Wednesday, January 09, 2008

The Comeback (Not Quite) Kids

"I come tonight with a very, very full heart, and I want especially to thank New Hampshire. Over the last week I listened to you, and in the process I found my own voice.[...] Now, together, let's give America the kind of comeback that New Hampshire has just given me."
-Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-NY), presidential candidate

"I'm past the age when I can claim the noun 'kid,' no matter what adjective precedes it, but we sure showed them what a comeback looks like."
-Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), presidential candidate

As a New Hampshire resident, I am always very proud of my state on that one day every four years when we have the opportunity to be political movers and shakers for the rest of the country-- the day of the first-in-the-nation New Hampshire primary. I know NH has been doing this primary first for over fifty years, and that almost every election year comes with surprises. But this year, I feel, was one that shocked pundits and casual observers alike.

In this primary, once again, New Hampshire voters surprised everyone.

Not on the Republican side of things, of course. John McCain has been doing better and better in this state ever since he stopped pandering (as much) to the Republican base and brought back his successful 2000 Straight Talk Express. Straight talk is always something that New Hampshire voters appreciate, and CNN called the race for McCain by 8:30, with less than 50% of the votes in. It was clear that he was going to win as the results started coming in-- he took a comfortable lead of 10 points over Romney and held it straight through.

Since the very beginning of the election cycle, Hillary Clinton was leading all other candidates by leaps and bounds in New Hampshire and nationally. About a month ago, though, the "rock star" candidate Barack Obama started edging up closer and closer to Clinton in the NH polls, and after his upset victory in the Iowa caucuses on January 3rd, polls as recently as Sunday had him either leading Clinton by a large margin (10 points by one poll) or in a statistical tie. All the pundits and Obama supporters, and many Clinton supporters too, expected another landslide victory for the senator from Chicago.

But it didn't happen. Hillary Clinton took a lead early on as the results started coming in, and held it for the rest of the night with between two and five points separating her and Obama the entire way through. Clinton took two of the largest cities, Manchester and Nashua; Obama fared better in smaller but still very significant cities like Portsmouth and Keene. After a nail-biting four hours for supporters of both Clinton and Obama who were following the race, CNN finally called the race in Hillary's favor around 11:30 PM.

I was lucky enough to be present in Manchester for almost all of primary day. Two friends from college came up for the day, and after meeting them both at the airport, we drove downtown to Hillary Clinton volunteer headquarters, where we were assigned to go canvass a neighborhood in nearby Hooksett, working to get out the vote. After working the neighborhood, my friends (Graham and Jenny) and I headed back to downtown Manchester, where we parked the car and walked up to the Radisson hotel, which turned out to be media central.

Walking around the ground floor of the hotel, we found countless radio stations broadcasting, and rooms set up (conveniently enough for tourist types like us, with glass walls so we could see in) where news networks were broadcasting. We walked by FOX News taping a segment, an ABC news dinner, the C-SPAN workroom, presidential candidate Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-CA), and Dennis Kucinich's ("hot") wife before happening upon NBC Nightly News broadcasting from a room in the back of the hotel. Naturally we couldn't go in, but we could still look in and see White House correspondent (and American University alum) David Gregory reporting on primary day. While we were standing there, none other than Meet the Press host Tim Russert walked out of the press room and into the bathroom.

After we left the Radisson, we made our way to Southern New Hampshire University, where at 7:00 PM the line to get in to see Hillary Clinton already stretched back out the door. The doors opened at 8 PM, and we made our way into the gym, where the atmosphere was already electric. Then it was basically just 3 1/2 long hours of standing around waiting. They had a big screen up, onto which they were projecting CNN's Election Night coverage. The crowd cheered every time Hillary's numbers changed. Music was blasting- everything from "Life is A Highway" to "American Girl" to "A Change'll Do You Good." The crowd was biting their nails much of the time, but was regardless jazzed the entire night.

But never more so than when CNN finally projected that Hillary Clinton would win the primary. The crowd went wild- jumping up and down, hugs and high fives all around the room, screaming at the top of their lungs, chanting "Hillary, Hillary" and "Comeback Kid."

And when Hillary, Bill, and Chelsea Clinton came in the room, the crowd went crazy again. Emotion was high-- many started tearing up, including former President Clinton as he watched his wife, the potential future President Clinton, speak.

It took Senator Clinton several minutes to calm the crowd down long enough to be able to speak. And she was interrupted frequently by cheers and applause. She didn't speak for long before she came down into the crowd and circulated, shaking hands. (Yes, including Graham's, Jenny's, and mine.)

New Hampshire made history last night by handing the primary victory to a woman-- the first woman to win a primary ever in US history. That is not a fact to brush off.

Nor is this: From (according to some pollsters) 10 points behind to taking the primary by about a 4% was indeed a comeback for Hillary Clinton. Will it give her the bounce she needs to take the nomination? Tough to know. South Carolina's coming up, as is Nevada; most likely she will lose SC and take NV. The race is going to be close between Clinton and Obama. Super Tuesday will be the real test. Stay tuned.

Further Reading:
Manchester Union Leader: The Democrats: As Usual, The Undecideds are the Key
ABC News: Clinton Wins in N.H.: I 'Found My Voice'
Tim Kash Blog: Hillary Clinton Supporters Jump for Joy at NH Headquarters
CNN: Clinton, McCain Bids Energized in New Hampshire
The Carpetbagger Report: Dewey defeats Truman Clinton defeats Obama in New Hampshire
The Carpetbagger Report: When A Funny Thing Happens on the Way to the Nomination

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