N.Y. Senator Defies Polls, Edges Obama

Presidential candidate Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-N.Y.) addresses her supporters after the New Hampshire primary election results filter in. Video by AP, Editor: Jacqueline Refo/washingtonpost.com
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.

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