- Sen. Hillary Clinton‘s (D.-N.Y.) unexpected win in New Hampshire Tuesday came when her own supporters talked of at least relaunching her campaign or at worst of getting out. There had been speculation that Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.), by winning in Nevada and South Carolina, could wrap up the nomination in the next couple of weeks.
- Many Democrats whom we contacted expressed relief, albeit prematurely, of finally being rid of the Clintons. But she came back with typical Clintonian tactics — the tearful emotional scene on election eve, which most politicians thought was contrived, and Bill Clinton’s screed against Obama. That mobilized the Clinton base: senior citizens, low-income workers, single women, and labor union members.
- Why were all the polls in New Hampshire — including the exit polls — so wrong? Not many people talk about it publicly, but in private, there is speculation that white voters lie to pollsters about their willingness to vote for an African-American. That is the worst aspect of Obama’s defeat in New Hampshire.
- Nevertheless, Obama is still in the ball game. The Culinary Workers union, a potent political force in Nevada, may still endorse him — making him a serious threat to Clinton in that state. Thanks to the big African-American vote, Obama is favored in South Carolina. The battle is still on.
- Sen. John McCain‘s (R-Ariz.) decisive win in New Hampshire puts him in a commanding position. If he can defeat former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney (R) in Michigan January 15 and then beat former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee in South Carolina, he will be unbeatable. A loss for Romney in Michigan, which now looks likely, will eliminate him. The only hope to stop McCain is former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani (R), but his late-starting, big-state strategy looks like a loser.
- While many conservatives and libertarians are still emotionally opposed to McCain, objective Republican strategists see him as the best shot at beating either Clinton or Obama. Democrats tend to agree. Most Republicans believe that McCain vs. Clinton is the best match that they can think of.
- Romney based his New Hampshire campaign on attacking McCain’s liberal immigration policy, and it failed there — as it did in Iowa. There is a growing body of evidence that making immigration the No. 1 issue is a political mistake.
N.H. Republican Primary
McCain’s big win over Romney leaves the GOP race wide open.
McCain: McCain’s huge victory here verifies his resurrection from the dead and puts him at the front of the pack.
- McCain’s 37 percent to Romney’s 32 percent was a bigger-than-expected victory. McCain, at age 71, is now the clear front-runner for the GOP nomination, although he certainly does not have an easy path there.
- McCain won among Republicans as well as independents, and he did very well among pro-choice voters. His decision to skip Iowa and focus on New Hampshire appears to have been the right move.
- He deserves credit for how he handled his months in the wilderness. He dramatically pruned his staff after poor fundraising and plunging poll numbers knocked him off his post as the original frontrunner. Huckabee’s surge, first foreshadowed with his strong showing in August’s Iowa straw poll, provided the opportunity for McCain’s big blow last night. While Romney’s strategy is in shambles, McCain’s Plan B is working perfectly.
- Winning New Hampshire for the second time gives McCain a boost to repeat in Michigan, as well. Lacking the funds that Romney and Giuliani enjoy, McCain has plenty of hard work in front of him, but now he has the wind at his back.
Romney: Romney’s second loss puts his well-financed campaign at death’s door.
- Romney’s core tactic in New Hampshire of attacking McCain on immigration fell flat partly because McCain reduced the issue to a squabble over the definition of “amnesty.” Also, the negativity seemed to hurt him here as it did in Iowa. Finally, as a well-off corporate raider, it’s hard for voters to believe Romney really cares about the issue. It comes across as opportunistic and purely political. Immigration has not proved a winning issue in recent years.
- Iowa doesn’t determine New Hampshire, but this time it certainly had an effect. For many Republicans, Romney was simply the “electable conservative.” Once he lost to Huckabee, that title vanished. Also, Huckabee’s attacks on Romney were effective. Finally, Iowa emboldened the other Republicans in Saturday night’s debate, and he looked bad.
- While Romney can dig into his own massive fortunes to stay alive, it’s hard to imagine where he can win if he can’t win in two states where he has spent huge amounts of money and time. The voters who know him best — including those in his neighboring state of New Hampshire — aren’t quite sold on him.
- On the upside, Romney leads in the delegate chase, and his two second-place finishes were convincingly ahead of the third place finishers. Still, a loss in Michigan probably ends his run.
The Field: Huckabee, former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, and Rep. Ron Paul (Tex.) constitute a second tier in New Hampshire, with Thompson and Rep. Duncan Hunter (Calif.) taking up the rear.
- Third place in New Hampshire, even if it’s a distant third place, is a good showing for Huckabee, who didn’t even register on the polls here recently. The Iowa win combined with Thompson’s failure to make a dent gave Huckabee his 11 percent.
- According to exit polls, Huckabee easily won among voters who believe abortion should always be illegal, showing that he is becoming the pro-life candidate Romney and Thompson had hoped to be.
