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Live Analysis: New Hampshire Primary Returns

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Robert G. Kaiser
Washington Post Associate Editor
Tuesday, January 8, 2008; 8:00 PM

Washington Post associate editor Robert G. Kaiser was online Tuesday, Jan. 8 at 8 p.m. ET to break down the returns from the New Hampshire primaries as they're announced and examine what they mean for the candidates in the 2008 presidential primaries.

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The transcript follows.

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Robert G. Kaiser: Good evening. The early questions in my queue reflect the excitement of this fascinating moment in American history. You can feel it too in the newsroom at The Washington Post. We don't know exactly what is happening, but we know something big is in the air. I look forward to spending the next couple of hours with your questions and comments. Please send them in!

The full exit poll shows a very close race on the Democratic side -- a one-point Obama lead. I have had so many bad experiences with exit polls in my four decades in this business that I am not going to invest heavily in this number. What it tells us is, we are going to have an interesting evening!

The exit polls will also allow us to tell you some interesting things about the demographics of tonight's votes. For example, we already see evidence on the Republican side of how the immigration issue is very powerful, and helps Mitt Romney. There are a lot of these tidbits in the poll.

I'll try to use as much of that info as I can while dealing with your questions and posting your comments.

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San Francisco: How did you get 9 percent of votes in the tables before polls closed?

Robert G. Kaiser: Some towns closed polls earlier than others.

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Palo Alto, Calif.: How does it look for Hillary? How is the dynamic between her and Obama shaping up? Is his advantage over her getting larger or smaller?

Robert G. Kaiser: On the basis of this exit poll, she is still in the game. But see my comment above: Let's watch the numbers develop.

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Portland, Ore.: Might it be useful to explain to folks why the New Hampshire primary is so important? I'm sure many people feel that New Hampshire is unrepresentative and narrow. What explains why it has been such a good predictor of outcomes? Here on the left coast, as a former New Englander and New Yorker, I find myself constantly defending the kind of retail politics that characterize New Hampshire. Perhaps you can explain it better than I.

Robert G. Kaiser: Thanks for this. You know, New Hampshire hasn't been that reliable an indicator. Bill Clinton lost New Hampshire in '92; President Bush lost to McCain in 2000. But Gore beat Bill Bradley in 2000, and Reagan won big in '80 -- one I will always remember, as I was there at the time.

New Hampshire is indeed retail politics at its best. New Hampshire itself is more representative of New England today than it was earlier. Indeed, it's a fast-growing state, a surprising portion of whose residents didn't vote four or eight years ago in New Hampshire.

Reporters love New Hampshire because it is so small, and is so much fun to cover.

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Greenbelt, Md.: Where are the candidates in the GOP exit polls?

Robert G. Kaiser: McCain narrowly is ahead of Romney in the exit poll.

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Washington: Ten percent seems a pretty good sample and Clinton is ahead slightly. That seems out of step with the final polling numbers.

Robert G. Kaiser: Yes, the exit poll confirms that the margin may be quite narrow. But let's be patient...

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Seattle: Are the exit polls breaking down the support for Obama/Hillary? Are younger voters turning out like they did in Iowa? Are women still backing Obama over Hillary?

Robert G. Kaiser: One of the problems with exit polls is that the proportions of voters they show from various demographic categories are never accurate. Through the evening the exit poll numbers will be adjusted to reflect the evidence provided by the hard returns.

That said, the exit poll shows that 11 percent of the voters polled were in the 18-24 age group. They favored Obama by 65 percent to 19 percent against Clinton.

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Lexington, Va.: Can you tell us anything about the areas that closed their polls an hour early? Would the demographics suggest that the early results might be skewed towards a particular candidate?

Robert G. Kaiser: Sorry, I have nothing on that.

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Robert G. Kaiser: McCain wins New Hampshire, NBC says. The exit poll shows a 6 point McCain lead.

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Raleigh, N.C.: If Hillary is close, within a percent or two, will that be looked at as almost a victory for her? Seems just hours ago everyone and his brother was predicting an Obama victory by 10 percentage points or more. Also, can Edwards stay in the race if he's a distant third?

Robert G. Kaiser: Let's wait to see what the margin really is before speculating on the Democratic race.

Edwards has many headaches ahead, judging by the exit poll, which gives him just 16 percent of the vote in New Hampshire, less than half what Clinton and Obama are getting.

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Kensington, Md.: A technical question, Mr. Kaiser: As the returns are posted on the washingtonpost.com front page, are the same precincts being counted on the Republican and Democratic tallies? I ask because so far the GOP side is running true to recent polls, while of course the Dem side has Hillary hanging in there (a surprise). Thanks!

Robert G. Kaiser: We are in the hands of the Associated Press for tabulations of the real vote. I'm sorry I can't answer authoritatively, but it seems logical to think that various towns will report both party results at the same time.

