A Firewall Made of Granite
Hillary Clinton pulled off the improbable with a narrow 39% to 37% victory over rival Barack Obama, with John Edwards, who polled 17%, placing a distant 3rd.. Bill Richardson ran 4th with 5% of the vote, and Dennis Kucinich finished 5th with a mere 1%. Mike Gravel was actually beaten by Joe Biden, who withdrew from the race last week. In a record turnout here, 276,000 strong, 57% of the electorate was female, and unlike Iowa, they broke to Clinton over Obama by a 12% margin. She also did better with voters younger than 30, gaining 28% of their support as opposed to 11% in Iowa. Obama, by comparison, won 51% of this younger age bloc.
Independents, as expected, broke for Obama over Clinton by 10%, and a significant income rift also emerged, with Clinton winning working class and lower income votes, and Obama middle to upper class support. As for issues, not only did Hillary better her husband's comeback kid performance in the Granite State, she did best among voters who listed the economy as the top issue. Echoes of 1992, "It's the economy, stupid," abound.
On the Republican side, John McCain edged Mitt Romney by a 37% to 32% margin. Mike Huckabee finished a distant third, unable to translate his Iowa victory into significant support here, earning only 11% of the vote. He was followed by Rudy Giuliani with 9%, Ron Paul at 8%, Fred Thompson at 1%, and Duncan Hunter with a mere 1,195 votes. In comparison to 2000 when McCain won New Hampshire on the backs of independent voters, he did equally well with this bloc as he fared with Republicans, a good sign for a candidate eager to earn the establishment's support as the race moves forward.
Moreover, McCain's victory cannot be explained by his issue positions, but instead his personal qualities. Voters here valued his experience, and the fact that he says what he believes (see video below). He did win voters who listed the Iraq War, the economy, and terrorism as their top issue. In a sign of his lingering vulnerability moving forward, among voters who listed immigration as their top issue he lost to rival Romney by a 3-to-1 margin.
Before I begin prognosticating about what lies ahead, it is important to revisit why the late polls so poorly predicted the Democratic outcome. At the top of the list may be the fact that they overestimated Obama's support among voters who never made it to the polls. Additionally, many of the independents that he counted so heavily upon took Republican ballots and voted for McCain and other candidates. Moreover, voters who made up their minds the day before the election or sooner were probably undercounted in any poll. The order that candidate names were listed on the ballot (see picture above) may have even been a factor. They were placed alphabetically, and Clinton's name preceded Obama's. Some experts suggests that with a celebrity name like Clinton's atop the ticket, she would enjoy a 3% advantage for such a placement. In the end, believe it or not, this may have been the decisive difference.
Clinton's win was the firewall she sought long ago. Iowa is in exclusive company with Mississippi, standing as the two states to never elect a female governor of congresswoman. The gender gap shifted in her favor yesterday, and her new signs of personal vulnerability may help soften her image in the states ahead. As for Obama, he remains in a strong position moving forward, his momentum only temporarily derailed. He expects to receive an endorsement from the Culinary Workers Union in Nevada today, a critical organizational arm in the coming Nevada caucuses on Jan. 19. The true battle will lie one week later on Jan. 26 in South Carolina, a state with a significant African-American population in stark contrast to Iowa and New Hampshire. Accounting for half of the Democratic base there, Clinton and Obama will wage a fierce battle for African-American women as both seek barrier-breaking nominations.
Edwards promises to contest the nomination through the convention, and right now he helps Hillary as he splits the anti-Clinton vote with Obama, handing her a win here in New Hampshire as a result. He did win his native South Carolina in 2004, so look for him to fare better there than he did in the Granite State. It remains difficult to see an opening for an underfinanced candidate in what will soon become a national contest. If he couldn't win on the retail scale, it's hard to see him coming back in what will soon become a "megastore." Bill Richardson will stay in the race at least through Nevada. The Silver State is in the same region as his home state of New Mexico, and it also holds a significant Hispanic population. Richardson is Mexican-American. As for Kucinich and Gravel, their candidacies were pipe dreams from Day One, so there is no reason for them to abandon their hopeless crusades now.
On the Republican side, the attention shifts immediately to Michigan (Jan. 15) and South Carolina (Jan. 19). Michigan will be contested by Romney, McCain, and Huckabee, with Giuliani also positioned to at least "show." Michigan is the home state of Romney and is also they place where his father served as a popular governor. McCain won here in 2000, and with the Democratic contest aborted there, independents could cross over once more and provide additional fuel for the Straight Talk Express. Both candidates need to win this state badly, and this could be a final death blow for Romney should he lose. Remember, he counted on Iowa and New Hampshire as the early one-two punch to propel him to the nomination. No matter how he spins it, he vastly outspent Huckabee and McCain in these two initial contests, and lost by decisive margins nonetheless. New Hampshire is adjacent to Massachusetts, a state he governed for 4 years. Yesterday was a humbling blow to his hopes, but he can continue to draw from his vast personal fortune to save his staggering campaign.
Mike Huckabee will stake his homes of regaining momentum in South Carolina, home once more to a large evangelical Christian population. Remember their importance to last week's win in Iowa. Fred Thompson heads south to rescue a campaign in dire financial straits, beginning an 11-day bus tour across the Palmetto State. A poor showing here will pull Fred from the race, but either way he can help his good friend McCain, by either splitting the vote several ways here to provide an opening for the Happy Warrior, or by delivering the long-sought endorsement and seemingly inevitable withdrawal. Rudy Giuliani essentially skipped the first four contests, though he did visit New Hampshire nearly 40 times in the last year. He lingers in the Sunshine State, banking on a Florida win to provide the necessary momentum for a big day on Tsunami Tuesday.
With Iowa and New Hampshire in our rear view mirrors, and my own visits to the sites of these preliminary contests considered, I have to conclude that these two small states play a vital role in our presidential selection process. What I witnessed in Iowa and New Hampshire was democracy in action. Citizens seeking out candidates, and vice versa, comparing messages and resumes, and selecting who they think is the best candidate to lead this great nation. Volunteers traveling from across the country to these tiny nothern hamlets for causes and candidates they so passionately, sometimes eloquently, defend. The news media, criticisms aside, bringing the results into our living rooms from the front lines of the campaign. Democracy, my friends, is alive and well in the Hawkeye and Granite states. The rest of the country should be so privileged to play a similar role, and given the up-for-grabs nature of both contests on this day, Jan. 9, 2008, many of us will soon have an opportunity to do our part.
So long, New Hampshire. Thanks to all of you for following my exploits these past couple of weeks. Stay tuned for what lies ahead, and please play an active role in a campaign soon coming to your neck of the woods.