- Giuliani‘s 9 percent third-place finish — remember, this is the man who was considered the front-runner upon McCain’s collapse — is pretty dismal, and it highlights the desperation of his rope-a-dope strategy of trying to survive without any wins until Florida. McCain picked up many of the New Hampshire moderates Giuliani would otherwise have gotten, and it’s questionable whether Giuliani can hold on to the moderates in future states.
- Ron Paul‘s fourth place and 8 percent keeps him relevant, but it dims any hope that he will become a real factor. The “Live Free or Die” state was the best hope for the libertarian maverick, and even with his fundraising success here, he couldn’t beat any of the top-tier candidates.
- Thompson barely registered here, pulling in fewer than 3,000 votes. This means he has basically zero grass-roots enthusiasm. Although there’s not a single typical conservative among the front-running GOP candidates, it would take quite a surprise for Thompson to become a factor.
- Hunter’s awful showing here (about 1,000 votes) should end his candidacy.
N.H. Democratic Primary
Clinton’s upset win saves her candidacy, setting the stage for a one-on-one contest on a level field.
Clinton: A loss here would have left her nearly dead, but her substantial win shows her strength.
- Hillary has more money than Obama, more experience, a stronger campaign team, and a bigger name. All of those factors were supposed to lock up the nomination. Instead they just won New Hampshire.
- Exit polls show Hillary’s negatives were high among Democratic primary voters, but her positives are high, as well. Obama splits the anti-Hillary vote with Edwards. The difference between the pre-election polls and the actual result may have the same cause as the difference between the Iowa caucuses and the New Hampshire primary: Voters are proud to publicly support Obama (whether in a poll or in a caucus room with their neighbors), but in the quiet of the election booth, they go with the more experienced one.
- Hillary won the female vote big, according to exit polls. This reflects the high percentage of seniors in New Hampshire who are women, but it also reflects the leanings of East Coast women. If this pattern continues around the coasts, it will win some big states for Clinton.
- She basically needed a win here to stay alive, and this win will resuscitate her fundraising and the enthusiasm of her supporters. The barrage of bad media will slow.
Obama: Second place is a major disappointment for Obama.
- Obama had huge leads in all the polls, but last night, amid high turnout, he got 6,000 fewer votes than Clinton. This halts his momentum, but hardly knocks him down.
- Obama doesn’t have the organized support — labor leaders, local party chiefs, etc. — that Clinton enjoys. This is true around much of the country, even in Illinois. Democratic politics runs on machines, and running against the machine only works sometimes. Some of the unions who might have jumped on his bandwagon are now biding their time.
- Obama’s second-place finish guarantees that nothing will be settled before the February 5 Mega-Super Tuesday.
Edwards: Clinton and Obama got 76 percent of the vote between them, leaving Edwards in a distant third place.
- Edwards had hoped for another second-place finish, or at least a close third. His 17 percent was disappointing, but hardly a surprise. It has been hard for Edwards to get media attention since Obama’s big win, and as it increasingly looks like a two-way race, more voters are picking sides.
- In a state where populism has sold well (consider Pat Buchanan), Edwards’ class warfare didn’t catch on. Aside from his anti-corporate message, Edwards has little to offer that would distinguish him from the two front-runners.
- Edwards’ campaign has said that he will stick it out through and beyond February 5. That would dramatically increase the chances of a Clinton win. His role might be reduced to spoiler.
Richardson: Richardson’s 5 percent, after a distant fourth-place showing in Iowa, suggests he should drop out.
Overview: Both sides have wide-open races that now look a lot like they did a year ago. The Republican field is confused, and the Democratic race is a one-on-one.
Wyoming: Romney dominated in Wyoming’s January 5 presidential contest, but that doesn’t mean much.
- Huckabee, Giuliani, and McCain all skipped Wyoming, vacating the importance of Romney’s win. The media almost completely ignored this victory in the wake of Huckabee’s big Iowa win.
- Because Iowa does not choose its delegates to the Republican National Convention until its statewide caucuses in March 8, these were the first delegates to be awarded. Romney picked up eight delegates, Thompson three, and Hunter one.
Michigan: Both parties hold Michigan primaries Tuesday, January 15, but only the Republican contest will matter.
- The early primary violates the rules of both parties, meaning Michigan loses half of its Republican delegates to the national convention, and all of its Democratic delegates.
- All of the serious Democrats boycotted the state in response, refusing to campaign there. Clinton, however, remains on the ballot. With no delegates at stake, and no competition, this won’t matter for Democrats.
- On the Republican side, there was no such boycott, and Michigan will be a fierce battle playing a key role in the nomination battle. McCain in particular has been campaigning heavily here.
- McCain won here in 2000 on the strength of Democrats and independents, and the Democratic boycott means he’ll have the same advantage this year. Even though the state now has a “closed primary” as opposed to 2000, any voter can declare which ballot he wants at the polling station.
