So I should have known it wouldn’t be this easy…You don’t go from underdog to frontrunner in two weeks without expecting a fight…I mean, Jimmy Smits didn’t defeat Alan Alda on The West Wing in two episodes….
But it’s amazing how spectacularly wrong people were about New Hampshire (you can include me in that group).
Lots of observations to share:
- Hillary’s surprising victory last night is a testament to her skills as a politician and the talent behind her campaign. You really can’t ever count the Clintons out. This election is really a challenge to their leadership of the Democratic Party which has lasted twenty years, and it’ll be a battle. But you have to give her and her team a lot of credit for pulling last night off…
- It wasn’t just the pundits and the Obama camp that were surprised. Hillary’s people didn’t see this coming either (her internal polls showed an 11-point lead of Obama). They had already leaked a shakeup of the campaign, bringing on her former chief of staff, Maggie Williams. Second, you can’t tell me that Howard Wolfson, Clinton’s spokesman, expected to go on air and declare victory, as Ben Smith pointed out. Did you see his sweater? I have been blackmailed by friends who have pictures of me wearing similar sweaters…
- So what explains Hillary’s victory, that no one really saw coming?
· Clearly, women broke in a big way for her, a gender gap that Obama had closed in Iowa. Some have attributed this to her tearful moment, which humanized her for voters and helped women identify with her. I’m not sure it’s quite that simple, but I do think the moment helped people relate to her more…I’ll leave aside the debate as to whether it was calculated or not (I tend to not think so--incidentally, heard that women that made Hillary cry actually voted for Obama). I think undecided women largely broke to Hillary in response to a perception that the media and the other candidates were ganging up on her and pronouncing her campaign over.
1 She had a tremendous on-the-ground operation. Obama had a better ground game in Iowa (remember, Bill Clinton never campaigned in the Iowa caucus—he was up against Iowa Sen. Harkin in 1992, and was not challenged in 1996). But the Clinton’s had tremendous ties to New Hampshire and was able to leverage these relationships (and sentimentality) to victory.
2 Voters didn’t want to decide the election. New Hampshire voters knew that an Obama victory meant a clear path to the nomination and they weren’t prepared to just give it to him. I saw this same dynamic in Iowa, where voters literally told me that they’d vote for Obama because they realized that a Hillary victory in Iowa would likely mean her coronation.
3 It’s possible that Obama’s huge leads in the polls encouraged independents to vote for McCain, who seemed to be in a closer race. John Zogby, the eminent pollster, advances this possible explanation as well as other interpretations of the results.
4 I know Chris Matthews on MSNBC has been focused on the possible Bradley effect. This is the argument that voters mask their true intentions when an African-American candidate is running, saying to pollsters one thing but voting differently. But you’d have to believe that white women in New Hampshire decided they couldn’t vote for an African-American candidate. I think that’s a discredit to Hillary, whom I think they actively decided to support. Plus, if this dynamic existed, you’d expect to see it in the general election, not the primary. Certainly something to watch…
- So are their longer term trends that one can draw from these results? It’s clear that Obama has to close the gender gap to give himself a shot. He did that in Iowa, but he’ll need to do that elsewhere to win. Young voters will also be a wildcard—it appears that they did turnout in NH, but they just represented a smaller percentage of the population than in Iowa. Will they turnout elsewhere—huge turnouts in the first two contests suggest that the desire for change is prompting higher levels of engagement across the board. Lastly, two important segments of the Democratic primary population—African-Americans and Latinos, have yet to really participate, but they will be critical in Nevada and South Carolina and in the Feb 5th contests.
- Stepping back, Obama has to be happy where is…It’s amazing how expectations shape the interpretation of results. If three weeks ago, anyone had said that Obama would win Iowa by 8 points (and Hillary would finish third) and then finish second in New Hampshire (39-37%), that would be seen as a huge victory for the Obama campaign. But as the media’s narrative shifted after Iowa and polls predicted an Obama coronation, a narrow Hillary victory in a state where she always had an advantage is seen as generating momentum for her. I think the candidate that is seen as the underdog may be better off given the important role that expectations play.