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Columbia, Md.: I have to admit, I don't feel strongly about any candidate on either side this go-around. Are you hearing anything similar, or am I in the minority?

washingtonpost.com: Discussion Transcript: I Can't Be an Undecided, Can I? (washingtonpost.com, Jan. 7)

Robert G. Kaiser: Good question. We tend to hear from enthusiasts, not indifferents like yourself. Look at this discussion for more on the subject...

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Copenhagen, Denmark: Do you sense that Edwards has benefited from being more aggressive after Iowa? Relying so much on the labor vote, how will he fare in non-union states in the next month?

Robert G. Kaiser: He has not benefited, and his prospects are not good.

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Washington: If Clinton wins or loses narrowly, that is going to be a huge positive for her. Do you see that scenario stemming the Obama bounce?

Robert G. Kaiser: I think we have to wait to see what really happens. As I noted above, New Hampshire often has been a precursor of things to come, but just as often has been misleading.

In two weeks we will have South Carolina, which will be fascinating. But it always has been most likely, I think, that the race would remain open until Feb. 5, when it would end.

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Kangerlussuaq, Greenland: Do we know if the great turnout is because of new voters, or because of people who typically stay at home?

Robert G. Kaiser: The exit poll says 19 percent of the voters interviewed for the poll were voting in their first New Hampshire primary.

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Minneapolis: What do you make of the emotion Hillary displayed on the campaign trail yesterday? I have been fascinated and somewhat disturbed by commentary that suggests she displayed weakness by showing emotion. I view it as a genuine proof that she is human and not merely a manufactured candidate. Do you think her moment of genuine emotion will hurt her or help her?

washingtonpost.com: 'It's Not Easy,' An Emotional Clinton Says (Post, Jan. 8)

Robert G. Kaiser: This is the sort of question I feel incompetent to answer. How could I know the answer? I'm sure people reacted to this in many different ways.

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Athens, Ohio: How significant is New Hampshire to the Giuliani campaign?

Robert G. Kaiser: Not very. Giuliani has to hope that a different person wins each state until Feb. 5, when he still hopes to do well.

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Tallahassee, Fla.: CNN, Drudge, etc., have McCain winning. It appears Obama will come through but it may be closer (although exit polls are notoriously suspect -- Gore in Florida, anyone?). Does Hillary's money begin to dry up if she loses here and in South Carolina?

Robert G. Kaiser: Hillary still has lots of money, though we don't yet know the impact of Iowa and New Hampshire on her bank balance.

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Nashville, Tenn.: "In the hands of the Associated Press for tabulations?" How can this be? Len Downie stated in one of these discussion sessions that being a Washington newspaper, the reason The Post covers so much politics is because, "politics is the industry of Washington." As a follow-up, whatever happened to Voter News Service? Thanks.

washingtonpost.com: Networks To Dissolve Exit Poll Service (Post, Jan. 14, 2003)

Robert G. Kaiser: For as long as I have worked here (40 plus years), we have used AP to tabulate election night results. They have the resources to do this; we pay them a lot of money. It's always worked quite well.

Here's the skinny on VNS...

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Raleigh, N.C.: What's your opinion on what the Romney campaign are thinking right now going ahead? What does your gut say if you were Mitt himself?

Robert G. Kaiser: Mitt has to be disappointed, having been so far ahead in New aHmpshire so recently. But the Republican race is still wide open, he has a lot of money and organization, and I see no reason for despair on his part yet.

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San Diego: So far, the results are the opposite of what the polls indicated. Based on the polls, I expected a big win for Obama and a tight contest between McCain and Romney. So far, it looks like a big win for McCain and a tight contest between Obama and Clinton. Any thoughts?

Robert G. Kaiser: The last polls before today had Obama and McCain both clearly ahead, so it is the Dem result so far that is somewhat surprising. But again, let's be patient.

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Bogor, Indonesia: My first direct involvement in political campaigns was 1968. I have not witnessed such a high degree of international interest in the U.S. presidential race as in this year's. Have you? In my recent travels to Poland, China, Thailand, Australia and Indonesia, in encountering people from other countries, once they learned I was an American the early question was "who's going to win the presidency?" Foreigners are following the race. Why? TV, the Internet, Bush's policies? Please comment. Thank you.

Robert G. Kaiser: All the reporting I've seen, and all the polls of international opinion, show that George W. Bush is exceedingly unpopular around the world, very possibly the most disliked American president ever. This, I think, has given foreigners a strong interest in our election this year. They want somebody new, and they are eager to find out who that might be.

Any ex-pats out there want to add to this answer?

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Washington: Are precincts in New Hampshire roughly proportional to votes, or do the 14 percent of precincts reporting thus far potentially represent far less than 14 percent of the expected vote total? If they vary in expected turnout, I'm presuming smaller precincts tend to report sooner?

Robert G. Kaiser: My sense is that the earliest reporting precincts are the ones that most easily can handle their vote-counts. Some precincts already have indicated they won't get their votes all counted until midnight, I am told by colleagues here. That easily could mean that the biggest precincts are going to report late. I'm trying to find out more about this now...