- This is Romney’s home state, and his father was governor here, but, especially after his two losses, he is not favored. Pre-Iowa polls showed him basically even with Huckabee, and McCain in third. Next week, we can expect a McCain victory with Huckabee and Romney battling for second.
Future States: South Carolina, Florida, and Nevada all have January contests.
- Huckabee has big leads in South Carolina (January 19 for Republicans) polls. This is Thompson’s last chance to get any momentum. The McCain surge should show itself here, as well, pulling him even with or possibly ahead of Huckabee. McCain has an excellent South Carolina organization, headed by Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and incorporating elements of the Bush 2000 campaign.
- Nevada‘s Democratic caucuses (January 19) are the next stop for Democrats after New Hampshire. Clinton should win here, although this win won’t be that valuable. Obama’s hopes depend on whether the Culinary Workers still endorse him despite his loss in New Hampshire.
- Democrats’ South Carolina primary (January 26) should be an Obama blowout, with half of the state’s Democratic electorate being black. If Obama doesn’t win here, that suggests a Hillary steamroller.
- Florida (January 29) will be key for Republicans but, like Michigan, a Democratic snoozer. Over the summer, all of the major Democratic candidates agreed to boycott the state for violating party rules. Hillary could have won here were the state contested, giving her momentum into Mega-Super Tuesday. Instead, this will be a meaningless contest.
- Republicans hold their Maine primary February 1, but by then, all attention will be focused on February 5, when 22 states hold contests, including California, New York, Georgia, New Jersey, and Massachusetts. On the Democratic side, February 5 should settle things. On the Republican side, that date will tell us whether a brokered convention is in the offing.
House and Senate 2008
Retirements: After the New Year, two more congressmen announced they would retire.
- Rep. Tom Lantos (D-Calif.) announced he would retire after 28 years in the House for health reasons. His district, South of San Francisco, is one of the most liberal Democratic districts in the country.
- Rep. John Peterson (R-Pa.) is also retiring, also citing health problems. The Keystone State will see a handful of competitive House races this year, but Republicans hope this isn’t one of them. In this rural district, Peterson suffered some in 2006, dropping to his lowest re-elect percentage ever, at 60%. Bush won this district twice with more than 60%. Whatever else happens in Pennsylvania next year, this seat should stay in Republican hands.
Mississippi Senate Seat: Rep. Roger Wicker (R-Miss.), after being appointed last month by Gov. Haley Barbour (R), will be sworn in January 22 to fill the seat of resigned Sen. Trent Lott (R-Miss.).
- A legal battle has already begun over when a special election will be held. Barbour maintains that state law demands the election be on Election Day in November, and the former secretary of state, a Democrat, agreed that Barbour was correct on “a technicality.” The state’s Democratic Party argues that state law requires a special election sooner. Atty. Gen. Jim Hood (D) has brought the case to court, challenging Barbour’s decision.
- Republicans clearly benefit from an Election Day contest, giving Wicker a full a year in the Senate and placing the race on the same ballot as the presidential contest. Also, an earlier election, by driving down turnout, would make the race less predictable, increasing the chances that a Democrat could upset Wicker.
- Wicker seems likely to be a fairly conservative establishment senator, like his colleague Thad Cochran (R-Miss.) and his former boss, Lott. His voting record over 13 years in the House was generally conservative except for his dedication to pork and his opposition to fiscal reform. His American Conservative Union lifetime rating at the end of last term was 91.5%, while Citizens Against Government Waste gave him a 25% for the 109th Congress and the National Taxpayers’ Union gave him a C+. It’s clear he won’t join the ranks of Senators Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) and Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) in rocking the boat on spending.
- In the Senate special election, Wicker has drawn two opponents. Former Gov. Ronnie Musgrove (D) jumped in this week and immediately went on the attack. Former Rep. Ronnie Shows (D) is also running. Whatever the date of the special election, it will be an open primary, with all candidates from every party on one ballot. If no candidate receives a majority, the top two finishers will move onto a runoff three weeks later. The filing deadline is Friday, and with former Atty. Gen. Mike Moore (D) passing, it looks like Musgrove, Shows, and Wicker will be the only three serious candidates.
- Having two powerful Democrats in the race increases the odds of forcing a runoff, which dramatically improves Democratic chances to take this seat if the election is in November. A November 25 runoff would be out from under the cloud of the presidential race.
- The special election for Wicker’s House seat will be this spring. His is a very Republican district in elections for federal office, with Bush getting around 60% in both 2000 and 2004. In 1980 Wicker was the first Republican to be elected to the state senate in the Northern end of the state.
- While the Magnolia state is trending Republican, the GOP will have its work cut out for it this year, defending a U.S. Senate seat and two U.S. House seats.