January 09, 2008

Hillary Beats Obama, Just!

I was wrong, and so was everyone else who believed the polls. I looked at them all, and as of two days ago, Obama was widening his lead. But something happened in the two or three days since those polls and the actual election. Clinton got far more support from women than the polls had predicted - they said women would split between the two. In fact, she got 14% more, showing that when women go into the polling booth they are still thinking about their decision. This was decisive, as Hillary defeated him by only two percentage points - 39% to 37%. Obama was also perhaps a victim of his anticipated success, as Independant voters, who can participate in either primary, seem to have gone over to help McCain, because Obama apparently was going to win without their help. Had the polls showed Obama in a close race, then more Independents might have supported him.

Voters clearly were volatile in New Hampshire, and the process of the election brought more energy to Hillary's campaign. This surprised all the pundits, who admitted it on CNN and in the other media. In the last two days Hillary became more populist in tone and more open to questions from the crowds who came to hear her. Until this week, she gave few interviews and the communication was all one way. She also teared up in an emotional moment surrounded by women in a small public meeting. That moment was caught on TV and rebroadcast many times. (This seems to have worked once, but how many times could she become emotional before it would begin to hurt her?) She was learning from what worked for other candidates, and that is as it should be. The primary process gives candidates a chance to know the public and find out what they care about. She refocused on younger voters, as Obama has, making a point to pose many of them behind her on the stage. In her victory speech Hillary sounded a bit like Edwards, speaking about the "invisible Americans" and the hard-working people who cannot afford to pay the bills. She has also begun to attack the oil companies, the pharmeceutical companies, and the insurance companies, which may win the primary for her, but may alienate swing voters and can stimulate these companies to give more money to Republicans. Overall, Clinton presented her self as more emotional, and won over many to the cause at the last minute.

Now we have an open race, with two candidates almost equally strong in the North, and Edwards hoping for a comeback in the South. So far, the campaign has not tested the candidates' appeal in large cities or among Black and Hispanic voters. The next primary in Michigan will be the first in a large, urban, and multicultural state. Can Hillary appeal to that audience as well as Obama will?  Can she continue to outpoll him among women voters? 

On the Republican side, McCain made a tremendous comeback, defeating Romney, who has now come in second twice. But that race is still wide open, as it rolls on toward Michigan. Romney's father was governor of Michigan, after all, so he has one more chance to win a primary. But if he cannot win there, then it may come down to a race between McCain and Huckabee and perhaps Giuliani, with Fred Thompson as a remote outside possibility.