The War Hero and the Junior Senator

Traditionally, the voters of New Hampshire have rolled their eyes at Iowa and said, "Whatever!"  And they certainly did that on Tuesday.

She’s Baaaaaack:  Hillary Clinton’s tears of frustration and anger and disappointment Monday did wonders.  In a reversal of what happened in Iowa, women came out for her in droves—-particularly older women, long her key demographic.  The waterworks apparently did it: many women fell for the Victimhood Routine and its sister, the Estrogen Card.  That probably surprised even the Candidate Herself, because the tears were hauled out as a last resort.  The Clintons have deep roots in New Hampshire; they never quite disassembled their machine there, in effect keeping it going for 12 years. But as the campaign moves south, with large African-American voting blocs, she will encounter some strong headwinds. She got her staged comeback, but this vote was less an affirmation of Hillary than it was a nostalgia vote.  Still, it’s a cautionary tale for Obama going forward: never think the tiger has been defanged.

Time to Bring Back Oprah:  Is the country ready for a black president?  Was it his sharp retort during Saturday’s debate ("you’re likeable enough, Hillary") that soured some voters?  Was Iowa a fluke?  All of these questions (and more) will be raised in the coming days.  The answer for his loss may be as simple as this: NH voters wanted to check him after Iowa.  Humble him a bit.  Make him work for it.  The nomination should not be a cakewalk, for either her or him.  The voters in NH are notorious for taking frontrunners down a notch.  He also suffered from the flight of NH’s massive Independent vote to McCain.  He got ’em in Iowa; he lost ’em in New Hampshire. Also, I’m only half-kidding about bringing back Oprah: she made it OK for blacks to vote for him and women to vote against Hillary.  If that dynamic has been diluted by New Hampshire, maybe it’s time to send Oprah out again.

The President of New Hampshire:  John McCain, Part Deux.  He won here in 2000, only to get creamed by Governor George W. Bush in South Carolina and beyond.  This year is different for him, but it’s more than a nostalgia vote.  I’ve been writing in this space and saying on the radio program that McCain was coming back.   There was an opening for him, which he was wise enough to exploit.  He got lucky, too.  His principled stand on Iraq has redounded to his benefit as the situation there has greatly improved.  There is also a recognition among Republicans that there is no perfect candidate in this race, no Ronald Reagan (not one with a realistic chance of winning, anyway.)  So McCain looks better, especially with the two themes running through the national campaign: experience and reform.  McCain has long records of both, even though he’s antagonized a lot of conservatives along the way.  But given the rest of the motley crew, he’s beginning to look, well, not so bad.

The Fade:  Mitt Romney suffered a near mortal blow.  New Hampshire is the backyard of his Massachusetts governorship and a state in which he owns a home.  He could not afford to lose it, and he did.  Money, smarts, and charm only went so far with NH voters, who preferred the gruff imperfection of McCain.  Romney has plenty of bucks, so he’s not going anywhere.  But if he doesn’t win Michigan, he may well be through. He’s hoping to get rewarded for perseverance.

The Fade, II:  Mike Huckabee finished third and will go on to see some success, perhaps even a win because of the large evangelical vote, in South Carolina.  But he was always a provincial candidate.  His only hope is for the other candidates to continue to splinter the wins.

The Fade, III:  Rudy Giuliani spent time and money in NH, only to come in a very distant fourth.  With McCain now entering the next round with a head of steam, it will be increasingly difficult for Giuliani to stay relevant.  The central theme of his campaign is national security.  The new frontrunner IS national security, personified.  How does Rudy beat the Naval aviator and heroic POW?  This is why Rudy’s strategists make the big bucks.

The Fade, IV:  Fred Thompson spent NH primary day….in South Carolina, wooing his fellow Southerners.  In NH, he got a measly 1% of the vote.  A national candidate this does not make.  In SC, he will be up against Huckabee, also a fellow Southerner who has actually won something so far.  Look for Thompson to run through SC and then gracefully endorse McCain.

The Fade, V:  John Edwards.  With a second place finish in Iowa and a third place finish here, he is kaput.  He can afford to hang in for a bit longer and try to score a victory in his birth state of South Carolina, but that will be more for his legacy.  He is splitting the anti-Hillary vote, so where will it go?  His younger voters will head for Obama, but his big union support will go to her.  His slow fade will largely be a wash.

The Fade, VI:  Bill Richardson.  He’s gone too.  He’s spent much of his time kissing the rear of Clinton, so no there’s no mystery as to where he’ll turn.

New Hampshire has always been contrarian: its voters don’t take so well to upstarts who come flying out of Iowa.  Obama needed to be taken down, as did Huckabee.  McCain needed to be rewarded.  And Hillary needed to be rehabilitated.  

The trends of Iowa were reversed, but will they hold?  As we head into the southern contests, with their large black voting blocs, the pendulum could well swing back toward Obama.  Will it be enough to defeat the Clinton War Machine?  As NH showed, the Machine is not to be underestimated.  Obama will ramp up his criticism of her.  Can’t stay above the fray forever and win.  Not against the Machine. I think he knows that now.

McCain showed he’s still got it.  But does he still have it beyond NH, or was that a swan song?  We’ll see if SC makes 1992 up to him.  If so, he will be the nominee.  If not, the Republicans continue to go forward in a muddled mess.

Obama may have lost Tuesday, but he’s still a force of nature.  Where is the Republican Obama?  The Democrats have the kinetic energy.  The Republicans had better plug themselves in and recharge.  Quickly.