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Exit poll math: Robert: I understand your skepticism about exit polls, but look at these numbers from The Atlantic's Web site: Obama won independents, getting nearly 50 percent of their votes. Independents comprised about 41 percent of the Democratic primary vote. But Hillary Clinton won among registered Democrats: 38 percent to 32 percent. Clinton wins women narrowly: 40 percent to 36 percent. If my math is correct, Obama would get 40 percent of the vote. That probably would put Hillary around 34 percent to 35 percent. Does that make sense, and is that close enough to keep the networks from picking a winner?

Robert G. Kaiser: Whoa. As I said earlier, the one thing we really can't know is how well the exit-poll sample duplicates the actual turnout today, so the demographic breakdowns are all tentative.

May I say, one more time, that we have to be patient?

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Washington: Bob, seriously, anyone tracking this chat at 8:30 p.m. 11 months prior to an actual election and for a tiny state with skewed demographics just to see what percentage each candidate gets ... is anything but patient. Feed us rumor and innuendo. Make up some numbers. Speculate wildly. It's okay -- we understand.

Robert G. Kaiser: Now this is a refreshing comment! But you can't change the habits of this old guy.

Here's the problem: I (and you) simply cannot know where the votes we see at this moment have come from. We don't know what's uncounted. So we can't sensibly start drawing any conclusions. That's my position, and I'm sticking to it, at least until 9 p.m.

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Chicago: Why is the Republican winner already determined while the Democratic one is still in the balance? How large a margin is used to determine who the winner is?

Robert G. Kaiser: Mostly because the Democratic vote is closer than the Republican.

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Johnson City, Tenn.: Will Romney withdraw from the race if he loses New Hampshire?

Robert G. Kaiser: He apparently has lost, and he is not withdrawing.

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Atlanta: I see The Washington Post's Web site reports McCain has won; according to whom?

washingtonpost.com: Live Coverage blog (washingtonpost.com, Jan. 8)

Robert G. Kaiser: This is our judgment based on the results we have and the exit poll.

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Caborca, Mexico: Does it matter much to Huckabee what his percentage is, as long as he in third?

Robert G. Kaiser: Fair question. I think coming in third and beating a lot of more famous (at least until recently) Republicans, he probably feels pretty good. But he's still a long-shot.

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Summit, N.J.: When do you think we are likely to know the result of the Democratic primary?

Robert G. Kaiser: I just listened in to a conversation on the national desk about whether we will be able to print a complete story in our "suburban" edition, for which the deadline is 11:30 p.m. ET. No one would predict that we will be able to do that. So it is going to be a long night.

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Sydney, Australia: Following up to the strong interest abroad, most Australians are perplexed that George W. could be elected in the first place and see him as extremely incompetent. George W. almost universally is disliked in Australia, although most Australians remain very supportive of the U.S. -- hence a vested interest in executive change.

Robert G. Kaiser: Thanks.

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Montreal: I'd say Canadians are following pretty closely. McCain's victory is the headline on cbcnews.ca right now, and coverage has been on the news every night.

Robert G. Kaiser: And thank you.

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Richmond, VA: So, is McCain officially the front-runner for the next week?

Robert G. Kaiser: I suspect not. He is definitely back in the race, but he is still out of step with many elements of the old Republican Party, and the GOP race still seems wide open to me.

It long has seemed possible that the Republicans might fail to pick a nominee in the primary season. That would be really weird, and I am not predicting it, but it is possible.

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Washington: Given the direction of these primaries, what is Bill Richardson's next move?

Robert G. Kaiser: Back to Santa Fe, I suspect.

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Newark, N.J..: Can't see where the votes are coming from? Ahem. Check out the New York Times's county-by-county updating breakdowns.

washingtonpost.com: Or washingtonpost.com's.

Robert G. Kaiser: Chris Hopkins of washingtonpost.com, my producer, has straightened you out. (Me too!).

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Somerville, Mass.: There was much written in today's papers about people in Clinton's camp considering jumping ship if she were to lose in New Hampshire. You pointed out that New Hampshire has proved prophetic about as often as it has been off the mark, so why the jitters from her people? Wouldn't every candidate's staff (or almost every one of them) expect to stay focused at least through Feb. 5?

Robert G. Kaiser: I think the answer is that some Clinton people feared there was an Obama tidal wave forming that they were helpless to stop. At the moment that looks like a misreading of the situation. My preliminary reading of the exit poll suggests that Democratic Party regulars stuck with Hillary in New Hampshire, that there are a lot of them, and that they have kept her in the race tonight, maybe.

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McLean, Va.: Based on that county-by-county breakdown, doesn't that indicate the larger districts haven't reported yet? Which would mean what?

Robert G. Kaiser: I just don't know. No one here is certain what we have here. Sorry.

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Bethesda, Md.: Does it say anything for overall November turnout that with 23 percent reporting, Clinton has as many votes as McCain and Romney combined?

Robert G. Kaiser: Yes I think it does.

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Bethesda, Md.: Perhaps this is a better question for the party chairmen, but please take a stab at it. Is it by intent that they allow so much influence by independents? It seems that Romney and Clinton would be up two to nothing in their respective party nominations if not for the independents voting in the primaries.

