Clinton stuns Obama in New Hampshire

Edges out Iowa caucus winner 39% to 36%; John McCain beats Mitt Romney on the Republican side.

us special 2 224 (photo credit: )
us special 2 224
(photo credit: )
Hillary Clinton defied pre-primary polls by beating back her opposition to capture the New Hampshire vote Tuesday night, while John McCain coasted to an easy victory. The results break the races wide open among the leaders in both parties. Clinton, the New York senator long considered the frontrunner for the Democratic nomination, saw her lead evaporate with her loss to Barack Obama in the Iowa caucuses, only to pull off a victory in New Hampshire with 39 percent of the vote to his 36%. That puts her in a strong position headed into the next states to vote, Nevada and South Carolina. But Obama, an Illinois senator trying to become the first African American president, is expected to do well in at least the latter, where black voters account for a high percentage of voters. After those states, as well as Michigan and Florida for the Republicans (the Democratic delegates have been forfeited there), 20-plus states - including the nation's most populous - will go to the polls February 5, a day in which the races could be locked up. Despite their decisive placement, many of the February 5 states moved up their primaries in a bid to lure candidate visits and influence their policies as New Hampshire and Iowa had done by going first. Instead, the compressed scheduled could undercut their role because the candidates have less time to reach out to constituents and campaign in these places. These states - which include New York, California, New Jersey and Illinois - hold the bulk of the country's Jewish population, which largely supports Clinton among Democrats and former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani among Republicans. According to New Hampshire pollster R. Kelly Myers, the tight schedule "will make them more susceptible to the momentum effect of smaller state" primaries, because the buzz of these elections will have less time to dissipate and be overcome by on-the-ground local campaigning. Giuliani came in only forth Tuesday night with 9 percent of the vote, well behind Arizona Senator John McCain's 37, former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney's 31, and even former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee's 11. Huckabee won the Iowa primary but was expected to do dismally in New Hampshire, where his appeal as a former Baptist preacher stressing Christian values would be muted. That means Giuliani has to find a way to swing the campaign in his direction ahead of the upcoming contests, particularly as McCain has positioned himself as a maverick conservative who isn't afraid to take on his party and effect change, a message that has "resonated" in the assessment of Myers. Yet Giuliani enjoys significant support in the bigger, more liberal states who provide large numbers of delegates. Romney's second weak showing presents a major challenge for his campaign to eke out a victory, while former North Carolina senator John Edwards is also in a tough position after coming in third. Should he continue to falter, his backers could make a difference in boosting either Clinton or Obama. Clinton's campaign depicted her triumph Tuesday night - which came despite forecasts of an Obama win in the days leading to and even the early hours of the primary - as due in part to the importance her record of experience represents to voters. But they also stressed the importance of female voters, who backed her 46% to Obama's 34% in New Hampshire, according to exit polls, as opposed to Iowa where the female vote didn't help her. Myers said Clinton's effective campaigning over the last few days, in which she traveled throughout the state, spent more time interacting with voters, and even got choked up when answering a question, showcased a side her of her that women appreciated. "We saw an emotional side of her, which was very appealing to female voters," he said. Clinton, wary of vulnerability as the first woman to have a shot at the White House, has expended considerable effort to project an image of both personal strength and strong stances on national security issues. But she opened herself up to criticism of being stiff and not likable, losing support to voters enamored with Obama's easy style and warm personality. Obama sought to take advantage of that perception by echoing former President John F. Kennedy in his concession speech on Tuesday night, urging that the American people can make change happen. The Clinton campaign, however, echoed a more recent American head of state - her husband Bill Clinton and the moniker he successfully claimed for himself as the "comeback kid" after he came in a strong second in New Hampshire following a bad loss in Iowa. Victory here is not necessarily counted by who comes first, according to Myers, explaining that much of the sense of wins and losses are tied up with expectations; coming in above expectations was seen as a victory and coming in below them was viewed as a loss. In fact, Obama's brief dominance this past week could prove damaging in the race for mastering expectations. After exceeding expectations in Iowa on Thursday, his strong showing in New Hampshire was widely perceived as a loss and allowed Clinton to cast herself as making a comeback. New Jersey Senator Robert Menendez, a Clinton backer briefing reporters declared Wednesday, "Hillary's going to give America the kind of comeback that she gave New Hampshire last night."