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NH Primary -- PJM Special Coverage

8:00 pm PST — McCain, Expectations, the Kitchen Sink, and the Resilience of Bill Clinton

A big win for John McCain, whose veteran team of Republican strategists managed expectations well. Mitt Romney, whose campaign was always predicated on winning Iowa and New Hampshire, has now lost both. And John McCain, whose candidacy seemingly died not once but twice in the past year, is back as arguably the frontrunner. He was clearly viewed as the most credible commander-in-chief. The media exit poll, incidentally, was correct in foreshadowing McCain’s victory. But it was wrong in suggesting an Obama victory.

Meanwhile, McCain’s victory, part of it built upon independents, who were flowing to Barack Obama in all the polls, has turned out to be a significant factor in Hillary Clinton’s dramatic, and narrow win in the Democratic primary. It may well be that expectations of a sizeable Obama win, in virtually every poll, led more independents to vote for McCain, feeling that the real contest was on the Republican side.

Another big factor appears to be that women voters broke heavily for Hillary, late. Nearly 20% of the Democratic vote was decided in the last 24 hours, and Hillary had an edge there. Did her teary-eyed moment of vulnerability yesterday, played endlessly on television, resonate with the chilly Clinton at last showing her humanity?

Worry about the economy also turned out to have been the single biggest issue in the Democratic primary. The Clintons’ furious counter-attack, much of it mounted by the former president, enabled Hillary to win back the big blue collar city of Manchester, which she had held in her hand through most of last year, but lost to Obama over the past few weeks.

Which brings us to Bill Clinton. A great many observers, myself included, thought that he acted in a very unpresidential manner, descending into the murk of the campaign as if he were a primary candidate himself. He was pilloried throughout the media for his behavior on behalf of Hillary. But you know what? It worked.

Bill Clinton was the attack dog of his wife’s campaign. For those amateur shrinks who think he doesn’t want her to win, consider that he damaged his reputation over the past few days in the furious drive to win a bare plurality victory in a single primary.

His attacks on Obama, his reassurance that he and his wife are on the side of blue collar voters, Hillary’s moment of vulnerability, perhaps even the obvious ploy of Hillary calling Bill yesterday while he was giving a speech — a la the episodes with Rudy and Judy Giuliani — in other words, the entire kitchen sink of political tactics they conjured up in a furious effort to close the gap, it worked.

So we have a real, rip-roaring campaign going. In both parties. At the moment, John McCain has the Republican edge. On the Democratic side, it’s pretty even. And if John Edwards stops dividing the majority non-Clinton vote, Obama is back in the driver’s seat he seized last week.

Incidentally, as I mentioned at the top, the media exit polls were accurate on the Republican side. And inaccurate on the Democratic side. John McCain had a six-point edge, and that tracked pretty well with his victory in the Republican primary. But Barack Obama had a five-point edge in the Democratic exit poll. And that did not track with his narrow defeat.

5:00 pm PST — Where Romney May Have Gone Wrong

Waiting for actual numbers, and wondering about exit poll models, a few thoughts from PJM feature blogger Rich Miniter. He looks at how Mitt Romney’s campaign might have gone wrong in New Hampshire. “The Romney people,” he writes, “are pinning their hopes on Obama.”

“Here’s a scenario I have heard at least dozen times from different Romney supporters across New Hampshire. The independent vote, which accounts for almost half the vote in the Granite State, will go disproportionately for Obama, they say. That will rob McCain of votes and give Romney a chance to eke out a victory.

“I buttonholed Andrew Smith, the renowned pollster at the University of New Hampshire. He had heard the Romney victory scenario too. But he isn’t buying it.

“While he acknowledges that the excitement of voters for Obama is overwhelming, he cautioned that the independent vote isn’t that independent or monolithic. The independent vote, he said, is really divided into three parts. Some 45% of self-declared independents regularly vote in Democratic primaries. They will vote for Obama and, to a much lesser extent, Clinton. Another 30% of the independent vote votes almost exclusively in Republican primaries; they are not going to shift to the Democratic primary to support Obama. These voters favor McCain disproportionately. As for the rest of the independents? They may vote in the Democratic primary or vote in the Republican primary for Ron Paul. They were never really counted in the McCain column anyway.