Robert G. Kaiser: "Independents" now constitute the biggest party in America. More people so identify themselves than say they are Democrats or Republicans. So it makes some sense to give them a chance to participate, no?

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Sarasota, Fla.: Did Hillary have a late surge? If not, why is she still leading? Have they counted the votes in Obama part of the state yet?

Robert G. Kaiser: We have no evidence that there is an "Obama part of the state." It does look like Hillary had a late surge -- if the weekend polls were accurate. But maybe they weren't.

The urge to have precise answers right now to very complex questions to which we may never have really complete answers is as American as cherry pie. But that doesn't mean I can provide the answers!

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Brooklyn, N.Y.: Everyone made such a fuss about Huckabee's victory Thursday. I thought then (and still do) that it was an anomaly, relevant in that it exposed Romney's vulnerability but not really indicative of a Huckabee surge. Given that we've barely heard Huckabee's name mentioned for the past 72 hours, am I somewhat vindicated?

Robert G. Kaiser: New Hampshire is really uncongenial territory for Huckabee. The Republican Party today is a Sunbelt party; it is fading in the North, and fading furthest in the Northeast. Christian evangelicals are a small group in New Hampshire but constitute Huckabee's base.

So I can't say you've been vindicated yet.

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New York: Two questions: Giuliani -- is he out of it, or does he still have a shot? We've seen record turnout in Iowa, record turnout in New Hampshire and of course the highest turnout in decades in 2004. What is causing this?

Robert G. Kaiser: Giuliani is not yet out. See above. This race can see-saw for a few more weeks and still be unresolved after Feb. 5.

There are many indications of high voter interest this year, especially among Democrats.

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Raleigh, N.C.: Do the exit polls show independents voting more for McCain than Obama? Is that the reason for McCain's big victory and the seemingly tight Democratic race?

Robert G. Kaiser: Forty-three percent of the Democratic voters polled in the exit poll and 37 percent of the Republicans said they were "independents." McCain and Obama won by wide margins in that category, the exit poll says.

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washingtonpost.com: Several readers asked about why results were available from N.H. before all the polls were closed. Here's a link to the N.H. Secretary of State's Web site, which lists all the various precincts in the state and the times they close. As you can see, the closing times varied between 6 and 8 p.m.

Robert G. Kaiser: Here's a helpful comment and link from the washingtonpost.com politics staff:

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Los Angeles, CA: It's obviously too early to say anything definitive, but currently the number of votes in the democratic primary is 68,000 and in the republican it's close to 45,000. Does this disparity say anything, or is it likely just a factor of which precincts have reported?

Robert G. Kaiser: Don't think so. Most of the same precincts seem to be reporting in both parties. But a lot more Democrats than Republicans voted today.

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Hong Kong: Given that you do have breakdowns on where the votes already in have come from, why can't you give any indication of how representative the first 25 percent is? Normally you would hear something like "Clinton is ahead, but most of the votes in are for rural areas where she is stronger, so hold on until some of the cities come in with results." Why start the blog at 8 p.m. if all you're going to say is "wait, wait, wait"?

Robert G. Kaiser: Because there are not dramatic regional differences in New Hampshire. Sorry.

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Pittsburgh: Why do you think that McCain won so big in New Hampshire?

Robert G. Kaiser: I think Romney was hurt badly in New Hampshire by the sense that he was too ready to change his tunes. The Concord Monitor struck a blow by calling him "a phony." He was the target of nearly all his opponents. And New Hampshire has had a soft spot for McCain.

But there is no evidence from today's lopsidedly Democratic turnout that the Republicans have a good chance of winning New Hampshire in November.

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New York: Thanks for the chat. It's very disappointing if Obama doesn't win. The Clintons have been showing just why many of us don't want them back. The White House doesn't belong to them.

Robert G. Kaiser: Thanks for posting.

I was just handed a new version of the exit poll -- one modified by the hard numbers now coming out -- and it shows Clinton winning by a very narrow margin.

So patience is still in order!

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Little Rock, Ark.: Mr. Kaiser -- do you think patience is needed here?

Robert G. Kaiser: Yes.

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Boston: Is it too much to ask McCain to deliver a victory speech without reading it? Tough comparison to Obama (or Huckabee for that matter) on communication skills.

Robert G. Kaiser: Apparently it is.

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New York: As an Obama supporter, I must admit that I am absolutely baffled by the apparent disparity between the polls and the result. Do you think this could have been the Bradley effect (voters falsely telling pollsters they will vote for a black candidate) all over again, or do you have an alternative theory?

Robert G. Kaiser: Interesting question. Much too soon to try to answer it. We may be learning, once again, that polls are imperfect, especially in a volatile situation like this has been. The latest version of the exit poll, curiously, shows an absolutely even split between Obama and Clinton supporters among those who say they made their choice in the past three days. Yet the polls taken two days ago showed Obama up by double-digits.

Please don't over-invest in polls. They are good, but they are never foolproof. One important fact: The very best polls acknowledge the possibility that five times out of a hundred, they will just be wrong. That's just a mathematical law. No way around it.

