Lesson from New Hampshire: Don’t blink, you might miss something important

January 9, 2008

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Hillary Clinton wins in New Hampshire. The primary contest brought one surprise after another. It showed why this Presidential race will be big box office, and why the Oscars are far from settled. Lesson number one from New Hampshire: Don’t blink. You might miss something important

This presidential contest is threatening to be compelling viewing, defying predictions from moment to moment.

A few months ago

A few month ago, Hillary Clinton was consolidating a long-established lead in polls of public opinion, to win the Democratic nomination, and with every chance of becoming the first Woman, and the second Clinton to become President of the United States of America.

Conditions for change seemed right: concerns about the future, dissatisfaction with the status quo; a plausible alternative leader for the country.

A month ago

Hillary’s momentum appeared to be stalling. Her nomination had been long linked with a down-side. The Clinton legacy was not without its problems. She remained a formidable figure, but was perhaps unable to shake off criticisms which often harked back to unfavourable comparisons with Bill Clinton’s campaigning style and skills. This presented her as lacking in charisma against his gold standard in that precious commodity. And the young upstart Barack Obama was still hanging in there, with his own charismatic style increasingly coming to wider attention around the world. As yet, no convincing leader seemed to be emerging as heir to Bush from the Republicans.

A week ago

Hillary’s momentum had taken a hit with the result in the first presidential primary, in Utah. Barack Obama’s victory, and the manner of his winning revealed him attracting the indies, independent voters beyond his own party, while other candidates were struggling for their share of the committed vote.

The campaign trail moved to New Hampshire. Still no convincing leader seemed to be emerging as heir to Bush from the Republicans.

Twelve hours ago

The exit polls were just emerging. It’s going to be Obama and McCain. Coverage in the UK has been more intense that I can ever remember for an American political campaign. It was the the satellite news media, rather than the internet, that worked best for me in the last hours of the campaign. I switched compulsively (and got pretty much the same emerging story) from excellent coverages on BBC 24 hours and Sky News.

Obama’s boost continued. It was not like the recent Brown bounce here. On electon, Gordon Brown took a big leap in the polls ,after a long period as a poor second to David Cameron. Obamak lagged Clinton, but was never behind in terms of expectations. Now he was exceeding them. He was well on the way to becoming the winner in New Hampshire for the democrats.

One commentator painted a word picture of someone offering the electorate hope. He also suggested that in absence of a similar candidate, republicans may well see the merits of someone of gravitas, a stable, reassuring figure , and yet ‘not one of Bush’s ol’ boys. For him, Senator McCain might just have an edge. This happened to be easier to predict in New Hampshire where McCain had been expected to do well.

An hour ago

Convincing wins for Clinton and McCain.

What?

Hillary bounced back.

How?

One little story (I did not even mention it) was of her losing her composure in a show of emotion in the final days of this campaign. The weepy moment is now being seized upon as a possible turning point. The iron control of Hillary now seen as concealing the emotions of a vulnerable and human person. Maybe. It happens. But it doesn’t explain the incredible last-minute-dotty surprise in the outcome to an outsider like me. And no one saw it in those terms when it happened (or it would have filtered through into the predictions of commentators).

According to the BBC:

Mrs Clinton having closed that gap may, says the BBC’s Kevin Connolly in New Hampshire, be down to an extraordinary moment during her campaigning on Monday when she appeared close to tears as she talked about how much public service meant to her. …BBC’s Justin Webb, reporting from Mrs Clinton’s celebration rally, says she not only repeated her husband’s feat but perhaps improved on it, because the opinion polls, the Obama team and the media had suggested strongly that victory was his. In conceding victory Senator Obama said: “I want to congratulate Senator Clinton on a hard fought victory here in New Hampshire. She did an outstanding job, give her a big round of applause.”

Then there’s the comeback straight-talker

One commentator painted a word picture of Obama as someone offering fresh hope to the electorate. He suggested that in absence of a charismatic young candidate, Republicans may well see the merits of supporting someone of gravitas, a stable, reassuring figure , and yet ‘not one of Bush’s ol’ boys. For him, Senator McCain might just have an edge over other front-running candidates. This happened to be easier to predict in New Hampshire, where McCain had been expected to do well.

And didn’t he do well.