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Will N.H. Be Obama Territory, Too?

Obama finds a friendly audience in Dover, N.H. (AP).

By Dan Balz
NASHUA, N.H. -- There was a sense of urgency in Hillary Clinton's voice when she opened her first post-Iowa rally in an airplane hangar early Friday morning -- and a look of concern on the face of the man who introduced her, former President Bill Clinton.

New Hampshire and its presidential primary are familiar territory to the Clintons -- not at all like the inhospitable landscape of the flatlands of Iowa and what the Clintons regard as that state's quirky caucus process. They see it as the right place at the right time. They may be in for a surprise.

After finishing third in Iowa behind Barack Obama and -- marginally -- John Edwards, Clinton and her husband launched what they hope is a comeback with an open plea to voters in the Granite State.

The former president leveled a not-so-subtle dig at Iowa as he introduced his wife. "Ladies and gentlemen," Bill Clinton said, "New Hampshire is going to be given the chance to prove that you are the first [pause for emphasis] primary. You're going to be given a chance to show your well known and deeply deserved independent judgment."

What the Clintons fear is a rush to judgment, an Iowa-driven rush to back Obama's candidacy after his decisive victory in Iowa. They want to slow the momentum, force New Hampshire voters to think twice before jumping aboard the Obama bandwagon and prod Democrats and independents here to do what they have done many times in the past by defying conventional wisdom.

New Hampshire saved Bill Clinton's candidacy in 1992 by awarding him a second place after his support had plummeted over Gennifer Flowers and the draft. Hillary Clinton will need more than a second-place finish to put her hopes for the nomination back on track. Back-to-back losses will leave her crippled.

But compare the states of Iowa and New Hampshire and the landscape looks far less favorable for Clinton. The reality is, this is the state that always set up best for Obama, even when he was struggling here. The demographics and political culture lean more in the direction of Obama than toward Clinton. His goal now is to realize the potential that the electorate in New Hampshire offers.

Look first at Iowa and where Obama did best. According to the National Election Poll entranced poll, Obama enjoyed a margin of better than 2-1 over Clinton among independents. He won overwhelmingly among young voters between the ages of 17 and 29 and among voters between the ages of 30 and 44. He was the clear choice of liberals. He beat Clinton decisively among voters with incomes above $75,000.

The entrance poll questionnaire did not ask respondents to say how much education they had, so that critical measurement of the electorate is missing. But the Iowa Poll published two days before the caucuses in the Des Moines Register, which nearly nailed his victory margin exactly, showed Obama the clear choice of those with college degrees.

In virtually every demographic category where Obama found his greatest strength in Iowa, New Hampshire's electorate has at least as many or more of those voters, based on a comparison of the entrance polls from Thursday's caucuses in Iowa and from the 2004 Democratic primary in Hampshire.

Take independents. They constituted 20 percent of the caucus electorate in Iowa on Thursday, but four years ago in New Hampshire they constituted nearly half (48 percent) of the Democratic electorate.

Some seasonal adjustment may be necessary because there was no competitive Republican primary in 2004 to siphon off some of those independent voters. But even in 2000, when John McCain was swept to victory on the strength of big support from independents, the electorate in the Democratic primary between Al Gore and Bill Bradley was 40 percent independents.

Older voters were Clinton's friends in Iowa, not Obama's, and in the caucuses they accounted for 22 percent of the participants. In New Hampshire four years ago, voters over age 65 represented just 11 percent of thee Democratic electorate.

Younger voters accounted for a larger share of the Iowa electorate on Thursday night than they did in New Hampshire in 2004 -- but that may be attributable to the Obama campaign's efforts to encourage college students and even 17-year-olds to participate in the caucuses. That pushed their share of the electorate up over 2004 in Iowa and the same could happen here.

Even without data from the Iowa entrance poll, it is a well-documented fact that New Hampshire's electorate is one of the best-educated of any of the states with early primaries or caucuses. That should help Obama, although in the most recent CNN/WMUR-TV poll by the University of New Hampshire, Obama and Clinton are running pretty evenly among those with college degrees or more.

Clinton's team has long believed they could offset many of those demographic disadvantages with strong support among women in New Hampshire. Women accounted for 54 percent of the electorate here in 2004 and 62 percent in 2000 and in the most recent CNN/WMUR poll, Clinton held an 11-point lead among them.

Look too at past history. It's true that New Hampshire has often favored insurgents or underdogs over front-runners, but that has been the case most often when front-runners were establishment Democrats. Walter Mondale was the establishment front-runner who swept Iowa but lost to insurgent Gary Hart. Al Gore, the establishment front-runner in 2000, trounced Bill Bradley in Iowa but struggled to win New Hampshire.

Clinton will smartly cast herself as the underdog in the final days in New Hampshire and no one knows better than her husband how to put on a stretch drive in this state. But not everything sets up for the senator for New York here, which is why she faces such an enormous struggle over the next four days.

By Web Politics Editor  |  January 4, 2008; 1:13 PM ET
Categories:  Dan Balz's Take  
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