Election 2008 Analysis: New Hampshire Final Results

Ken AshfordElection 2008Leave a Comment

Intrade_2Some slightly-organized thoughts:


(1)  Why Hillary won.  Because she got more votes.

(2)  No seriously.  Why Hillary won.  I think there are a number of factors that came in to play.  Most voters made their decision in the past few days, so that’s where my focus is.

First, the last debate.  I thought Edwards "won" it, but for people who were on the Obama-vs-Clinton fence, I think Clinton pulled more voters into her camp.  Obama, while not commiting any gaffes, left his charisma in the hotel room that day.  It didn’t help him.

Second, Hillary’s "tearful moment".  The more I think about it, the more I think this really put Hillary over the edge.  It was really almost a non-event.  As the video (in the post below) shows, she really didn’t cry.  Her eyes welled up slightly and her voice shook.  But that was it.

Now what was it about the "tearful moment" that New Hampshireites saw?   Did they see a woman falling apart?  No, they saw what I saw — a woman keeping it together.  In other words, the whole "moment" reflected well on Hillary (particularly for women voters).  I read (somewhere) a comment from a New Hampshire woman who said that never forgave Hillary for that "baking cookies" comment in 1992 …until the (so-called) "tearful moment".  In that moment, Hillary showed herself to be a strong woman (as opposed to, you know, a strong MAN).

I think the media reaction to the "tearful moment" also helped her.  I mean, the thing was picked apart to death.  The very idea that her smallest facial ticks get so much scrutiny is almost insulting and turns her into a sympathetic character.

And I think many (myself included) were insulted at not only the "depth" of the analysis, but the not-so-subtle misogyny of it.  Two theories were softly floated: (a) that Hillary’s "crying" made her "weak" and "unpresidential"; and (b) that Hillary’s "crying" was calculated on her part.  Some have even tried to claim both are true (so she tried to make herself look like a weak unpresidential crybaby?).  Neither registered as true to people who actually saw the video.  This wasn’t a Muskie moment; it was a human one which reflected well on Hillary.  And people responded to seeing the human side of her, having been painted as being "cold" and "ambitious" for so long.

The final reason Hillary won?  I think that requires an understanding of the New Hampshire voter.  When faced with convential wisdom about who is and isn’t going to win their state, New Hampshire voters looooove to say "Now wait a minute there, pundits".  The assumption is that if Iowa does X, then New Hampshire will do X.  But New Hampshirites — even those aligned with a political party — love to strut their independent streak.  They aren’t prepared to "write off" anybody, no matter what the media says.  They did it with Bill in 1992, after the whole Gennifer Flowers thing.

So when the media started talking about the "inevitability" of Obama, and even suggested that Hillary’s campaign was all but over, well, New Hampshire voters voted "Think again".

So I think all those factors worked to carry Hillary over the top.

(2)  Why Obama didn’t win.  Oddly enough, if someone said two weeks ago that Obama would be within 3 percentage points of Clinton, it wouldn’t be viewed as the "stunning blow" that people are now saying.

And when it comes to delegate count, Obama got nine.  Compared to Hillary’s — nine.  That’s right.  A tie.

That said, I think the Obama phenomenon didn’t result in a first place win because he didn’t get out the youth vote.  Well, I mean, he did, but not enough.

And speaking of the youth vote, here’s my memo to the news media (and future candidates): Dartmouth isn’t a state college, you morons.  It’s a national university with a national reputation.  You know what that means?  That means that the students are from all over the country and therefore, the vast majority of them don’t vote in the New Hampshire primaries.  So don’t keep talking about the "returns from Hanover", as if it’s going to result in some mammoth shift in the outcome.  Duh.

And no, I don’t the "Wilder Effect" was in play here.

(3)  Whither Edwards?  Like I said after Iowa, he’ll be around for Super Duper Tuesday.  And he’ll continue to place third.  But both he and Richardson and whoever else is left won’t last long.


(1) Why McCain won.  Quite simply, it was his "maverick" image.  He won in New Hampshire in 2000.  People who voted for him them and who are dissatisfied with Bush got a chance to pull an "I Told You So" lever in the ballot box. 

