Wednesday, January 16, 2008

The New Hampshire primary

I?m going to offer a bold prediction: These races will go on for some time to come and be wild rides


Ah, I guess maybe we should cancel the Barack Obama canonization—I mean coronation. I mean nomination.

Whatever. Voters in New Hampshire have decided that the Illinois senator doesn't walk on water and command the winds. He's mortal.

This is good for two reasons: One, Obama's accomplishments don't go beyond serving up becalming sermons full of feel-good bromides, claptrap and platitudes. Two, in a sprawling participatory democracy, it's nifty to have actual voters make the call.

Voters in New Hampshire weren't ready to subcontract the job to pundits, pollsters and Iowans. Granite Staters came out in record numbers to help pick the two parties' nominees for president. Before Jan. 8, with only one state down on the Democratic side (Mitt Romney won Wyoming earlier), there was an itch to declare the race all but over. Some complain about the eternal campaign and want to end it when voters get into the action—or their candidate moves ahead.

Right up to the closing of the polls, our chatterocracy was preparing to write the postmortems on Hillary Clinton's campaign—or at least tell her what she needs to do to get her "Inevitability Bandwagon" out of the ditch. Indeed, even the old political master, Bill Clinton, himself seemed to have given up on New Hampshire. Before the votes were counted he said, "There's just only so much you can do against a tidal wave."

The only thing he could do about the tidal wave hitting Hillary Clinton was vent. He went after Obama and the media with the jut-jawed conviction he usually reserves for denying sex with interns:

"It is wrong that Sen. Obama got to go through 15 debates trumpeting his superior judgment and how he had been against the war in every year, enumerating the years, and never got asked one time—not once—'Well, how could you say that when you said in 2004 you didn't know how you would have voted on the resolution? You said in 2004 there was no difference between you and George Bush on the war.' Give me a break. This whole thing is the biggest fairy tale I've ever seen. [T]he idea that one of these campaigns is positive and the other is negative when I know the reverse is true and I have seen it and I have been blistered by it for months is a little tough to take. Just because of the sanitizing coverage that's in the media doesn't mean the facts aren't out there."

Good stuff. Ugly stuff. A preview of coming distractions in a race that got longer and nastier last week.

It was easy to feel Bill's pain. If the media's unbecoming Obama-mania got any worse, his campaign would have to pass out smelling salts instead of press releases. ("I interviewed Lee Cowan, our reporter who covers Obama, while we were out yesterday," NBC's Brian Williams told MSNBC. "Lee says it's hard to stay objective covering this guy.") Last week's night's returns might arrest this outbreak of the vapors.

There will be less media swooning on the GOP side. John McCain also won New Hampshire in 2000, but his "Straight Talk Express" sputtered to a stop upon reaching state primaries open only to Republicans. That might not happen this year, though he did fail to win among New Hampshire Republicans in New Hampshire.

This week, however, there's Michigan. McCain won there in 2000, but Romney's from Michigan, and his father, George, was its governor in the 1960s. Romney may have come in second in New Hampshire and Iowa—"silver" finishes, the former Winter Olympics boss calls them—and lead in delegates. But presidential politics isn't the luge. He has to bring home the gold in Michigan.

In this political season, so many predictions have come a cropper, some in hours. My own included. But punditry is not for the weak of knee. I'm going to offer a bold prediction: These races will go on for some time to come and be wild rides. Maybe, in the case of the Republicans, the race will go right into the convention. Voters in states beyond Iowa and New Hampshire or Michigan, South Carolina and Florida—voters with different concerns and demographic profiles—will have their say, and it's by no means clear right now what those voters will say.

That, and most predictions will be wrong.

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