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A lot of people who thought they knew something about the political process woke up with a hangover this morning — their minds muddled by the intoxication of arrogance and the failed belief that they — not the voters — decide elections.
They awoke with the knowledge that last night was not a dream but a nightmare come true — that two candidates won their respective parties’ primaries in New Hampshire the old fashioned way — by getting out the vote and ending the evening with a win that just about everyone said was impossible.
Republican John McCain made it look easy, easily defeating Mitt Romney and Mike Huckabee in an election the networks declared won minutes after the polls closed.
It took five more hours before anyone would dare claim the previously-thought impossible: Democrat Hillary Rodham Clinton as the upset winner over Barack Obama, edging the predicted winner 39-37 percent.
She did it in typical Clinton style — practically reinventing herself in the five days between the Iowa caucuses and the New Hampshire vote, dumping her stilted stump speech, taking questions at appearances and even breaking down and almost coming to tears on the day before the election.
Some pundits and polls predicted a double-digit win for Obama but New Hampshire voters don’t listen to pundits — especially women voters who cast their choice overwhelmingly for the new, softer Hillary Clinton. The outcome left pollsters, pundits and pontificators gasping for air and stuttering as they tried to explain how they got it so wrong.
Clinton savored the victory but was gracious in her acceptance, acknowledging her opponents and telling supporters she had learned from her mistakes and from them. Gone from the stage were here polarizing husband — former President Bill Clinton — or others who marked the status-quo underpinnings of her campaign.
By contrast, Republican winner McCain’s acceptance speech was a mess: He stumbled several times as he read his notes, seldom looking up or making eye contact with the crowd.
But victory was still his, a remarkable comeback from a cash-strapped campaign that pundits declared dead five months ago.
Hillary Clinton’s two-point victory over Obama turned the Democratic contest into a two-candidate race. A distant third place finish leaves the campaign for John Edwards in doubt although in this year’s campaign any comeback appears possible.
The Republican side is more muddled. Former front runner Mitt Romney must win in Michigan to stay in the race and former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani’s “ignore the early primaries” strategies might not work. Internet darling Ron Paul’s fifth place finish is not what supporters predicted and actor Fred Dalton Thompson’s 1 percent finish is what people expected.
Reports The Associated Press:
Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton powered to victory in New Hampshire’s Democratic primary Tuesday night in a startling upset, defeating Sen. Barack Obama and resurrecting her bid for the White House. Sen. John McCain defeated his Republican rivals to move back into contention for the GOP nomination.
“I felt like we all spoke from our hearts and I am so gratified that you responded,” Clinton said in victory remarks before cheering supporters. “Now together, let’s give America the kind of comeback that New Hampshire has just given me.”
Her victory, after Obama won last week’s Iowa caucuses, raised the possibility of a prolonged battle for the party nomination between the most viable black candidate in history and the former first lady, seeking to become the first woman to occupy the Oval Office.
“I am still fired up and ready to go,” a defeated Obama told his own backers, repeating the line that forms a part of virtually every campaign appearance he makes.
McCain’s triumph scrambled the Republican race as well.
“We showed this country what a real comeback looks like,” the Arizona senator told The Associated Press in an interview as he savored his triumph. “We’re going to move on to Michigan and South Carolina and win the nomination.”
The Washington Post’s take:
While pre-election polls in New Hampshire got Sen. John McCain’s margin of victory about right on the Republican side, late polls fundamentally mischaracterized the status of the Democratic race.
Polls released in the two days before the election had Sen. Barack Obama (Ill.) with a five- to 13-percentage-point lead over Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (N.Y.) in the Granite State, but Clinton defeated Obama, 39 percent to 36 percent.
Most polls accurately reflected the large bloc of likely Democratic voters yet to make up their minds or who said they were open to switching their support in the closing days. On the network exit poll, nearly 4 in 10 said they made their final decision within the last three days; 17 percent said they decided how to vote yesterday. Among those making up their minds on the day of the primary, 39 percent supported Clinton, 36 percent Obama. Clinton did even better among the third of the electorate who settled on their choice a month or more ago.
However, the late polls missed on how votes divided by gender. Pre-election polls from CNN-WMUR-University of New Hampshire and USA Today-Gallup showed Obama and Clinton about evenly splitting female voters and Obama winning men by a margin of 2 to 1. But Clinton won among women by 12 percentage points, exit polls showed, and she lost among men more narrowly than suggested, drawing 29 percent to Obama’s 40 percent.