What the New Hampshire Results Really Mean

by on January 9th, 2008

Now that the New Hampshire Primary is over, what do the results really mean anyway?

For the Democrats, Hillary Clinton’s surprising win rescues her campaign from the brink of the abyss. Many in the mainstream media had already written her off and Republicans were already starting to focus on Barack Obama as their likely opponent in the fall. As a result of her win, she’s once again the frontrunner and odds-on favorite to capture the Democratic presidential nomination. She can credit her victory to her ability to convince people, especially women, to change their votes at the last minute. Obama jumped ahead in every single poll released on Monday, with margins ranging anywhere from 1% to 13% for an average spread of about 8%. Every poll, even the exit polls, turned out to be wrong. Ditto all the pundits. Now it’s on to Nevada on the 19th and South Carolina on the 26th to see if Clinton can keep her newfound momentum going as the race heads toward Super Tuesday.

Barack Obama’s shocking loss brings his juggernaut of a campaign back down to Earth and reminds everyone that the race for the Democratic presidential nomination is far from settled just yet. In fact, it probably means it will go all the way to Super Tuesday and possibly beyond. The immediate challenge for Obama now is to figure out how to win Nevada and/or South Carolina, both of which offer him some major advantages. In Nevada, he will soon be endorsed by the influential Culinary Workers Union of Las Vegas. In South Carolina, more than 50% of Democratic primary voters are African-Americans. In his concession speech, he appeared to be sending a message to the voters of Nevada and South Carolina. He needs to win at least one of those states to avoid going into a tailspin and setting the stage for Clinton to close things out on Super Tuesday. If he wins both, he’ll regain the momentum he handed over to Clinton last night.

John Edwards’ distant third-place finish now makes him irrelevant other than playing role of a spoiler as long he remains in the race. He will stay in at least through South Carolina, where we won four years ago. However, his chances for a repeat performance are slim and none.

Bill Richardson’s 5% had to be disappointing and I look for him to drop out soon, despite his insistence that will hang around to see how he does in some of the western states.

For the Republicans, John McCain got the win he needed to cap his comeback that has been in the making for the last several weeks. He is once again a major player, if not the frontrunner, in the race the GOP presidential nomination. We will soon see if he can carry his momentum into Michigan and South Carolina. Eight years ago, McCain got his other big win in Michigan, another state where independent voters still like him and are allowed to vote in the Republican primary. In South Carolina, however, he will have to face off against Mike Huckabee in a state where 60% of Republican voters identify themselves as evangelical Christians. South Carolina is also where his campaign was effectively sunk by George W. Bush in the 2000 race. If McCain does happen to win both Michigan and South Carolina, he’ll become the prohibitive favorite to capture the nomination and Rudy Giuliani’s strategy of waiting for Florida will have blown up in his face.

For Mitt Romney, it was another disappointing second-place finish in spite of outspending the rest of the pack. His campaign is now on life support and is in dire need of a quick recovery. For that he will now turn to Michigan, where he grew up and where his father once served as the governor. If he wins there, he’ll climb back into the race as the third serious contender and virtually assure that a GOP nominee will not be chosen until well after Super Tuesday. Then he could ultimately win the nomination through a long battle of attrition. However, if he loses Michigan, he’ll definitely be toast and will likely not go on much further. After all, how many disappointing losses can a person endure?

Mike Huckabee seemed to be happier last night with his this third-place finish in New Hampshire than he was with his win in Iowa last week. Perhaps he was just thrilled to be getting out of New Hampshire. At any rate, he got what he wanted there and is now staking his hopes on South Carolina, where he has a big lead in the polls. His speech last night was pretty much a “See ‘ya in South Carolina” message. An impressive win in South Carolina could very well propel him to a win Florida 10 days later. If that happens, he will grab the mantle of frontrunner on the eve of Super Tuesday. That wouldn’t be a bad position to occupy.

Rudy Giuliani follows up a sixth-place finish in Iowa with a distant fourth-place finish in New Hampshire. He should pardon GOP voters if they are not impressed at this point. Despite claiming he is waiting for Florida, he invested a lot of time and money in New Hampshire. It seemed as if the more he did that, the lower his poll numbers got in the Granite State. Now it’s quite possible, if not probable, that he is going to be run over by a John McCain or Mike Huckabee bullet train in Florida.

Any fantasies anyone was harboring about Ron Paul being able to capture the Republican presidential nomination should have been dashed last night. He garnered just 8% of the vote in a state that is the most libertarian in the Union. If he can’t win there, where can he win? With all the money he has on hand, however, he’ll likely stay around indefinitely to promote his message of personal freedom, constitutional fidelity, and limited government.

Fred Thompson’s 1% is indicative of the fact that he is no longer a viable candidate. The collective yawn he received in New Hampshire forced him out of the state several days before the primary. He will complete (and I use that term loosely) in South Carolina, where another lackluster performance will finally convince him that it’s time to drop out.

Terry Mitchell