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Louisville, Ky.: The discussion in these open primaries was that Obama would hurt McCain because independents would vote in the Democratic primary. From the results, it appears that the opposite has been true in New Hampshire tonight. Or has McCain done that well among Republicans? Michigan and South Carolina are open-primary states as well; how will the McCain/Obama tussle for independents affect their chances? Or can they both win?

Robert G. Kaiser: No, it looks to me that more self-identified independents voted in the Democratic than in the Republican primary. Obama won most of their votes. So did McCain on the Republican side.

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Lowell, Mass.: New Hampshire was an open primary -- Democrats voted in the Democratic primary, Republicans voted in the Republican primary and independents could choose to cast a ballot from either party. There are also a number of closed-primary states coming up ... states that don't let independents vote in the Democratic or Republican primaries. Clinton appears to have carried the vote for registered Democrats in New Hampshire. If Clinton can repeat her New Hampshire performance in closed primary states, she will win a number of primaries in states rich in delegates.

Robert G. Kaiser: Exit poll numbers: Self-identified Democrats made up 54 percent of the participants in the Democratic primary; they voted 45-34 for Clinton.

Will that mean she wins states with closed primaries? I have no idea.

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Darwin, Australia: Commenting on the question on why people overseas are so interested in this presidential election. I'm an Australian (living in Australia) and I've also noticed a higher-than-normal level of interest. I think there are several factors explaining it: the race obviously is wide open; the policy positions of the candidates are quite a long way apart, so the result may be globally significant; there are interesting candidates on the Democratic side -- a potential first black president or first woman president; and the overwhelming feeling that this may be a light at the end of the tunnel after eight grim years of Bush presidency, from a global perspective.

Robert G. Kaiser: Thanks.

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San Jose, Calif.: I think Sen. Clinton still will manage to win the nomination. Even when she lost Iowa, she was only one delegate behind Obama's, and one ahead of Edwards. New Hampshire has only 22 delegates, and so even if she lost there the delegate difference between she and Obama still would be miniscule. Sen. Clinton should do very well in California, New York, New Jersey -- the big states. Even though the Michigan and Florida primaries won't count for now, she should win both of them. Therefore any talk about her early exit would be premature. I changed my registration from a Republican to vote in the Democratic primary next month because I wanted to vote for Sen. Clinton. Of all the Democratic candidates, Sen. Clinton is the most centrist. Sen. Obama is too leftist for me. If for some reasons, Sen. Clinton lost the nomination to Obama, and Sen. McCain wins the Republican nomination, I will vote for McCain. In this troubling world, it is experience that counts and not pie-in-the-sky rhetoric.

Robert G. Kaiser: I wish I had your confidence!

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Washington: What do you make, if anything, of the fact that Clinton's lead over Obama has remained so steady throughout the evening? Is there any reason to believe it may signify a true lead?

Robert G. Kaiser: As reported above, the latest version of the exit poll foresees her winning by one point.

The margin of error for the exit poll is plus or minus four percent.

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Washington: So if it's too early to make any definitive predictions about the Democratic contest, what are the questions (and answers) you think will determine the results?

Robert G. Kaiser: Questions and answers will not determine the result. The count of votes will determine the result.

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Raleigh, N.C.: History question: Have Iowa and New Hampshire ever given us four different winners from each parties' caucuses and primaries?

washingtonpost.com: 1988, with Dole/Bush and Gephardt/Dukakis (Wikipedia)

Robert G. Kaiser: Thank Chris Hopkins for this affirmative answer...

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Waco, Texas: If Clinton wins in New Hampshire, would this make her the front runner again? Can she win in South Carolina?

Robert G. Kaiser: My sense is that if she wins, the race will be seen to be wide open again. South Carolina isn't easy for her because the black vote is so big there, and black pride in Obama has appeared to be growing.

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Brisbane, Australia: When you say "a lot more Democrats than Republicans voted today" ... I think this was the case in Iowa too, wasn't it? Have there been notable differences like this in past elections? If so, how often has a difference like this in the primaries predicted the final presidential turnout?

Robert G. Kaiser: Yes, it was the case in Iowa. I don't know the historical record, but I do know that all the signs we can read here suggest that Democrats are much more excited this year than are Republicans.

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London: As a conflicted Clinton-Obama supporter, I would suggest that the last minute change in Clinton tactic's to introduce Q&A sessions rather than the usual stump speeches looks to have been prescient. Not to mention her moment "emocionado." However this looks to be a seriously close contest. Certainly it guarantees more weeks of campaign excitement.

Robert G. Kaiser: Thanks for posting.

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Northern Virginia: How much longer do Richardson and Thompson stay in the race?

Robert G. Kaiser: Not too much longer, is my guess.

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Washington: How big of a deal would it be if Paul ended up with more votes than Giuliani in the New Hampshire primary? A commenter on television just mentioned the possibility, and I wondered if you thought that it would be symbolically important, or lost in the crush of other data we're getting.

