New Hampshire Chills Hillary and Mitt

The polls now make it clear that, barring a bizarre occurrence, Barack Obama will win the New Hampshire Democratic presidential primary tomorrow. John McCain leads on the Republican side, but it's still close because many of the independents he needs for a big win are flowing into the Democratic primary to back Obama.

Obama's impending victory in New Hampshire, following his big win in Iowa, forecast last week will lead to a unique situation in the Democratic Party in which much of the party establishment, led by the self-styled "first black president," Bill Clinton, tries to derail the man who could actually be the first black president.

It will be very interesting to see what the Clintons try next. Perhaps a big comeback effort in Nevada on the 19th, and the debate in Las Vegas on the 15th. She has to get something going before South Carolina.

If McCain holds on Tuesday -- his problem is the indies flowing to Obama -- Michigan on the 15th, same day as the Dems debate in Vegas becomes huge.

So what do the Clintons try?

I was on a 45-minute Clinton campaign conference call Friday afternoon. Featured were Clinton national chairman Terry McAuliffe, the former Democratic national chairman (and the Clintons' longtime fundraising maven), Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, former Democratic National Chairman Don Fowler from South Carolina, former Denver Mayor Wellington Webb, New Hampshire Chair Kathy Sullivan, and Nevada Chairman Rory Reid, son of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. Under Terry Mac's guidance, they laid out a seemingly unbeatable scenario of awesome organization around the country heading into the February 5th primaries.

McAuliffe himself said: "I believe even more than before that Hillary will win." Even more than before? As in even more than before losing badly in Iowa and finishing third? Okay then.

In the course of discussing "unprecedented" levels of organization and volunteer support in New Hampshire and throughout America, McAuliffe and company proceeded to seriously misrepresent the polling situations in Nevada and California. And that's what I know off the top of my head.

Suffice it to say that, having been through this, and having observed it closely as well, I was not very impressed by the presentation.

The former first lady was hurt by her New Hampshire debate performance on Saturday, in which she lost her cool after finding that John Edwards was defending Obama against her attacks. Her line in New Hampshire, in which she warned against candidates who raise "false hopes," is falling flat. America, she says, needs a new president who is not "inexperienced," and who can walk into the Oval Office with authority.

Obama, for his part, is holding big rallies around New Hampshire. He isn't attacking the former first lady, who lost to him by nine points last night in Iowa.

"We can't have false hopes," said Clinton. "We've got to have a person who can walk into that Oval Office on day one and start doing the hard work that it takes to deliver change." She downplayed her defeat in Iowa, going so far as to claim that she never really led there, though in fact she did. "I was never a front-runner of any significance in Iowa."

Her debate performance on Saturday, in which she attacked, was not quite a disaster. But any more such and she is clearly done.

Hillary attacked Obama tonight on several fronts, one of them the fact that his health care plan does not contain such a mandate while hers does. Obama's answer is that he wants to bring costs under control before requiring any such mandate. Which Californians will recall as the position of most California Democrats.

Seeming perturbed, Clinton attacked Obama for, in her view, changing his positions on health care reform (he once supported single-payer health care as an Illinois legislator), the Patriot Act, and, as already mentioned, not mandating health insurance.

Only to find that none other than John Edwards came to Obama's defense, saying "this is what the status quo always does" to advocates of change. Edwards has apparently decided that he does not want to become John Glenn, the 1984 candidate supplanted by Gary Hart as the top insurgent who nonetheless worked to block Hart's consolidation of the change vote. (Not that Glenn, a good guy, was ever an insurgent, actually.)

This came after all the candidates, including Hillary, agreed with something Obama said in the middle of last year, that the US must attack Al Qaeda's safe havens in Pakistan if Musharraf won't. At the time, Hillary blasted Obama for his supposed naivete about Pakistan and Al Qaeda.

Now Obama looks right and she looks wrong. Her credibility with the press -- which wafted her aloft on the experience front while ignoring her misunderstanding of the concept of nuclear deterrence -- was not helped by her faux pas last week, in which she falsely claimed that Pervez Musharraf, leader of the country which most vexes America's geopolitical strategy, was a candidate in the upcoming Pakistani elections. The good general was, of course, re-elected president late last year. The upcoming elections are for the national parliament.

Nevertheless, despite these errors, the Clinton folks will attempt to paint Hillary as the experienced hand and Obama as the ignorant naif. And they will say that she will win big on the Mega-Tuesday of February 5th, when California, New York (the state she reps in the Senate), Illinois (the state he reps in the Senate), New Jersey, and many others vote.

If she loses California, it's all over for Hillary Clinton. In the most recent public poll, she still led. But having done California primaries, my opinion is that Obama has an excellent chance to win the Golden State and end her presidential candidacy.

Now to the Republicans.

With a lead in most of the New Hampshire Republican primary polls, Senator John McCain will do a fast and furious bus tour of the Granite State leading into Tuesday's vote. McCain, who famously ran a rollicking bus tour during his maverick 2000 presidential campaign, is back on the bus with his "The Mac Is Back" tour tomorrow and part of Tuesday.

On Monday, the Vietnam War hero holds rallies in Nashua, Keene, Hanover, Concord, Manchester, Exeter, and Portsmouth. On Tuesday, he visits a polling location in Nashua, then does interviews and awaits the results at his hoped-for victory party in Nashua.

McCain had strong appearances on the Sunday morning shows, while rival Mitt Romney encountered some turbulence. Last night's Republican debate went pretty well for McCain, while it revealed what insiders have known for some time - that the rest of the field, not to put too fine a point on it, kind of despises the former Massachusetts governor.

McCain picked up the endorsement of the Detroit Free Press yesterday morning, accompanying the Detroit News endorsement from the end of last week, for what is shaping up as the key Michigan Republican primary on January 15th. Mitt Romney's father was governor of Michigan, and he's been leading there, but McCain won the Michigan primary in 2000 and is on the air there with a new TV ad.

Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger's campaign manager, Steve Schmidt, arrived in New Hampshire last week. He's there to help run John McCain's campaign in the Granite State. Schmidt ran the Bush/Cheney campaign war room in 2004 and is a senior advisor to McCain. Schwarzenegger is neutral in the presidential race.

Romney has to win New Hampshire. His entire candidacy was premised on big wins in Iowa and New Hampshire. With Mike Huckabee, as expected, taking Iowa, by an even larger margin than anticipated, Romney is already on the ropes.

Huckabee doesn't play so well in New Hampshire, where there ain't many religious fundamentalists. But he is looking strong in the South, and is also a factor in Michigan.

That's where McCain, if he wins tomorrow, will go for the knockout punch on Romney.