“So the Romney hope isn’t based on an understanding of traditional voting patterns.

“Besides, Smith points out, his latest polls of likely New Hampshire voters show McCain ahead among Republican voters.”

3:05 pm PST — Next for John McCain

Assuming that he holds on to his lead in New Hampshire, John McCain is heading straight for Michigan, as I reported this morning. These things can change, but I believe he intends to camp out there essentially for the duration of the week remaining until the primary — possible with a quick fundraising foray — to move into the national frontrunner slot on the Republican side.

McCain is going to keep running on his strengths. His Vietnam War hero status, his long experience with national security affairs in the Senate and familiarity with world figures and key countries, his maverick reformer persona.

But while national security will be the key in South Carolina, in Michigan, McCain will focus also on the economy.

Mike Huckabee will be a major factor in Michigan, and he will be pushing on a Republican version of economic populism. Romney will emphasize his economic management skills as a big-time CEO.

Romney’s father was governor of Michigan, so that has given him something of an edge there. But if he loses New Hampshire when the votes are tallied, that, coupled with his big loss in Iowa, will prove an anchor to his hopes. McCain will be out to finish him off.

1:26 pm PST — New Southern Strategy or “Irrational Exuberance” around Obama

Correspondent Patricia Duff reports that it is a beautiful day in New Hampshire, bright and unseasonably warm at an amazing 55 degrees. Voters are flooding to the polls in record numbers, campaigns GOTV (Get Out The Vote) operations are finding that many of their voters are already on their way.

So perhaps it was the warm weather and the air of electricity around Barack Obama that led to this. Duff ran into former Governor of Mississippi Ray Mabus, who says that he can see Obama putting Southern states like his own Ole Miss into play in the general election.

How so?

Mabus says he thinks that Obama can do two things the other Democrats couldn’t. Get votes among Southern independents, and grow already large black voting populations into even larger votes.

As Duff points out, Obama is having an effect on people around him such that his crowds are — figuratively, one presumes — “levitating.” So maybe this is irrational exuberance. But maybe not.

Mabus, incidentally, was a top official in the Bill Clinton Administration, as US ambassador to Saudi Arabia.

12:59 pm PST — Big Union Goes for Obama

The information, much of it rumor, flows fast and furious now. Early this morning, I reported that Nevada’s powerful Culinary Workers Union — which delayed its endorsement from December 2nd to just after Iowa and now just after New Hampshire — was very likely to endorse Barack Obama in the next Democratic contest, the Nevada caucuses.

The union is a kingmaker in Nevada politics and just won big contracts from the big Las Vegas casinos.

Now it’s confirmed that the union will endorse Obama for president after his New Hampshire victory tonight is official.

I’ve done Nevada, and despite Hillary Clinton’s many endorsements there, I think Obama would have a great shot at winning the Silver State even without this endorsement. And even though she had a big lead there for most of the past year. But this makes an Obama victory in the third Democratic contest of the race even more likely.

11:49 am PST — Fear And Loathing In The Clinton Campaign

They’re all in and the the cards aren’t turning up right. With widespread reports that polling places have had to request more ballots — and New Hampshire turnout was already projected at 25% above the previous record — the sense of chaos in Hillary Clinton’s campaign is increasing.

Informed sources say that the options for the Clinton road from New Hampshire on are multiple because the choices are poor.

Some around the Clintons want Hillary to withdraw, reasoning that her longtime place is in the Senate, for which she is temperamentally well-suited and that she could make a better Senate majority leader than Nevada’s Harry Reid, who has disappointed many. Implicit in this scenario is that both of the Clintons looked bad yesterday, with the former president threatening his currently high public standing, and the effort needed to take down a surging Barack Obama would probably not be worth it, especially as its prospects would not be good.