Huckabee’s christian conserservatism never had a chance in a state with the lowest church-going population in the country.  Thompson and Giuliani didn’t try.  (Giuliani, no doubt, will find some way to compare his poor showing in New Hampshire to 9/11, as in, "I’ve been down before.  Look at 9/11…")

And Romney.  Well, the people of New Hampshire know him.  That was why he was on top of the polls for so long.  Because they were at least familiar with him.  But Romney’s flip-flopping — more blatent than any candidates in any recent election’s memory — doesn’t sit well.  And The Concord Monitor’s devastating Romney anti-endorsement set the ball rolling.

In short, McCain won by default.

Other Thoughts

(1)  McCain?  Clinton?  What happened to "change"?  I think the "change" mantra has become so overused that it is almost meaningless.  Not that people don’t want change, but they’re hungry for something beyond a candidate who merely invokes the word (to death).

Change is good, most people believe, but change plus experience is better.  On the experience metric, Clinton and McCain beat their competitors hands down.

But we’re not done hearing about change.  And I expect Obama and others to fine-tune their message to bring their idea of change (and what that means, in tangible terms) into focus.

(2)  So now what?  Quite simply, the Democratic race becomes a two-person race.  If I were Clinton or Obama, I would take 3 days off.  Because they have not yet begun to fight.  Super Duper Tuesday is February 5.  In political terms, that’s like a year.  A lot can happen between now and then.  There is no frontrunner to speak of, although I think Hillary still has the leg up on key states like Michigan.  Super Duper Tuesday will determine who that frontrunner is for sure.  And if it doesn’t, the convention is going to be a nightmare.

On the Republican side, it’s already a nightmare.  Huckabee, McCain, and Romney can all claim to be the frontrunner at this point.  None of them, convincingly.  Thompson will be out soon.  Rudy will be out after Florida.  Ron Paul has the money to be around for a while, but he’ll remain the LaRouche joke.  Both Huckanee and Romney really need a win — in Huck’s case, to show that he’s now a one hit wonder, and in Romney’s case, to show that he can win a state (although, to be fair, he leads in the GOP delegate count at this moment).  I think things look worse for Huckabee though — Super Duper Tuesday will see to that.

UPDATE:  Some columnists shouldn’t have written their post-NH-Primary editorials before the results actually came in.  "Dewey beats Truman", anyone?

UPDATE:  I think this post from Kos (The Orange Satan) is noteworthy in its entirety.  I agree with almost everything in it —


Hillary is my least favorite of the viable candidates on substantive grounds, and I’ll be voting for Barack Obama here pretty soon here in California via absentee ballot. The second-to-last thing I want is Mark Penn and Terry McAluiffe anywhere near the White House. (The last thing? Another Republican administration.)

But the more assholish her detractors behave, the more you help her. The way she was treated the past few days in New Hampshire was a disgrace, and likely a large reason for her surprise victory. So keep attacking her for bullshit reasons, and you’ll be generating more and more sympathy votes for her. Obama’s "you’re likable enough" was likely worth 2-3 points all by its lonesome self.

In May 2006 I wrote this in the Washington Post:

In person, Clinton is one of the warmest politicians I’ve ever met, but her advisers have stripped what personality she has, hiding it from the public. Some of that may be a product of her team’s legendary paranoia, somewhat understandable given the knives out for her. But what remains is a heartless, passionless machine, surrounded by the very people who ground down the activist base in the 1990s and have continued to hold the party’s grassroots in utter contempt.

In New Hampshire, her campaign seems to have realized that there’s value in giving people a look at that personality. The decision to open up may have been "calculated", but what’s behind the steel curtain is a genuinely warm, likable human being. I know this from first-hand experience.

The more she’s attacked on personal grounds, the more sympathy that real person will generate, the more votes she’ll win from people sending a message to the media and her critics that they’ve gone way over the line of common decency. You underestimate that sympathy at your own peril. If I found myself half-rooting for her given the crap that was being flung at her, is it any wonder that women turned out in droves to send a message that sexist double-standards were unacceptable? Sure, it took one look at Terry McAuliffe’s mug to bring me back down to earth, but most people don’t know or care who McAuliffe is. They see people beating the shit out of Clinton for the wrong reasons, they get angry, and they lash back the only way they can — by voting for her.

The vote for the two "change" candidates outstripped the vote for the two "experience" candidates. I’m with change. I have no interest in seeing behavior that, in essence, helps the status quo.