Robert G. Kaiser: I appreciate how much Ron Paul's supporters want him to be a factor here, but personally I don't see it. Insignificant is my answer.

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Falls Church, Va.: CNN commentators are saying that the vote is not yet in from college towns, where Obama is stronger. Can you verify that?

Robert G. Kaiser: I cannot.

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Montreal: Even if Giuliani and Romney are still in it, this has got to be a pretty big setback considering how long the race seemed to be between the two of them, no?

Robert G. Kaiser: No, Giuliani backed away from New Hampshire some time ago.

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San Francisco: Do you think it's excitement about Obama that is mobilizing all these new voters we're hearing about in Iowa and New Hampshire? Or is it an indication of a broader sea-change taking place in the U.S. at this moment?

Robert G. Kaiser: Yes, and yes.

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Santa Barbara, Calif.: It's a great night for the American political system! Even though I'm on the other side of the continent, I'm reading the unfolding news in New Hampshire with excitement and anticipation. Can't wait until our own primary in February. I don't have a question, but wanted to comment on something that was posted during this morning's Politics Chat:

"What worries me about the pace of the primaries now is that the average voter does not have enough time to really learn about the candidates and make a well-informed decision." I would respectfully suggest that this is not necessarily the case. True, the primary schedules are impacted, but who says you have to wait until the primaries begin to start learning about the candidates and their platforms? You can learn so much about them through newspapers, books, Internet, C-SPAN, etc. If you are serious about learning about the candidates, I really don't believe there's anything stopping you.

Robert G. Kaiser: Thanks for this.

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Tokyo: In your opinion, have any of the candidates expressed (implied?) a sense that if elected there will be a need to rein in executive power during their term in office?

Robert G. Kaiser: Haven't seen that yet.

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Tampa, Fla.: For all of the polling done over the past several days -- Obama leading by double digits to maybe only winning (or coming in second) by a few points seems amazing. Any suggestions on what may have turned the tide in less than 24 hours? I know not all votes are in, but there was such an expectation of Obama running away with this that folks must be scratching their heads.

Robert G. Kaiser: Yes, heads are being scratched. And as I reported earlier, the exit poll says that among those who made a final decision in the past three days, they split evenly between Obama and Clinton. So the polls appear to have been wrong. This does happen.

Keep scratching. I am.

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McMinnville, Ore.: Why is so little mention made of Romney's win in Wyoming? Aren't those delegates equally as important as the ones from New Hampshire or Iowa?

washingtonpost.com: Romney's Early Voting Victory -- in Wyoming (washingtonpost.com, Jan. 5)

Robert G. Kaiser: The delegates are all important, but I think the political junkies, including we journalists, are looking for bigger trends, for momentum. Until tonight we thought Obama had it. Now we're wondering...

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Denpasar, Indonesia: It is clear why foreigners have more interest in this U.S. election -- they very recently have experienced what a bad U.S. president can cost them. In Bali, it is fair to say that the terrorists bombings of the past few years (2002 and 2005, and there were also attacks in Jakarta) never would have happened if Bush hadn't lashed out and attack a Muslim country. In lives and in economic terms, Indonesia has suffered directly because of the decisions of a U.S. president; the connection is evident to most here. Is it fair to blame Bush directly? Sure, he tried to solve a wasp problem by kicking the nest, and has gotten everybody stung in the process. So foreigners are anxious to see who will replace Bush and if that will be positive or will everyone get a painful sting again.

Robert G. Kaiser: Thank you for this.

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Waldorf, Md.: Mr. Kaiser, did a larger number of people than usual report feeling undecided in the exit polls in New Hampshire? I can't be the only one suffering from indecision but willing to offer a candidate's name when pressed; perhaps the indecision factor would contribute to explaining the gap between polling and results.

Robert G. Kaiser: Sorry, the poll doesn't pick that complicated feeling up. Polls aren't good at subtlety.

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Austin, Texas: I'm no Clinton supporter -- far from it (I'm for Edwards I guess) -- but I am rather enjoying her victory or tie. The press has been uniformly anti-Clinton, with the Heathers in the press giving her the cold shoulder when she visited them in Iowa, and writing her obituary since. Is this a 1998 moment or what? Same talking heads predicting that Clinton was going to be decisively repudiated because the Washington in-group said so -- the same pushback by the populace.

Robert G. Kaiser: Thanks for this. I like it when we're wrong, too.

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Lake Forest, Ill.: Bob: Any idea what percentage of Republican crossovers to vote in Democratic primary did so to vote for the candidate they think will be the easiest to knock off in November? Any way to ask some real people who crossed over tomorrow?

Robert G. Kaiser: No evidence that this was significant.

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Edina, Minn.: Many seem to be wondering about the pre-primary polls. I do survey research for a living, and I can tell you that the biggest issue with pre-election surveys -- assuming they are otherwise done competently -- is estimating who is going to vote. It is typically done from a model based on several questions about attitudes regarding the election, intentions and past actions. Different organizations do it differently, and this factor can cause different results. News organizations would do well to report how the estimate is made, but this information usually isn't released. There are a host of other technical issues.

