratic campaign, and one practically nobody saw coming. And we'll see where it goes from here.

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