The Politics of New Hampshire

Written By: - Date published: 10:49 pm, January 10th, 2008 - 8 comments
Categories: International - Tags:

For those of you following the presidential primaries this opinion piece by Dan Balz in the Washington Post (9 Jan) provides some interesting observations on the Clinton/Obama result which flew in the face of polls and political pundits: “Hillary Clinton’s stunning victory here on Tuesday night was another powerful reminder of something that is taught in Politics 101: Campaigns matter.

In the five days between Iowa and New Hampshire, Clinton ran a campaign. Barack Obama rode a wave. Everyone – myself included – believed the wave would not crest before Tuesday’s balloting. Clinton, determined as ever, set out to do something to stop it.”

Clinton was tentative in the first hours on the ground after her loss in Iowa. Her advisers confused and shaken by the results in Iowa. Friday was a day of taking stock and trying out new lines but without much to show for it.

By Saturday night and the only debate between Iowa and New Hampshire, she was more certain of what she wanted to say. There was lots of focus afterwards on the moment when her voice rose in apparent anger; there was not enough attention, post-debate, to the way she had framed the choice for voters in New Hampshire.

“Words are not actions,” she said. “And as beautifully presented and passionately felt as they are, they are not action.”

By Sunday and Monday, Clinton was focused on drawing contrasts with Obama. By then the comparison was less artful but more understandable: “Where’s the beef?” And on Monday, her normally tough façade cracked under the strain of the campaign and a human side of America’s Iron Lady crept into view.

Clinton said Tuesday night that she had found her own voice during her five days in New Hampshire. Many may have assumed she was referring to the moment in the diner on Monday when her voice cracked with emotion. But she may just have correctly meant that she had found a more effective way to talk about why she wanted to be president.

In Iowa, the closing argument was: “Pick me because I’m experienced.” In New Hampshire, it was: “Pick me because I care so deeply about what has happened to this country and to you, the voters struggling every day with the problems of finding affordable health care or paying the mortgage or financing college tuition.”

“I don’t think tearing up/showing emotion was the crucial thing, so much as what she said when she had that brief moment of attention,” Democratic pollster Geoffrey Garin wrote in an email Wednesday morning. “It was the first time she gave a personal sense of mission to her candidacy. Generally in the last few days, she connected herself more to people’s concerns and hopes.”

Obama’s campaign, in retrospect, was as much an extended victory party after Iowa as it was a campaign focused on New Hampshire voters. It wasn’t that Obama was oblivious to the contrasts Clinton was drawing. But he was asking New Hampshire voters to ratify what happened in Iowa, a decision that might have effectively ended the Democratic nomination battle.

That was not enough for what Clinton rightly knew about New Hampshire’s stubbornly independent-minded electorate.

Were there signs we all missed? I look back at the last few days and think about what I overlooked. On Saturday morning, I was there for Obama’s enormous rally at Nashua South High School, where the lines stretched seemingly forever before the doors opened. I was more impressed with the lines than I was with my conversations that morning with a number of those who had come to hear Obama.

Some were like David Batchelder, who said he was impressed with Obama’s hopeful message and had decided to support him over John Edwards.

A number of others were still clearly undecided and still shopping. “He’s got a new message,” said Bob Gosselin, an independent voter. “Whether he’s got enough experience to pull it off is the question.”

Ken Cody, also undecided, had set out early that morning from the New Hampshire seacoast to see Obama, but also interested in Clinton. Cody said he was impressed with Clinton’s policy expertise and experience but credited Obama with having leadership skills that she did not show.

“That’s the balancing act,” he said. “He creates a lot of excitement but I don’t think people have had a chance to look under the covers. That’s a little scary to me.”

In short, there was evidence, for anyone willing to pay attention to it, that even in the middle of a boisterous Obama rally, some voters were still shopping – and perhaps more voters that anyone realized.

Anther overlooked factor was the strength of Clinton’s support among women. In Iowa, Obama won the women’s vote. Final polls in New Hampshire suggested he would do the same on Tuesday, which was evidence enough that Clinton could not win.

No one has a good explanation for why there was such a disparity between those polls and the final results, which showed Clinton easily winning the female vote. With women comprising about 57 percent of the electorate, Clinton owed her victory to the gender gap.

Another factor that Clinton was performing well and drawing crowds that, if not quite as large and enthusiastic as Obama’s, were nonetheless often impressive. For voters still listening, and there apparently were many, Clinton was talking directly to them.

