Not a Game
By Joel Achenbach
MERRIMACK, N.H. -- The Clinton Era began here in New Hampshire in 1992. You have to wonder if it begins to end here tonight.
Last night Hillary Rodham Clinton held a last-hurrah rally in a tennis-court pavilion next to the airport in Manchester. She had the usual human wallpaper behind her, plus her daughter and husband standing dutifully at attention. She made a good speech and almost every one of her policy initiatives, even the wonkiest ones ("I will end that long, confusing financial aid form that you have to fill out!"), drew a roar from the crowd.
But there were dozens of people streaming out of the place even as she was speaking. I asked a couple of them why they were leaving. One said she was tired. Another said he had to get up early to go to the polls. Reporters shouldn't try to weave a few stray threads into an entire quilt. It was late, there was no place to sit. But it has to be said: You never see people leaving in the middle of an Obama speech.
Several voters told me they thought Clinton's emotional moment in Portsmouth revealed her humanity and made her more appealing.
"I thought it was very human," said Pernelia Lindorff, 57, a teacher in Manchester. "It was from the heart. Men don't do that."
Mariel Rosen, 20, a college student, said, "It actually pains me to see the attacks against her. She has a celebrity status but she really is a human like you or me or anyone."
Diedre Smyrnos, 43, who sells produce in Rye, said she worries the news media will overplay the Portsmouth moment: "I hope they don't change history because of one watery eye."
Sid Blumenthal, Clinton's senior adviser, wandered back to the press area and offered his own description of the Portsmouth event: "Ed Muskie in reverse."
(Muskie, the Democratic front-runner in 1972, had choked up in Manchester as he denounced the editor of the Union Leader. To this day it's unclear if the "tears" were actually melting snow. In any case, the incident helped sink Muskie's candidacy.)
I asked Blumenthal if the Obama surge will prove to be a passing infatuation, a kind of political bubble that will eventually pop.
Blumenthal hesitated as he formulated an answer. Finally he said, "There's a book on tulip manias... "
As in, mass hysteria and the madness of crowds.
"We'll find out if this is tulip mania, if it's a bubble," Blumenthal said.
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