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The voters of New Hampshire reminded all of us Tuesday that elections are decided in the election booth and not on political talk shows, newspaper columns or web sites.
Polls predicted an easy win for Barack Obama. For most of Tuesday, the pundits talked about the demise of Hillary Rodham Clinton and the anointment of Obama as the presumptive nominee of the Democratic party.
Even Clinton campaign insiders talked doom and gloom and dropped hints about staff shakeups and changes in message after an expected loss in the New Hampshire primary.
Then they counted the votes. Hillary took an early lead and never relinquished it. She won going away, taking nearly 40 percent of the vote and leaving Obama three points behind and the soon-to-be-history John Edwards all along in third place with 17 percent.
Obama tried to put the best face on it but the win in Iowa did not translate into “Big Mo” in New Hampshire. The voters of New Hampshire, many of whom are polled three and four times in a primary season, went into the booth and voted the way they wanted, not necessarily the way the told pollsters they might vote. Many made up their mind on election day.
Women voted for Clinton, men for Obama. Independents voted mostly for Obama but most independents decided not to vote in the Democratic primary but went over to the Republican side and gave John McCain a decisive victory over Mitt Romney and Mike Huckabee.
Tuesday night, the pundits watched the returns and wondered if anyone got the number of that truck that ran down their bold predictions.
Exit polls suggest women voters felt the men ganged up on Hillary at last weekend’s debate and many said Clinton’s teary-eyed performance on Monday also swayed their votes.
It wasn’t the first time New Hampshire confounded the polls and the predictions. It won’t be the last.
Just about everyone expected Hillary to go down — us included. We thought she was toast after the Iowa loss and after reading the polls.
The pollsters got it wrong, the pundits blew the call and we forgot a basic rule of politics.
In the end, the voters still decide: And that is the way it should be.