Will the real Hillary please stand up?

Ah, Hillary. We still don’t know who you are.

After 16 years of high Clinton drama, after dozens of books examining the former first lady from every angle and ideological viewpoint, after hundreds of speeches and campaign rallies, the percentage of Americans who feel they really understand the woman who could be the first female president of the United States remains astonishingly small.

Tax hikes killed Romney’s chances

As political strategists decamped for Michigan and points south, many here wondered how Mitt Romney could lose 2008′s first primary to Sen. John McCain of Arizona, 32 percent to 37 percent, respectively, despite Romney’s four years as governor of contiguous Massachusetts and some $15.5 million in reported campaign expenditures. Granite State Republicans, previously keen on Romney, likely soured on his legacy as a tax hiker who increased levies in Massachusetts and New Hampshire.

Boston newspapers informed their New Hampshire readers of Romney’s rising-tax tide.

Now we can have a say in things

The real winner in the New Hampshire primary may be a nominating process that was in danger of falling into disrepute as an unfair exercise in small-state politics that excluded the urban electorate. A win in rural Iowa and tiny New Hampshire seemed on the verge of having such outsized impact in choosing a president that grumbling about finding some new way of doing business had reached a crescendo.

The great poll crash of 2008

“America in Search of Itself” is what the late Theodore White called a book of his about the presidential elections between 1956 and 1980. The title’s not a bad description of what happens every four years, of how we look at ourselves and candidates and try to figure out where we are, where we want to go and who might lead the way.

John Kerry endorses Obama

John Kerry, the 2004 Democratic presidential nominee, gave Barack Obama a timely endorsement Thursday, snubbing Hillary Rodham Clinton as well as his own vice presidential running mate.

Kerry came to South Carolina to embrace Obama, two weeks before the state’s primary and with Obama needing a boost after Clinton’s emotional victory over him in New Hampshire.

Richardson pulls the plug

New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson ended his bid for the Democratic presidential nomination Thursday after poor finishes in the first two contests in Iowa and New Hampshire.

He praised all of his Democratic rivals but endorsed no one. He encouraged voters to “take a long and thoughtful look” at all of them.

Richardson said that although his support at the polls lagged the front-runners, many of his leading rivals had moved closer to his positions on such issues as the war in Iraq and educating young Americans at home.

Bill Clinton’s primary colors

Former President Clinton has become a central player in his wife’s presidential campaign. Yet as Hillary Rodham Clinton seeks to build upon her New Hampshire comeback momentum, that role is evolving and coming under new scrutiny.

His recent sharp comments about chief rival Barack Obama, including accusing the Illinois senator of engaging in a “fairy tale” on Iraq, could alienate some Democratic voters. However his popularity among Democrats remains high, a blessing that could cut both ways.

Are we there yet?

The voters of New Hampshire and the caucus goers of Iowa have spoken and their verdict: Hillary is no longer inevitable. Obama is no longer anointed. And McCain is no longer dead.

Hillary Rodham Clinton rebounded in New Hampshire from a near-death experience, confounding the pollsters, pundits and over-caffeinated cable hosts by edging out the predicted winner, Barack Obama, 39 percent to 37 percent. John Edwards finished with a disappointing 17 percent.

New Hampshire’s primary role

The Iowa caucuses, followed now rapidly by New Hampshire and many other primaries, might have resulted in a leading presidential contender sewing up the nomination early. So far, that is not the case.

The Iowa victors, Republican Mike Huckabee and Democrat Barack Obama, have received intense nonstop coverage in the few days since the caucuses, but neither has vaulted into a commanding lead. The much-headlined “Obama surge” in attention and public enthusiasm did not prevent a New Hampshire victory by Hillary Rodham Clinton.

A forgotten primary lesson

While everybody else is writing about the results of the New Hampshire primary, I can only follow my contrary nature and write about the forgotten man of American politics.

Because of a self-imposed Christmas truce, I have not written about him for several weeks. So much time has passed, I now find that I can barely remember his name. This strikes me as very good, although admittedly it could be a sign that my mind has closed down out of respect for my recent 60th birthday.