New Hampshire Predictions:
Obama Blowout; Romney Rallying
McCain had seemed a clear winner over Romney in New Hampshire with two days left before the Republican voting, but Romney is coming back fast.
Obama looks like a winner over Clinton in Tuesday’s New Hampshire primary, which will be damaging but not fatal to her Democratic presidential candidacy.
Here is our New Hampshire outlook based on a personal reporting trip by Robert Novak:
- Sen. John McCain (Ariz.) had pulled even with front-running former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney prior to the Iowa caucuses and pulled ahead based on Romney’s disappointing second-place finish in Iowa.
- After Saturday night’s ABC debate, Romney, from neighboring Massachusetts, seemed to be in freefall. The other candidates personally dislike him, and they ganged up on him. The only problem for McCain appeared to be that he overplayed his hand in going after Romney with too much vehemence and personal animosity.
- But Romney made a remarkable comeback in Sunday night’s Fox News debate, dominating his opponents. He capitalized on McCain’s weaknesses on tax and immigration policy. We attended a focus group of mainly undecided Republican voters arranged for Fox by pollster Frank Luntz. They entered the room before the debate widely divided and left it after the debate heavily for Romney — because of the immigration issue.
- Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee never was expected to repeat his Iowa win in the less fertile soil of New Hampshire, but his performance in the Fox debate was truly dreadful. The Luntz focus group hated Huckabee’s refusal to answer questions about his record.
- Former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani was not long ago battling Romney for the New Hampshire lead, but he abandoned the state a few weeks back as part of his “big-state” strategy and over the past weekend did little there except participate in the debates. Like McCain, he suffers because of the immigration issue.
- If McCain does win in New Hampshire, he will be the new national frontrunner. Romney may be finished, with Giuliani given the best chance of overcoming McCain.
Our shaky New Hampshire projection on election eve:
1st Place: McCain, but vulnerable.
2nd Place: Romney, but rallying.
3rd Place: Huckabee.
4th Place: Giuliani.
5th Place: Former Sen. Fred Thompson (Tenn.).
- The third-place finish in Iowa by Sen. Hillary Clinton (N.Y.) had a negative impact in New Hampshire, where she had been slipping against Sen. Barack Obama (Ill.) even before her loss in Iowa. It is beginning to look like a double-digit loss for Clinton.
- She was supposed to come out swinging against Obama in New Hampshire, but her boring, pedantic campaign style had not really changed from Iowa. At one rally where we were present, Clinton never mentioned Obama by name and criticized him only once (on healthcare) as “one of my opponents.” Former President Bill Clinton, campaigning separately, is sprightlier but no more effective.
- In contrast, “Obamamania” reigns supreme — generating enthusiasm not seen since the 1968 campaign of Robert F. Kennedy. He attracts new voters and generates support across ideological and party lines. In truth, he worries Republicans sick, but for now, he threatens the long, slowly built Clinton campaign.
- Former Sen. John Edwards (N.C.), who dwells on finishing ahead of Clinton in Iowa, looks like the odd man out in New Hampshire, with very little interest in him.
- Clinton will not drop out after New Hampshire, as has been reported, and she can still stop Obama in the big states. But it will not be easy or automatic.
Our election eve projection for New Hampshire:
1st Place: Obama, going away.
2nd Place: Clinton.
3rd Place: Edwards.
4th Place: New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson.