New Hampshire may be the scariest primary of the bunch for campaign operatives, the political equivalent of track and field’s cruel 440-yard sprint. Sandwiched between Iowa and South Carolina, and falling just after the holidays — when political bandwidth could only handle one contest at a time — New Hampshire sneaks up on you. Does anyone really have a sense of how it’s going?
Four years ago, Obama was a lock as late as Sunday night. I attended a dinner that night with one of the leaders of Hillary Clinton’s campaign, and he all but conceded. On Tuesday, his candidate won. In 2000, as I have recounted, tracking polls showed Al Gore with a double-digit lead heading into the final weekend; he ended up winning by 4 points.
Right now, the political ecosystem of journalists, consultants and operatives is operating not only on no sleep but on little information. Is Santorum surging? Will Gingrich have enough money to make his negative ads bite? Will Romney stall and have more poorly advanced events like his one with John McCain? Will Manchester’s Union Leader newspaper go after Romney?
Since Tuesday, the campaigns have been on the dark side of the moon, out of contact with the usual indicators of reality. This will change today and into the weekend as polls come in and the debate on Saturday unfolds. Winning or losing in New Hampshire is a little like what Hemingway said about going broke: “It happens gradually and then all of a sudden.”