AN EPIC NIGHT
The New Comeback Kids
"It is simply unprecedented for so many polls . . .
to have been so wrong."
Don't Count Anyone Out
Hillary Clinton and John McCain pulled off two of the biggest comebacks in American political history Tuesday night, winning their party's New Hampshire primaries, and immediately transforming the 2008 presidential campaign into a 4-week state-by-state free-for-all, with no clear frontrunner on either side.
And oh yeah, we were wrong. Big time. Pundits and political smarty-pants' alike are cleaning the egg off of their face at this hour, while trying to figure out how late polls showing a Barack Obama blowout were so flawed.
Clinton defeated Obama by about 3 points, on the strength of registered Democrats and women over the age of 40. McCain's 5-point victory was propelled by independent voters, but it can't be lost that he edged out Mitt Romney among Republicans.
The Republican polls proved to be right. The Democratic polls and momentum meter proved to be dead wrong. Why? NBC's Chuck Todd pondered what people don't want to talk about: closeted racism. Todd compared the situation to other black candidates who polled very well election eve, but ended up losing the actual contest, when people vote privately behind a curtain. Todd said we really wouldn't know if this was the case until other states had their say. But something to think about . . .
"It is simply unprecedented for so many polls to have been so wrong. We need to know why," wrote ABC News polling director Gary Langer.
How about giving the Clinton camp some credit? The fiery ABC debate. The tears. New Hampshire thumbing its nose (or finger) at Iowa and the political media. Whatever it was, Clinton proved she remains a force to be reckoned with --- partly because the expectations were raised so high for Obama. (Thanks Washington press corps!)
"There's a lot of things you can say about (The Clintons) that are uncomplimentary . . . but politically they are something," said conservative pundit Bill Bennett.
Or maybe the voters were . . . .(drum roll) . . . persuaded? During a campaign! Cripes! "The polls had it wrong because the voters changed," CNN political analyst Gloria Borger said.
Speaking of expectations, Mitt Romney's campaign continues to amaze me. (Or not really.) He's lost both Iowa and New Hampshire. (We won the silver, We won the silver! . . . This ain't Salt Lake, Mitt.) The next G.O.P. contest is in Michigan, next Tuesday. Does Mitt need to win there? Naaaah, says spokesperson Kevin Madden. The strategy is clear: Romney doesn't need to win, anywhere. Or maybe I'm being too harsh. If New Hampshire proves anything, it proves not to rule anyone out. Maybe I'll even consider Fred Thompson a plausible G.O.P. nominee . . . (By Romney standards, he did win the bronze in Iowa.)
Back to the G.O.P., the path to John McCain's nomination is getting a bit more promising. NBC's David Gregory reported tonight that top G.O.P. officials were already imagining McCain's path to November. NBC's Andrea Mitchell reported that the Clinton camp expects McCain to ultimately become the nominee. Still, the path is harrowing. He still has to go down to South Carolina, where he could have his heart broken again by a bass-playing Christian leader from Arkansas.
Mike Huckabee, by the way, is underestimated at the media's peril. His populist-conservatism melds well with his charismatic approach. He's a far better speaker than McCain, and more in line with the Evangelical base. Yet lack of foreign policy experience and electability will also weigh on the minds of G.O.P. regulars. On the other hand, many conservatives in Southwest Missouri loathe McCain -- and what he stands for. McCain-Huck will be something to watch.
Then there's Rudy. Waiting. Can't rule him out. He probably hopes Romney wins Michigan and McCain and Huckabee tie in South Carolina. He wants utter and complete chaos. The magic of this process is . . . it could happen.
Back to the Dems, where John Edwards' voters ultimately end up could tip the scales in the Hillary-Obama tussle. Edwards pledges to fight until the convention, but losses in Nevada and South Carolina will take the air out of his sails. It would appear his supporters would float to Obama --- but I've learned tonight that assumptions are just that.
That's all the primary excitement for this week. But next week, Michigan Republicans will have the next crack at it on Tuesday --- just as Matt Blunt delivers Missouri's State of the State address. Dems will go next in Nevada a week from Saturday. That same night, Republicans vote in all-important South Carolina.
Enjoy tonight? This looks to be quite a long ride, with even more lessons to come.