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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.

By Web Politics Editor  |  January 8, 2008; 11:30 PM ET
 
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Next: About Those Democratic Polls

Comments

First the cackle, then the tears! What will Hillary do next?

Posted by: nmg3rln | January 9, 2008 11:51 AM | Report abuse

Posted by: debrabowers | January 9, 2008 11:29 AM | Report abuse

btehrani wrote:
"Independent voters responded to exactly that an rushed to the republican primary helping McCain. It is just "too many" of them left Obama alone causing him to switch position with McCain in term of who needs more help from independents."

I am curious if independents "rushed" to help McCain, and Hillary managed to get most of the democratic base, how is it that Obama BESTED McCain by OVER 16,000 VOTES! My guess is that many more independents voted for Obama and Hillary than McCain. McCain is in a weaker field with fewer Republicans voting, thus his win.

Any pundits/bloggers have any links to support this?

Posted by: michael_shelton | January 9, 2008 10:13 AM | Report abuse

You can actually point to MSNBC, an most of the MSM for getting caught up in the idea that Obama was a lock, an would win by double didgets. Those on MSNBC should be apologizing to Obama for giving the Independents the idea that McCain could lose if they all went to Obama. So, those that went to McCain to help him, he being the local favorite son, so to speak, they gave the election to Hillary. I may not be expressing this very well. I would hope that the Pundits would just go away, the MSM stop giving their opinions an just report the facts. Stop creating a story just to make things look interesting. They keep saying that Gov Romney is dead, but I think he leads in the delegate count for now. There is a MSM bias against Gov Romney, is he the one that the MSM is afraid would challenge the Demo??????

Posted by: eafcat | January 9, 2008 9:30 AM | Report abuse

Does the "winner" get all the delegates or are they divided?

If the latter is true with a difference of less than 3%, just how much did Ms. Clinton, who all the media outlets have been declaring the de facto nominee for over a year, actually win?

Posted by: casanavelaw | January 9, 2008 8:26 AM | Report abuse

Its a long race and Obama supporters should not be dismayed. Obama will pick up strength in South Carolina, and a number of serious Obama endorsements will come along the way.

Go Obama in '08!

Posted by: maq1 | January 9, 2008 6:33 AM | Report abuse

JakeD switches from Obama to Romney?! I cannot imagine the intellectual gmynastics required to make that transition. We're sorry you got banned from the blog. What did you say?

Please don't punish the rest of America and vote Republican over something so trivial.

Posted by: nbreitenbach | January 9, 2008 6:30 AM | Report abuse

I am a registered Independent (not in NH) but was considering supporting Obama -- I even donated to his campaign -- until I got banned from Obama's blog. As I documented on previous threads, some on Obama's blog are already blaming his loss on "racism". I supporting Mitt Romney now (his dad marched with Martin Luther King ; )

Posted by: JakeD | January 9, 2008 6:22 AM | Report abuse

"Independent Track" is perhaps what is going to happen in all states with many surprises.

I think what we saw just happening in NH was the reflection of independent voters who many of them tend to like both Obama and McCain. Last few days many polls suggested Obama's winning Nh is a given fact and lead the voters to conclude that McCain need more help from independents.

Independent voters responded to exactly that an rushed to the republican primary helping McCain. It is just "too many" of them left Obama alone causing him to switch position with McCain in term of who needs more help from independents.

I think as primaries move to other states, we see over and over again that Independent will be the final call on who will win where and how.

Posted by: btehrani | January 9, 2008 12:54 AM | Report abuse

This was a stunning win for Hillary, no one should forget that everyone was speculating Hillary would lose by double digits.

What do you make of Hillary Clinton wining New Hampshire and defying experts and the pundits who predicted a big loss for her?

http://www.youpolls.com/details.asp?pid=1479

.

Posted by: usadblake | January 9, 2008 12:37 AM | Report abuse

First, Broder describes Clinton's win as "by the narrowest of margins." Yet a few paragraphs further on, Broder clear has forgotten his second paragraph when he writes, "Now, having defeated Obama by a clear margin...."

And what possess him to write "until tonight [Obama] had not had a serious misstep along the way." Since when is losing by 3 points to Hillary Clinton a misstep? And the list of inane comments goes on and on.

When is Broder going to realize that politics (and perhaps life) has passed him by and it is time to retire to a cabin somewhere and stop polluting the pages of the nation's newspapers.

Posted by: Tankcorps | January 9, 2008 12:12 AM | Report abuse

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