W(h)ither Hillary?

She’s down, but not out.  Hillary Clinton’s narrow win in yesterday’s New Hampshire primary surprised a lot of us.  Though she is re-energized, the most relieved at the result must be her darling husband.

For most of primary day in New Hampshire, the Secret Service was probably on alert, planning their operations for today. I know some of those guys, and they’re very smart, dedicated and brave. But if Hillary lost New Hampshire by a huge margin, how could they possibly protect Bill from her wrath?

The day before the vote, Hillary’s chief campaign asset smirkingly told a New Hampshire crowd that there were limits to what He could do for She.  He said, “…I can’t make her younger, taller, male.  There’s a lot I can’t do.”  Were it not for the New Hampshire results, it would have bought him another flying ash tray or two.  But don’t forget:  he’s the comeback kid.  Today he rolled out Barack Obama’s future for a test drive.  About Obama’s campaign Bill said, “this whole thing is the biggest fairy tale I’ve ever seen.”  

The biggest fairy tale Bill Clinton has ever seen?  Bigger than “I did not have sexual relations with that woman, Miss Lewinsky”?  The Clinton attack machine is warming up.  There will be a shakeup in the Clinton team today.  Rumors have it that James Carville will be brought in as the designated attack dog.  Harold Ickes (a Clinton campaign advisor) and John Podesta, legally isolated in the Center for American Progress, will take up much of the burden and predictably will be harshest in the attacks on Obama.  They will roll out Lanny Davis and the whole crew.  Obama is in for a very rough time.

Fortunately for Bill Clinton’s health (and the Secret Service’s peace of mind) there are now two “comeback kids” in the Clinton household.  

Weekend polling indicated that Hillary would lose to Obama by a double-digit margin.  And they proved wrong.  As the day began, the average had Obama ahead by more than 8 points.  There was a huge turnout — more than 100,000 voters above the usual — and the independents apparently broke heavily for Obama.  Fox News’ exit polling showed that the Democratic-leaning independents went about 44% for Obama and only 33% for Clinton.  But the overall exit polls held Obama in a narrow lead.  

The race so far has cost Clinton.  She’d raised over $90 million and – according to what Terry McAuliffe, Clinton’s campaign chairman, told Brit Hume last night – has only about $25 million left in primary race funding.  But the win in New Hampshire, even by the narrowest of margins, revitalizes the fundraising capability. If Obama had a clean win in New Hampshire, much of the Hollywood and East Coast money Clinton relies on could have gone to him. Now, the arms will be twisted and the donors will open their checkbooks to Clinton again.

As last night progressed, Clinton – benefiting from the heavy backing in union households — cleaned up in the large New Hampshire cities and was leading at one point in the partial count by 40%-34% over Obama.  But her lead narrowed quickly:  the polls closed at 8 pm and by 10 pm, the margin was only 39%-37%.  Statistically, it was a dead heat, with a margin of about 5,000 votes.

It was nearly 11 pm when Fox News finally called the race for Clinton at the 39%-36% margin.  (Associated Press and MSNBC had called it a short while before).  Clinton had won, but by the narrowest of margins.  In his concession speech, Obama was fired up, the “we want change” chant by his supporters quite loud.

Where do they go from here?  The Democratic race is no more decided than the Republican.  But the inevitable question will arise today:  will Clinton and Obama team up?  No, they won’t.

Hillary Clinton wants to be president, and her campaign — by attacking Obama — will do its best to quash the idea of a Clinton-Obama ticket. She is not going to take the general election risk she will perceive that would result from combining a woman with a black man on the same ticket.  Will she get away with it?

As for Obama, Clinton can’t count him out. His star power is not greatly diminished by this narrow loss, and his campaign may respond — shot for shot — to the attacks the Clintons will mount.  Hillary is weakened but not fatally.  In the coming weeks the press will rally around her, recreating momentum for her.

Super Tuesday is only four weeks away.  We will see a year’s campaign compressed into that short time.