- The biggest loser of last night: Edwards. I think his campaign is effectively over. Edwards was already at a disadvantage because he decided to take federal matching funds, which means he can’t raise any more money and probably has less than $15 million to spend through the convention. His strategy to win post-Iowa was predicated on Hillary’s quick collapse as a candidate prior to the Feb 5th “Super-duper Tuesday”, leaving a two-man race and Edwards to benefit from all the media attention. Now, it’s inconceivable how Edwards can compete nationally in 22 states on February 5th, regardless of how he does in South Carolina. Does this mean he’ll drop out? He says he’s in it to the end. Regardless, it doesn’t appear he’ll be a real threat on February 5th, which is good news for Obama, as Edwards supporters are likely to gravitate to him. That’s not to say that Edwards can’t compete in Nevada (union-heavy) and South Carolina (he won in 2004), but that there’s almost no ability to carry that over.
- No doubt the big winner of last night was Hillary, as she saved her campaign. But I also think that the Democratic Party comes out a winner. It’s clear that whichever Democrat emerges, they will have been tested. A quick victory for Obama would have left him open to GOP attacks for months, and I think he’ll be a much better candidate for going through the adversity of a campaign. If his post-NH speech is any indication, he’s ready for the challenge.
- Nevada is the next big test, on Saturday, January 19th. It’s a caucus, which is a format that worked to Obama’s advantage in Iowa. Unions are critical there, and it appears that Obama has earned the endorsement of both the Culinary Union and the Nevada chapter of SEIU this morning. The Latino vote is also critical, and it’ll be interesting to see how that breaks. Unlike the African-American community, where the Clinton’s have longstanding ties to the community, Hillary doesn’t go into the community with predisposed support. At the same time, I remembered reading this WSJ article discussing the lack of knowledge about Obama in the Hispanic community. It’s worth watching who wins the Latino vote and whether that may suggest a trend for the Feb 5th states.
- South Carolina is the other big test, on the 26th (I’ll be down there leading up to MLK day). Can Obama win over the African-American vote, as recent trends suggest? If he does, it bodes well for him across the South for the Democratic primaries.
· Winning Nevada and South Carolina is important for the potential momentum it will generate for the Feb 5th states. It’ll be fascinating to see how the campaigns approach the 22 primaries/caucuses.
· First, Obama may focus on those states with open primaries, where independents and Republicans can vote (I think at least half are?).
1 Second, Hillary goes into February 5th with an advantage, in terms of her name recognition, as voters are just getting to know Obama.
2 Third, unlike the retail politics of Iowa and New Hampshire, the February 5th contests will largely be fought in the media, TV/Radio/Online advertisements, large rallies, and televised debates. Obama’s incredible speeches may prove to be an advantage here, particularly if he continues to hold his own in the debates. People (myself included) have always remarked that they like Hillary when they see her in person, but voter contact will be much more difficult given the nominating schedule.
3 Fourth, Obama’s response to Hillary’s political machine is the tremendous volunteer support he’s built up around the country. He’s leveraged this support to raise money, and now the focus is on field operations.
4 Fifth, Obama has established operations in more states, and earlier, than Hillary’s campaign. I love this video from my friend Matt Weinstein, who joined the campaign a few months ago to help run the North Dakota operation. Obama’s campaign manager maintained that this head start will be critical in the six caucus states on Feb 5th, which proved the case in Iowa.
- My prediction: This election is still not decided by February 5th. Too many states and the results will likely be inconclusive. This may go into April before it is settled.
- Interesting aside: Somehow, amidst the craziness of the campaign, Obama was able to find the time to try and mediate the troubling political situation in Kenya He is the real thing….
- On the Republican side, McCain had a big victory last night. Observers have commented that McCain is the toughest general election candidate for the Democrats, and that may be true. But the polls also show that immigration is the top issue for Republicans in many states around the country. He’s on the wrong side of this issue for the base, and that may really impact turnout come November. It may also be an Achilles heel in the primaries, starting in South Carolina.
- And for a last random thought. President Bush is visiting the Middle East this week. I was shocked to learn that this is his first visit to Israel as President, as well as Saudi Arabia…says a lot about why our Middle East policy is where it is…
That’s all I got…