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For N.Y. Candidates, Quandaries Ahead

By Peter Baker
MANCHESTER, N.H. -- Back in the old days -- say, a month or so ago -- two New Yorkers seemed to be cruising toward their parties' presidential nominations. Not bothering to wait for the votes, many in the political and media world began thinking ahead to what a match between Hillary Rodham Clinton and Rudy Giuliani would look like, the showdown we missed in 2000 when Giuliani dropped out of the Senate race in New York and ceded it to Clinton. Now, suddenly, both national front-runners face a desperate struggle to hang on, counting on the same primaries on Feb. 5 to salvage their campaigns.

Clinton and Giuliani each traveled different routes to this point but with the same essential result. As voters in New Hampshire head to the polls this morning, the Clinton camp holds no illusions about the results and is braced for a second pounding defeat at the hands of Barack Obama, who upended her in Iowa just five days ago. And while they would not say so in quite such an explicit way, her advisers have largely lost hope of winning either of the two main contests that follow, in Nevada and South Carolina. Giuliani tested the waters and figured out much earlier than Clinton that Iowa and New Hampshire weren't warming to him and so essentially stopped competing there and here, to wait for the larger states.

So the question is whether Super Tuesday can revive either of these onetime powerhouse candidates. Assuming Obama trounces Clinton today, as both sides expect, can she retool her campaign over the next four weeks to recapture the standing she has lost? And can Giuliani afford to wait, as Republicans in Michigan and South Carolina vote without him really competing? On paper, it seems plausible to wait until Florida votes on Jan. 29 and more than 20 other states, including New York, New Jersey and California, vote on Feb. 5. After all, in terms of delegates, those contests matter far more than tiny Iowa or New Hampshire. And yet campaigns are also about emotion and momentum. At a certain point, can you fight what Bill Clinton last night called a "tidal wave"?

It's not unusual, of course, for a front-runner to stumble and still capture the party nomination. Ronald Reagan lost Iowa in 1980, Walter Mondale lost New Hampshire in 1984, George H.W. Bush lost Iowa in 1988, Bill Clinton lost both Iowa and New Hampshire in 1992, Bob Dole lost New Hampshire in 1996 and George W. Bush lost New Hampshire in 2000. The difference on the Democratic side this time is that the upstart who has humbled the front-runner, Obama, has tens of millions of dollars in the bank and is better positioned to keep rolling than, say, Paul Tsongas ever was. It's rare for a candidate to win both Iowa and New Hampshire and not go on to win the nomination. The Republican side is more unsettled, with four candidates still claiming a credible road map to the nomination. After all, one of the surging early candidates, McCain, was himself perceived as the front-runner in early 2007 -- until bottoming out and now, bouncing back.

For a time, it looked as if the early states might not matter as much this time around. Both Clinton and Giuliani were far out in front in the national polls and seemed perhaps able to transform that strength into their party nominations. But Iowa and New Hampshire have reasserted their powerful role in American politics and now the national polls are following their lead. A new national USA Today-Gallup poll this week finds Clinton and Obama tied at 33 percent, erasing her double-digit lead. And the same poll finds Mike Huckabee leading Giuliani nationally with 25 percent to 20 percent, followed closely by McCain at 19 percent.

So now it falls to Clinton and Giuliani to try to slow down the race and play the other side of the expectations game. It's hard to imagine that Clinton will drop out after losing New Hampshire, as some have speculated in recent days. Giving up is not in the Clinton DNA; over the years, the Clintons have seen that simply refusing to give in despite the enormous pressures on them has been enough to outlast their opponents. The Clinton camp says it has already paid for all its television buys in the month of January and is still hiring in Feb. 5 states. And the Republican race is fragmented enough that Giuliani has every motive to see what happens, as no one seems to have a clear hold on the nomination at this point.

And yet, on this sunny and unseasonably warm day here in New Hampshire, as voters take hold of the race away from the pundits and the polls, it seems conceivable that the only New Yorker still running in the fall may be Mike Bloomberg.

Posted at 10:19 AM ET on Jan 8, 2008  | Category:  Morning Cheat Sheet
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The early elimination of viable candidates
is not good for any democratic society. The
election process of a president (the nation's chief executive) should be
deliberate. The current 'rock concert' mob
mentality is a disgrace.

Posted by: Liup | January 8, 2008 5:39 PM

Hillary should consider whether she wants to risk losing New York. It could happen. That would be a truly devastating blow both to her and to her husband and the legacy of his presidency. Obama would easily take a huge chunk of California and many other states that award delegates proportionally; and the northeast, New York included, may be his for a little bit of work and even less luck. HRC has to weigh the possible consequences of her continuing candidacy to herself, her family, and the democratic party, who may soon drift off, leaving her in the lurch.

Posted by: rarignac | January 8, 2008 3:49 PM

The only people who are going to "miss" the Rudy-Hillary contest are journalists spoling for political bloodsport. Call it the "Experience by Proximity to Big Events" campaign.

Posted by: InspectorOh | January 8, 2008 12:11 PM

And, the knives came out big time today with Hillary Clinton claiming that Obama is NOT JFK or Martin Luther King, Jr.:

http://thecaucus.blogs.nytimes.com/2008/01/07/civilrights/

Posted by: JakeD | January 8, 2008 11:16 AM

The Obama win in Iowa simply makes the Decomcratic side a "race", and not boring. Look for Hillary to win the big ones, New York, New Jersey, The South, Texas and California. These are the states where the primaries will count.

Posted by: jalexis55 | January 8, 2008 11:04 AM

Yet another reason why Iowa and New Hampshire shouldn't go first.

Posted by: JakeD | January 8, 2008 10:23 AM

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