Robert G. Kaiser: Thanks, very helpful.

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University Park, Md.: Fred Thompson doing poorly in New Hampshire. Do you think it is a sign of an upcoming exit?

Robert G. Kaiser: Could be.

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Fairfax, Va.: You're back. Awesome! As of right now, Edwards looks to be a distant third place. How long can he stay in this race without a win, and does he have a future in public life after two presidential runs?

Robert G. Kaiser: Like, hugely awesome, right? Wrong.

But I am back. And I think Edwards' future is probably not bright. I have often wondered why he decided to quit the Senate. Now he's out of options, I fear.

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Washington: How thoroughly do you think Sen. Obama has been vetted, and what are the chances that he has an Achilles' heel that has yet to emerge?

Robert G. Kaiser: Pretty thoroughly. Of course we never know what we don't know -- one of the pitfalls of journalism.

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Silver Spring, Md.: I think the media is beginning to pick up on what could be a major them of the election -- the influence of a new generation of voters. Thirtysomethings and definitely the twentysomethings, whether conservative or liberal, have different views on who is electable and what they want to hear from candidates. Obama knows this, and McCain is somewhat lucky with the way his style resonates with younger voters.

Robert G. Kaiser: Here are some interesting exit-poll numbers.

Among 18-24-year-olds, 61 percent for Obama, 22 for Clinton

Among 25-29-year-olds, 37 Clinton, 34 Obama

Among 30-39-year-olds, 43 Obama, 36 Clinton

Among 40-49-year-olds, 45 Clinton, 32 Obama

Among 50-64-year-olds, 40 Clinton, 32 Obama

Among those older than 65, Clinton 48, Obama 33.

Now, the close ones here are within the margin of error, but the numbers are interesting. And confusing.

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Charlotte, N.C.: Coming from the courtroom, Edwards didn't like being a junior senator. Not enough of a platform.

Robert G. Kaiser: You're right, I'm sure.

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Centreville, Va.: Since the pre-primary polls and initial exit polls don't match the results, can you comment on the checks the Associated Press and New Hampshire have in place to ensure that these results are accurate?

Robert G. Kaiser: Isn't it more likely the polls were wrong than that the count is dicey? I have no reason to worry about the count. It's a very straightforward system.

_______________________

Bogor, Indonesia: A second question: our presidential race is about issues and leadership. Issues and state political demographics determine "blue/red/battleground" states. Two questions of leadership determine the final result: Who can lead, and who do I want to follow? The presidential race is different from a congressional or local election in that the question of leadership is more pronounced.

I don't believe this is new to us. In 2000, the undecideds in the end decided they didn't want to follow Vice President Gore, and that Gov. Bush could lead. Candidates try to exhibit his/her leadership abilities through demeanor and words. Sen. Clinton has chosen to use her experience on issues to demonstrate her leadership abilities; Sen. Obama uses his gift of oratory and words -- not so much on specific issues as on broader themes.

Please comment on these or related dynamics of the race, including the Republican side. Related question perhaps: a colleague remarked recently that Sen. Obama is a "once-in-a-generation politician" with unique leadership abilities; is my friend "captured" by the senator's rhetoric or is there something to this? Thank you.

Robert G. Kaiser: I think I know who this is in Bogor (am I place-dropping?), and I am grateful for the thoughtful comment. Is that you, Mike?

Your last question is the big one: Is Obama a rare phenom, or a flash in the pan? I have been tempted by the former explanation, and still am, but one more time I counsel, patience!

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Vienna, Va.: Who would have thought, earlier today, that the Republican race would be called before the Democrats? Remember that polls showed a bigger lead for Obama than for McCain.

Robert G. Kaiser: Good point.

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Portland, Ore.: With 54 percent of the vote now in, what makeup of the vote is left, urban vs. rural?

Robert G. Kaiser: Most of New Hampshire is neither one or the other, but suburban. Sorry.

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Arlington, Va.: I support Obama, but I don't mind the narrow win or loss that seems likely for him tonight. Competition is good for democracy, and I was annoyed with the talk by many political observers how a big loss in New Hampshire critically and perhaps fatally would damage Clinton's campaign. I know it's a compressed primary season, but can't we at least pretend the other 48 states have some influence?

Also, I want to see how Obama handles the negative attacks that he will face now that he has a realistic chance of winning the nomination. Can he stick to a positive message the entire time? He hasn't had much mud slung at him, and it is important to see how he handles himself when he is attacked full-force, which I strongly suspect will happen from now until Feb. 5.

Robert G. Kaiser: I like this comment, and thank you for it. The impatience of the American culture today is quite astounding. We will know, all too soon, who the Democratic nominee is. So hang on.

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San Francisco again: Also, thank you for the chat Robert! I look forward to hearing your perspectives each election cycle (because that's when you seem to make more regular chat appearances). The perspective you provide is always appreciated, even if you aren't able to answer all of our impatient questions.

Robert G. Kaiser: Thanks.

