New Hampshire Voters Take Independent Tack
By David S. Broder
MANCHESTER, N.H. -- The first week of the new year threatened to write an unofficial end to the Bush-Clinton era of American politics and make a 46-year-old African American with the briefest of political biographies the man with the best opportunity to write the next chapter of political history.
But by the narrowest of margins, Hillary Rodham Clinton turned back Barack Obama's bid to follow his Iowa caucus victory five days ago with what could have been a decisive win in the New Hampshire primary.
As a result, both parties face further uncertainty about the identity of their eventual nominees.
The clearest signal coming from the leadoff states is the readiness of voters -- especially independents who played a significant role in both states -- to consign the Bush presidency to the history books.
For the second time, even Republicans signaled their readiness to jettison much of the legacy of two generations of George Bush presidencies by giving first place to a candidate who had rejected significant parts of the Bush record and policy.
John McCain, who defeated George W. Bush here in 2000, found a different constituency than the evangelical voters who rewarded Mike Huckabee's populism in Iowa. But both of them signaled a readiness to reexamine basic Bush policies.
And exit polls found that half those who voted in the Republican primary described themselves as disillusioned or angry with the Bush administration, while two-thirds of the Democratic voters called themselves angry with the current president.
But even that dramatic turn from the past was less remarkable than Clinton's turnaround of what even her own advisers had come to accept as a likely Obama win.
Bill and Hillary Clinton, who have dominated the Democratic scene for half a generation, faced a struggle for political relevance if she lost here. They had funds to continue the campaign in the big states led by California, New York, New Jersey and Illinois that will choose delegates on Feb. 5. Now, having defeated Obama by a clear margin among registered Democrats, and rolling up a big margin among women, she is clearly back in business.
But African American voters are part of the Democratic core in all of those states and loom even larger as a potential bloc for Obama in South Carolina, the site of the next important Democratic primary on Jan. 26.
A Democratic senator, who has remained neutral until now in the Clinton-Obama contest, said tonight, "Bill and Hillary will have to decide how far they are prepared to go to keep Obama out of the White House."
As this man noted, in the modern era of presidential contests, Democrats have not denied their nomination to anyone who was able to win both the Iowa caucuses and the New Hampshire primary. That made the stakes extraordinarily high in this race.
Republicans, who assumed for months that Senator Clinton would be the likely Democratic nominee, said prior to tonight that they had shifted their sights onto Obama and were fearful of facing him. A Republican pollster said tonight, "It has dawned on my people that this may be the best candidate the Democrats have fielded since Bill Clinton first ran in 1992."
Obama climbed from the obscurity of the Illinois state Senate to the top rungs of Democratic presidential politics in a mere three years and until tonight had not had a serious misstep along the way.
McCain, who once again, as in 2000, found sufficient support among independents who asked for Republican ballots to win in New Hampshire, lost no time in claiming that he had the best chance of anyone in the GOP field of competing for those ticket-splitters' support.
He pointed not only to his early opposition to the Bush tax cuts in 2000 and his criticism of the conduct of the Iraq war but to his record of working across party lines to team with such Democrats as Ted Kennedy and Joe Lieberman on reform bills of various kinds.
McCain edged Mitt Romney among self-identified Republicans, thanks to his support as a potential commander in chief. But once again, McCain faces a potentially stiffer test in South Carolina when Republicans in that state hold their vote on Jan. 19, a week ahead of the Democrats.
Former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee, the winner of the Iowa caucuses, has turned to his fellow Baptists in South Carolina in hopes of finding the same overwhelming support from evangelical voters that fueled his Iowa upset.
It was Huckabee's taking Iowa from early favorite Mitt Romney that softened up the former Massachusetts governor for McCain's victory in New Hampshire. By claiming third place in New Hampshire, Huckabee left himself plenty of room to fight again in South Carolina.
Romney, who invested more time and money in Iowa and New Hampshire than anyone else in the GOP field, came out with two second-place finishes -- barely enough to sustain his race in Michigan, which holds a Republican primary next Tuesday. McCain won Michigan in 2000, but Romney views it as a second home state because his father was the Republican governor there 40 years ago.
While all these candidates prepared for the next steps in the Republican elimination contest, New Hampshire spelled bad news for others in both parties who finished further back.
John Edwards, who struggled to second place among Iowa Democrats, slipped to a distant third here, having seen his populist message of corporate protest fail once again in this high-tech and academic constituency.
Bill Richardson was even further back, and is likely to exhaust his finances before the Feb. 5 round of primaries begins.
On the Republican side, Rudy Giuliani, Fred Thompson and Ron Paul all were weakened by their showings in both Iowa and New Hampshire. They have become almost spectators in the early contests. They have to hope for a deadlock that would throw the decision over to Florida on Jan. 29 and the other big states voting on Feb. 5.
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