Finally, there were attacks against Obama, through direct mail as well as from the candidate. The Obama team may have underestimated those attacks.

So there are plenty of lessons for everyone from Tuesday’s Democratic results. The important question is what lessons the candidates will take away.

Obama looked beaten when he came on stage Tuesday night. As the crowd chanted, “Yes we can,” Michelle Obama, full of life, picked up the chant and looked directly at her husband, who stood with slumped shoulders and a slightly distant look on his face. It was as if she were trying to pump energy and confidence back into his candidacy.

Defeat may serve to strengthen him – and remind him that each election is new, each electorate is there to be persuaded.

Clinton’s lesson is one she and her husband have absorbed before: Never give up, keep fighting, block out all talk to the contrary. But there is a danger for her campaign if she and her advisers regard Iowa as just a place that did not particularly like her and that the campaign they were running was sufficient.

The Democratic race is now unpredictable. Clinton and Obama are two strong but strikingly different candidates. Both campaigns have the resources to wage the battle on a level playing field as they point to what could be a showdown on Feb. 5.

Iowa and New Hampshire voters have come down on different sides in the first two contests. Democratic voters in upcoming states have a clear choice and a difficult one.

Perhaps everyone watching and interpreting the campaign will give these voters the attention and the credit they deserve, rather than assuming what they will do. There are likely to be more surprises ahead

8 comments on “The Politics of New Hampshire”

  1. Phil 1

    I suspect that the New Hampshire result will be pored over for quite some time, but I think partly it comes down to some basic game theory (isn’t economics wonderful when it can provide insight to these types of things?) of repeated rounds.

    What we have here is a situation where voters are looking at combinations of presidential outcomes, and attempting to assess which of “my” party candidates is best placed to beat the likely candidate of “your” party.

  2. Matthew Pilott 2

    You’re thinking like a game of chess, Rebublicans will move to counter the opposition, but the opposition from the Democrats is equally fluid as they move to counter the likely Republican opposition? That’s quite an interesting way of thinking about it.

    The US really knows how to make a good show of it!!

  3. Pablo 3

    I would have thought the most electable Republican nominees are Giuliani & McCain, neither of which will be annointed by the religious extreme of the party (apparently cost McCain the nomination in 2000 so he is pandering somewhat more to that wing this time).

    Because of that I wonder if the GOP grassroots will be able to ccounteract its leadership and appoint a viable Republican candidate for November?

  4. Phil 4

    I suspect that the religous extreeme will fall into line behind any Republican candidate… wouldn’t you if the opposition was Hilary or Obama?

    I think the average Republican feels that Huckabee would be torn apart by Hillary if they were the two options. McCain would probably be the best option to take her on, but if he stretches out a lead, Democrats will probably go back to Obama… this is going to be a good one!

  5. Michele Cabiling 5

    Shrillary won New Hampshire because she was able to produce some artful crocodile tears at the right time on television. This turned out the Sisterhood “sympathy vote” in large numbers.

    Normally she cries about as much as a rattlesnake

  6. Jum 6

    Michele

    You misogynist you.

    But she is educated.

  7. Michele Cabiling 7

    What’s “misogynist” about expecting a woman running for public office to play by the same rules of public conduct as a man?

    For those who know anything about US history, a public crying jag was sufficient to sink the presidential candidacy of Ed Muskie, who was ever after seen as too much of a girl’s blouse to be president.

    Hardness is required … whatever the gender of the candidate … not playing to the gallery for a sympathy vote whenever things get a little tough.

  8. Jum 8

    Michele

    I’m glad you’re finally beginning to prove my point.

    Why shouldn’t a MAN be expected to play by the same rules as a WOMAN when seeking public office. Will the world ever evolve that far. I am still hopeful.

    What’s wrong with a tear now and again. Ask Hawke, ask every male caught in flagrante delicto, it works. A slight catch in the voice, holding tight to the spouse’s arm looking devotedly into her face – it’s enough to turn the stomach.

    Another case in point is that men get the female and male vote when they somewhat sheepishly admit to venturing into a ‘den of iniquity’ to see those ‘hussies’ take their clothes off, almost as if they were forced into it. These are simply strange little foibles of human beings as to what they find attractive in a candidate and if Key can get women’s votes for admitting to visiting strip clubs then why can’t Clinton get votes for a tear here and there.

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