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New York: I don't speak English very well. Is there any chance the Democratic National Committee will change their minds about Florida and Michigan and finally allow the delegates of these states to vote?

Robert G. Kaiser: None. Your English looks good to me.

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Perth, Australia: Would John Edwards make a suitable vice presidential candidate again (for either Obama or Clinton)?

Robert G. Kaiser: Doubtful.

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St. Paul, Minn.: With Edwards fading and likely no longer a viable candidate, any sense of to whom his supporters will migrate?

Robert G. Kaiser: I don't subscribe to the migration theory you imply. But I do think that Democrats this year who have not signed up with Clinton by now are less likely to do so in the future, and more likely to go with the non-Clinton candidate.

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Charlottesville, Va.: With Edwards declaring he is in it until the convention and Romney vowing to run a national race, we see the power of personal wealth and the extreme challenge faced by the 21st Century Andrew Jackson. Money and the expanded timeframe of the campaign reduces the talent pool. This makes me sad. Do you foresee a day when "insurgents" like Obama and Huckabee just can't get in at all?

Robert G. Kaiser: This is a good point. I worry a lot about "the talent pool," and anyone who has lived in and covered Washington for the past few decades would, I think, agree.

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Why we hate pundits: So now the media talking heads are saying if Hillary only loses by a slim margin, she'll get to play the "comeback" card. Given she was winning in the polls two or three days ago, how does she pull that off? She's been the front-runner, and so far she hasn't won anything. For her, a loss is a loss.

Robert G. Kaiser: But what would a win be?

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Falls Church, Va.: Whoever is the democratic nominee, do you think a Southern governor is a must for a running mate? And what are the chances of either Hillary or Obama not picking Richardson?

Robert G. Kaiser: I don't expect Richardson to be the pick of whoever wins the nomination.

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Tallahassee, Fla.: I think it's highly possible that 5 percent to 10 percent of Democratic voters in New Hampshire weren't willing to vote for Obama, add to his momentum and thereby "anoint" him as the nominee. Geez, it's only Jan. 8. Voters nationwide just now are paying attention, and I'm not sure many conflicted Democrats are ready for this thing to be over. The weekend polls might have been the worst thing for Obama, leading some contrarian voters to keep the contest alive.

Robert G. Kaiser: Good point. Thanks.

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Morgantown, W.Va.: Bob, could you expand the last response? Why would Richardson not be considered? Who is "in the pool" for vice presidential consideration.

Robert G. Kaiser: My sense -- only a hunch -- is that Richardson's campaign, lackluster so far, weakened his case for the job. I have no idea who else might be in the pool. And he might be -- my record in these matters is hardly distinguished!

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Minneapolis: In my case it's not impatience that is causing me to wish for this to be settled, it's fear. I dread the idea of Sen. Clinton nominated on the Democratic side. In the general election, I will vote for Obama no matter the Republican nominee. If Clinton is the nominee, I will vote Republican. And, by the way, I am a Republican. I know this makes no sense, because all indicators would point to Obama being more liberal and Clinton being more centrist. I also am awed by her grasp of the issues and think she'd be very effective at the job. But I abhor the idea of her leading. And I fear it would be four to eight more years of the same old partisanship and dysfunction in Washington.

Robert G. Kaiser: Thanks for posting.

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Manakin Sabot, Va.: Because I've never said anything nice about Hillary, I suppose I should admit that I actually admired her fiery response in the recent debate. It's the first time I've ever seen her really go from the gut. and my reaction was: "Wow! She really does have some heart!" My guess is that many others felt the same way. Nobody likes it when you don't fight back.

Robert G. Kaiser: Thanks for this.

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Robert G. Kaiser: Well, the stream of questions and comments has slowed considerably, and it may be a couple of hours more until we have a result, so I'll sign off here.

This has been a simply fascinating night. The punditocracy has been humbled once again. (But it won't work -- you won't see much humility from them, now or ever!) Somehow, New Hampshire Democrats proved resistant to the Obamamania that swept the through the news media in the past five days, infecting conservatives, liberals and moderates. The Clintons are still in the game, and the game goes on.

Personally I'm very sorry that it will only continue for a month. This front-loaded schedule sucks, as my younger friends might say. If, as now seems possible, we are going to go into Feb. 5 with great uncertainty in both parties, the voting that day will constitute an unprecedented version of a national primary, and its results are likely to be final and definitive -- both parties will be stuck with whoever prevails that day. Will there then by buyers' remorse in one or both parties?

The old system evolved -- no one planned it, but it did give us the opportunity to see these candidates over a period of months, not weeks. Early results were mitigated or re-enforced later; momentum built slowly, not dramatically as we thought we were seeing for Obama in the past five days.

I sense a lot of frustration from our readers tonight. I feel it myself. But we have to play the hand we are dealt -- this time.

Thanks to all for taking part. Good night.

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Editor's Note: washingtonpost.com moderators retain editorial control over Discussions and choose the most relevant questions for guests and hosts; guests and hosts can decline to answer questions. washingtonpost.com is not responsible for any content posted by third parties.


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