Just five days ago, a rural state with a population that is 95% white gave a resounding victory to an African-American with the name Barack Obama. As one of the political commentators said that evening, "I want to live in a country where that's possible". It was an amazing night.
What's next? The New Hampshire primary is just hours away. Clinton and Romney both led the state for months, but recently lost their leads to Obama and McCain. Some polls show Obama with as much as a 10% lead, but the Republican race appears much closer.
There are two very different views of the Clinton campaign right now. One shows the campaign imploding, with money troubles, a strident debate performance on Saturday, a huge drop in the polls (currently tied nationally after leading by 20%+) and an emotional appearance today. The other view sees the makings of a comeback in her newfound passion, her attacks on Obama, and the pile-on feel of her critics and competitors.
I'm afraid I see the latter and predict that tomorrow night, the talk will be of another "Comeback Kid" in New Hampshire. And I promise you, it will be very hard to when Hillary steps up to the microphone and says whatever clever phrase they've come up with that will be replayed endlessly the next morning. Maybe, "You know, Bill and I don't always agree and I think he had it wrong back in 1992. You see for me, no matter what happens, no matter how difficult things get, I still believe in a place called New Hampshire!"
Obama will still win, but it will be close enough that the press and her campaign will claim a comeback victory. This despite the fact that one week ago (and for many months prior), Clinton led in New Hampshire and was widely expected to win the first two contests. There will be talk of "It looks like the Clinton campaign has stopped the bleeding" and "There was a rush to crown Obama as the nominee, but it looks like his momentum has been slowed and we're in for a real dogfight."
If this scenario plays out, Edwards will essentially be finished.
I think press and public sympathy is starting to sway back to Clinton either way, but another possibility is the great weather tomorrow and ability of independents to participate will produce a mammoth turnout and a big Obama victory (greater than Iowa's 8-point margin). This will obviously be better news for Obama, as well as Edwards if he ends up close to Clinton. It will make it much more likely than the positive stories continue and Obama maintains the momentum into Nevada and South Carolina.
The Republican side is actually similar. About 3 weeks ago, it would have been considered a miracle if John McCain could pull off a victory, and a disaster for Romney to lose the first two contests. Now, after McCain opened a 5-7% lead, a close second finish for Romney or a "surprise" victory will be called a comeback. McCain will also benefit from a large turnout of independents, but Romney has had a good day or two and his outsider message is his more effective one. His best line of the campaign is "Just sending the same people to Washington, but in different chairs, is not going to result in a different outcome." Still reads like a PowerPoint slide, though.
You would expect Ron Paul to do much better in New Hampshire than his 10% in Iowa. The state is not fond of taxes or government and independents play a big role. So far, that doesn't seem to be the case. If he finishes 5th with less than 10%, I don't know where he can expect to make a showing that will force him to be reckoned with.
I'm hoping for resounding victories for McCain and Obama, but my gut tells me the "surprise" second-place finish by the two former frontrunners is going to be the story.
1. Obama 39%
2. Clinton 37%
3. Edwards 19%
4. Richardson 5%
1. McCain 32%
2. Romney 30%
3. Huckabee 12%
4. Giuliani 9%
5. Paul 9%
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