By Anne E. Kornblut and Shailagh Murray
Washington Post Staff Writers
Wednesday, January 9, 2008
MANCHESTER, N.H., Jan. 8 -- Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton narrowly won the New Hampshire Democratic presidential primary on Tuesday night, a surprise victory for the onetime front-runner that revived her sagging fortunes and reshaped yet again the fight for the party's nomination.
"Over the last week I listened to you, and in the process I found my own voice," Clinton (N.Y.) said at her victory rally, embracing a newly emotional campaign style that appeared to fuel her turnaround here. "Let's give America the kind of comeback New Hampshire has just given me."
Sen. Barack Obama (Ill.), who had anticipated a second consecutive win after his Iowa caucus triumph last Thursday, conceded shortly before 11 p.m. "We always knew our climb would be steep," he told supporters, a day after he had confidently told backers that he was "riding a wave" to a win here. Former senator John Edwards (N.C.) placed a distant third, followed by New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson.
Clinton, defying predictions that she would be swamped by Obama, proclaimed herself the latest comeback candidate to emerge from New Hampshire. Her last-minute surge mirrored the late resurgence by her husband 16 years earlier, when he placed second in the state, and came as a shock even to her staff members, who credited the candidate with pushing through to victory even as her campaign apparatus listed.
But the team wasted no time embracing its success. Even before the outcome was official, Clinton advisers were saying that the Obama "wave has crested."
Obama advisers, meanwhile, were left struggling to explain why the momentum they sensed on the ground and in polls over the past five days did not translate into more votes.
"For most of this campaign we were far behind, we always knew our climb would be steep. But in record numbers, you came out, and you spoke out for change," Obama said after publicly congratulating Clinton. Before his remarks were finished, he had already started looking ahead to the next two contests, adding lines about immigrants, in a nod to Nevada's large Hispanic population, and textile workers, a beleaguered constituency of South Carolina.
Edwards, his hopes of continuing an upward trajectory dashed, pledged to carry on with his campaign. "Two races down, 48 states left to go," he said at a rally after the polling stations closed. He has vowed to stay in the race until the Democratic National Convention.
Now that Clinton and Obama have each scored an early win, both are poised to compete across the board -- in Nevada, which holds its contest on Jan. 19, then in South Carolina, where the contest is on Jan. 26, followed by a raft of states on Feb. 5.
The outcome capped a frenetic five-day rush out of the Iowa contest -- and came after several emotional peaks on the campaign trail as Clinton and her husband fought off grim predictions. Former president Bill Clinton launched a fierce diatribe against Obama the night before the primary, telling a crowd of students at Dartmouth that Obama's account of his opposition to the Iraq war was a "fairy tale" in remarks that were among the harshest of the campaign so far.
But when it came time for her victory speech on Tuesday night, Clinton did not lean on her husband. Instead, she appeared onstage alone -- projecting a far different image than she had in Iowa, when she struck a discordant note by bringing the former president and other gray-haired supporters to a speech in which she talked about change.
Clinton chief strategist Mark Penn, who had been under fire after the Iowa loss, credited the candidate for drawing sharper distinctions between herself and Obama over the past five days. "As voters began to see the choice they have and heard Hillary speak from the heart, they came back to her," he said.
Yet no one in Clinton's camp, including Penn, had projected a tight race here ahead of time. Adviser Howard Wolfson said that it was Clinton who reported feeling the tide turn after a debate at Saint Anselm College in Manchester on Saturday night. She "said she felt the momentum shift out on the stump" at various town hall meetings and rallies, he said.
With a tone of palpable relief, he added: "This gives us huge momentum going forward. No politician in history ever came in with as much momentum as Senator Obama had, and it was stopped."
Clinton benefited from a large gender gap, one that never materialized in Iowa. In New Hampshire, exit polls showed that 57 percent of the electorate was female and that she won the group by 12 percentage points; she lost women in Iowa by five points.
