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Wednesday, January 09, 2008

What happened in the January 2008 NH Primary:

The media projected the image of an unstoppable Obama for America campaign. No one paid attention to what Hillary Clinton was doing on the ground. No one gave John Edwards an opportunity to make any sort of an impact on his own campaign or anyone else's. Tom Brokaw, for example, called the Senator from Illinois, "A thoroughbred who has broken away from the pack." Polls showed that Independents and Decline to State Party voters overwhelmingly favored Barack Obama and John McCain. Because the impression given by TV, newpapers, magazines, and radio that Obama's road was an easy one, and McCain's still uncertain, Independents and Decline to State Party voters decided to give McCain a safe margin of victory, in order to prevent a loss or virtual tie to Mitt Romney. This can be proven by looking at the turnout of Independents and Decline to State Party men above projections for McCain and below projections for Obama.

Second, although there was record turnout in the NH Primary and many polling locations actually ran out of ballots, several thousand people who would have voted for Obama, surely did not vote because the media had already crowned him the victor. The proof of this contention can be demonstrated by examining the turnout patterns of voters who live in NH, but work in Massachusetts. Instead of voting on their way to work or after their work days, these persons surely decided just to avoid long lines all together, and did not vote. Further proof of the veracity of this can be demonstrated by university student turnout. In Iowa, Obama for America made every effort to turnout high school seniors and Iowa university students, regardless of whether or not their schools were in session. In NH, Obama for America did not make similar efforts. They concentrated attention on in session Dartmouth College, but did not make the kind of push for not in session University of New Hampshire students for the Primary that they made for not in session University of Iowa students for the Caucus.

Third, Hillary Clinton stopped trying to compete with Barack Obama for Independents and Decline to State Party voters. She favored multi-hour, small to medium crowd townhall events with no press, over several-minute large audience appearances with tons of press. In short, they let Obama be a rock star and media darling and they focused on turning out their base. This explains the significant victory with Democratic women. In Iowa, Obama benefited from the variables controlling Caucus viability to claim the majority of women Caucus goers. But Clinton was smart is using both direct references to making history as the first female President, as well as in framing the moment when the media slammed her for crying in public as proof that there is "Still a double standard for women in this country." Hillary Clinton has always benefited concurrently from the presence of her husband, the former President, as part of her audience looks to him with admiration, and part of her audience looks to her as the victim of his affairs and attempt to cover them up. This point serves to explain why the median age of a female Clinton supporter in Iowa was 60, and the median age of a female Clinton supporter in NH was 40.

Fourth, Clinton did in NH what Huckabee did in Iowa, and actively went after the supporters of candidates no longer in the race. In Huckabee's case, it was the pursuit of supporters of Sam Brownback that first propelled Huckabee into double digits. In NH, it was Clinton's courting of supporters of Joe Biden that added to the majority she carried of Democrats who feel experience is the most important quality a Presidential candidate should possess. This point and the third one demonstrate the strength of the Clinton Field machine. Those of you who have been following events in NH for several months will recall Obama's invisibility during events like Dartmouth College Homecoming and Hillary Clinton's perpetual visibility at all Homecoming events. Clinton has known for sometime that she was at a disadvantage with young voters. In Iowa she chose to dissuade the turnout of high school and and university age attendees. For this Clinton was criticized by Rock the Vote on Facebook, and by a wealth of other Youth Vote organizations. In NH, Clinton decided to peel away some of Obama's youth support by targeting young women. This strategy paid off, and Obama's margin of victory among young people diminished significantly.

Last but certainly not least, there has been a shift in the issues that those voting in Democratic races in the Early States consider paramount. Barack Obama dominates when Iraq is center stage because he is the only major candidate to oppose the Iraq War from the start. The healthcare reform vote has always been split amongst Clinton, Obama, and Edwards. But due to her husband's perpetual presence, and the not so distant memory of the prosperous 1990s, Clinton runs the table when it comes to voters concerned first and foremost with the economy. "It's the economy stupid" may be a hackneyed phrase, but its impact rings as true as ever. Obama made an indisputable argument that in the face of an uncertain world, judgment counts for far more than experience -- both Edwards and Clinton voted for the War in Iraq before opposing it. But Clinton made an even more compelling argument concerning the devil you know versus the one you don't. if you are on the verge of losing your house, or worried about losing your job, the weakening dollar, an impending recession, don't you want someone back in the role of economic-steward-in-chief who took away the deficit and gave you an economic surplus at the Federal level, along with countless dot com millionaires? Obama, sheltered by hype and perceived momentum did not feel the need to propose tangible planks of economic growth. A mistake he will not likely repeat.

In the final analysis it is impossible to know exactly what the measurable impact is of race and gender was in the NH Primary. It is clear as Eugene Robinson noted, that in the past, both Tom Bradley and Doug Wilder polled well among white voters heading into election day and then came up short. However, I give much more weight and significance to the focus of the Clinton Field effort. They attacked Barack Obama viciously, and while this did not have a sizeable impact on Obama supporters, it surely fired up Clinton's base and made Dodd and Biden supporters more likely to either support Clinton or stay home. I cannot overemphasize the importance of the role talking heads, pundits, media figures, talk radio, newspaper headlines, etc. had on the decision of Independents and Decline to State Party men to show up for McCain and not feel the need to show up for Obama. While it is common for women to outnumber men in Democratic voting, NH has never seen a disparity of 57% women vs. 43% men in terms of overall Democratic turnout. This clearly demonstrates that mid to low propensity Democratic men stayed home, and low to mid propensity women showed up. Again, just as Clinton has known for sometime of her disadvantage among young people, it has also been obvious to her and everyone else that her support among Democrats came from those possessing no college diploma, as opposed to the educated populace. The Clinton Field machine turnout out its base. Obama for America took for granted its base and focused its time and energy on Independents and Decline to State Party voters. Said another way, in November 2004, George Bush won a Presidential election because John Kerry made the same mistake nationwide that Barack Obama made in the NH January 2008 Primary.


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