Wow. What a difference a few hours can make! Going into tonight, many were writing the Clinton campaign obituary and now she is perhaps the favorite again. The Obama campaign expected to win. Heck, even the Clinton campaign expected Obama to win. All the pundits, Political Realm included, were wrong and the race was turned on its head.
How did Clinton do it? In New Hampshire, Clinton dominated the female vote, easily out-pacing Obama, who had won the group in Iowa. Whether that's the result of Clinton's near tears yesterday or a more open campaign that shifted focus somewhat, we don't know. The polling we've seen over the past few days gave Obama a lead of nearly 10 points, but perhaps those numbers were simply soft. Perhaps there were a significant number of late deciders that broke for Clinton. Perhaps the questions raised about Obama's experience, record, and readiness to lead paid off for the Clinton campaign. Perhaps the voters of New Hampshire wanted this thing to turn into a race, rather than a coronation.
In the end, it seems like we simply misjudged the state of the race. Obama was over-hyped out of Iowa, while everyone underestimated Clinton's superior organization, establishment backing, and appeal with voters in New Hampshire. Most suspected the vast number of independents would provide fertile soil for Obama, especially compared to Iowa. However, the number of first time participants was down tonight from Iowa and it's likely that those independents fit right into Clinton's target profile--blue collar workers. We do know one thing--the Clinton campaign won't badmouth New Hampshire as it did Iowa a few days ago.
Of course, let's not get ahead of ourselves again. The narrative out of the first two contests is decidedly unclear. Barack Obama's Iowa victory was a huge shock to much of America. Will this Clinton win be as surprising? For political junkies, sure it is, but for the average voter who may not be as tuned in to this race I'm not so sure. The Obama campaign will be quick to point out that Clinton had a lead in New Hampshire just a week ago. To the contrary, the Clinton campaign is hoping that she will be portrayed as the "Comeback Kid" tomorrow, just as her husband was 16 years ago. Indeed, the shift in the Granite State over the past few hours has been simply stunning. For all the talk that Iowa and New Hampshire hold too much power, look at what they have given us--a real race on both sides.
So where do the Democrats go from here? It's on to Nevada and South Carolina, where Obama seemed to have all the momentum this morning. He is apparently going to pick up a major union endorsement in Nevada tomorrow--one earned more because of his victories (they were likely assuming a New Hampshire win just like everyone else) than because of his positions. Many believed that endorsement could have gone to either of Obama's key rivals and we have to wonder if the union is rethinking things tonight. In South Carolina, Obama's Iowa victory showed black voters, who will make up much of the electorate, that he can win in white America. Clinton, however, has strong ties in the black community, so will a New Hampshire win bring those voters back to her campaign?
The campaigns of John Edwards and especially Bill Richardson will likely reevaluate after tonight's results. Richardson clearly has no chance of winning this thing, while John Edwards is all but out of it as well. Both campaigns should be running out of funds soon, making it even more difficult to compete going forward.
On the Republican side, things played out in a much more expected manner. John McCain was the clear winner, though his margin was surprising to some. He overcame a campaign in shambles this summer, a media that left him for dead, an unpopular immigration plan, and support for a surge in Iraq that wasn't working. In the end, the campaign was tightened up, the media came back to him, his immigration position remained unpopular, but better explained, and the situation in Iraq started to improve. He is now well positioned for the contests to follow in Michigan and South Carolina and the win tonight will infuse some much needed cash.
For Romney, the collapse is shocking. His control of the first two contests looked insurmountable this summer and into the fall and now he finds himself in perilous position. He has family ties in Michigan, but faces McCain with momentum and Huckabee in a more friendly environment. If he can't somehow defy the odds there, Romney is certainly done. Fred Thompson has already moved on to South Carolina and Huckabee will join him there tomorrow. Huckabee's strong third tonight--New Hampshire was never expected to be his state--sets up the rest of the race as seemingly Huckabee vs. McCain. Giuliani, though happy that the early contests are producing mixed results, has seen his national lead deteriorate. In Florida, a state where he has devoted much of his recent attention, he now finds himself in fourth place in a new poll.
What do we take away from tonight? Both sides have major comeback stories--Clinton in the short term and McCain in the long term. There are no frontrunners anymore. Look for a fresh set of presidential rankings from us before the week is out as the campaign resets for the next phase. Without a doubt, the race is on.
Cross-posted at Political Realm.