Clinton also picked up 28 percent of voters younger than 30, after getting only 11 percent of young caucusgoers in Iowa. In another big switch, Clinton got 28 percent of voters prioritizing "change," up 9 percentage points from Iowa.
A different mix on the issues also helped her. Among Democratic voters, the economy was the top issue, and she had a nine-point edge among these voters after losing them by 10 points in Iowa. Independents favored Obama, breaking for him by more than 10 percentage points. First-time voters also tilted toward Obama, though they were not as large a factor as they were in his Iowa victory. And as in Iowa, there was a generational divide: Obama pulled 51 percent of voters younger than 30, compared with 28 percent for Clinton, while Clinton won 4 percent of voters older than 65, compared with 32 percent for Obama.
Not apparent in the numbers was any evidence that Clinton had benefited from a moment on Monday when she choked up while describing how personal her campaign had become. Still, the flash of emotion shifted the dynamic of her campaign, suggesting that Clinton had cast aside caution in order to show a more human side.
Turnout in New Hampshire soared to more than 500,000 voters overall, including 276,000 who participated in the Democratic contest, up from 220,000 four years ago. The Obama campaign puzzled over the returns throughout the evening. The candidate and his wife, Michelle, had dinner at their hotel near the rally site, waiting for the race to be called, and held out hope that college towns reporting their returns late would swing the race in his favor.
One theory in Obama circles was that he may have appeared overly confident in the closing days, creating a sharp contrast with Clinton's flash of vulnerability. New Hampshire voters are famously independent minded, and they may have rejected the front-runner status that was granted when Obama arrived in the state, fresh from his Iowa win early Friday morning. Some suspect Edwards may have started the backlash when he went on the attack against Clinton in the sole pre-primary debate.
Obama campaign insiders portrayed the result as a near miss, an outcome that would have been a strong positive even two weeks ago, when they were still trailing in polls here. "It's going to be fine," said senior adviser Jim Margolis. "This was never going to be easy."
Margolis said he had discussed the loss with Obama. "He's in a great place," he said. "This is someone who has understood his whole life that there are pretty significant challenges out there. He never thought this was going to be over in two weeks."
As the evening began, Democratic circles buzzed with talk of a shake-up in the Clinton campaign, but wholesale changes did not occur as the night wore on. Campaign sources confirmed that Clinton confidante Maggie Williams would come aboard to help coordinate activities, but officials insisted that former Clinton insiders James Carville, Paul Begala and John Podesta would not be joining the team.
In addition to Williams, aides said that the team will almost certainly bring in informal advisers who are not household names, such as Texas advertising executive Roy Spence and Doug Sosnik, a former Clinton official who had worked with Sen. Christopher J. Dodd (Conn.) until he left the race after a dismal finish in Iowa.
Clinton planned to return to her home in Chappaqua, N.Y., before traveling west to campaign and raise money later in the week. But how she will proceed from there is unclear, in large part because her aides expected they would be regrouping Wednesday from a crippling defeat.
As Obama's campaign moves to a larger and more challenging national stage, he will be tested in new ways. On Feb. 5, nearly two dozen states will hold Democratic primaries. By the end of this week, senior strategist Steve Hildebrand said, Obama will have operations in each one. "If we're in a battle royal, we're not overlooking anything," he added.
His aides expect a wave of high-profile endorsements in the coming days, helping Obama build a protective cloak to fend off the expected Clinton attacks.
The campaign also is targeting three prominent female politicians, Arizona Gov. Janet Napolitano, Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sibelius and Sen. Claire McCaskill of Missouri. All three represent states that will vote on Feb. 5, and all three are being heavily courted by both Clinton and Obama.
In the short term, the Obama campaign still appears poised to score victories in Nevada and South Carolina, the next two states to hold nominating contests. In Nevada, the electorate is expected to be dominated by members of the Culinary Workers Union, which could endorse Obama as early as today. Clinton officials said Tuesday that she will still contest the state, which will also hold the next Democratic debate, in Las Vegas on Jan. 15. And after the victory on Tuesday night, they said, they believe they may well win.