Others, after the enormous effort that has gone into creating the campaign, want to fight on. But how? Here it becomes quite chaotic.

She seems likely to drop her active campaign in South Carolina, where nearly half the voters are black and where Obama has already taken a big lead. Some say she should make a stand in the Nevada caucuses on the 19th — and she’ll certainly try to reboot her candidacy in the Las Vegas debate on the 15th — but others with primary experience know that she can be overcome there as well.

Pull back to the February 5th states and make stands in big states. But she will be at a financial disadvantage to Obama by then. And California is primed, with the right campaign, to roll over to the Obama column.

And what of message?

Attack Obama as a phony “change agent,” i.e., just another hack politician. But that’s problematic, and not a charge that should come from the campaign. Which would entail setting up an “independent” expenditure effort. But who would do it? Seven regional vice presidents of the powerful public employees union, AFSCME, have denounced the union’s advertising on her behalf.

And if the charge does come from the campaign, where does the money come from? She’s raised a hundred million dollars, but she’s spent most of it and will have to spend what she has to promote her own candidacy.

Another scenario for attacking Obama is that he would be an untried, unsteady hand on the tiller. But Hillary herself, tearing up, voice quavering yesterday as she contemplated defeat today, raises questions herself about her own steadiness.

Still, she seems ready to go in that direction, yesterday raising the spectre of an Al Qaeda attack next year.

“I don’t think it was by accident that Al Qaeda decided to test the new prime minister,” she said. “They watch our elections as closely as we do, maybe more closely than some of our fellows citizens do. Let’s not forget you’re hiring a president not just to do what a candidate says during the election, you want a president to be there when the chips are down.”

But that will lead to a lot of flack from leading Democrats.

The man who gave Bill and Hillary Clinton their start in politics, hiring them as Texas co-coordinators of the McGovern campaign — and whose neoliberal policies were in large measure followed by subsequent President Clinton, had this to say in rebuttal.

“There are those who question Senator Obama’s national security credentials,” says Gary Hart. As a veteran of 33 years of national security participation, I say they are wrong. Those tempted to use his relative youth to challenge his ability to conduct a vigorous foreign policy are equally wrong. Senator Obama’s personal history uniquely qualifies him to restore America’s standing in the world. He embodies what is best about our nation.”

10:37 am PST — Next for McCain

John McCain leads in all but one of the late tracking polls, but Mitt Romney has been running heavy attack ads against him and independents are entranced by Barack Obama. McCain strategists seem confident, but expect the race to be relatively close in New Hampshire.

Nevertheless, anticipating the New Hampshire win, the veteran senator and Vietnam War hero is heading straight to Michigan tomorrow. Michigan is where Romney, whose campaign is on the ropes after his big loss in Iowa to Mike Huckabee, in some ways hails from, as his father was the governor of Michigan. McCain went up with a TV ad called “American Reformer” — in which he acknowledges that he sometimes makes people mad — at the end of last week.

He picked up the Detroit Free Press endorsement last week and the Detroit News endorsement yesterday.

What are the polls in Michigan? Not clear, and as a McCain strategist put it, “They’ll be different after today.”

One advantage McCain will have in Michigan that he did not have in New Hampshire — independents will be playing in the Republican primary, not the Democratic primary. There is a Democratic primary in Michigan on the 15th, but the Democratic National Committee enforced party discipline against states changing the primary schedule and got the Democratic candidates to agree to ignore it. So the independent flow to Obama, making New Hampshire more competitive for Romney than it might be otherwise, won’t exist there.

In fact, the Democratic presidential field will be Las Vegas on the 15th, for what may be a key debate in Hillary Clinton’s effort to come back

9:43 am PST — Next for Obama

Barack Obama has only two public events on New Hampshire primary day. A big rally at Dartmouth College, and his election night party and victory speech, which we’ll cover extensively.

From New Hampshire, he goes immediately into the heart of Hillary Clinton’s political base.

Obama will have a big rally tomorrow in New Jersey.

Tomorrow night, he has a fundraiser at the Grand Hyatt in midtown Manhattan.

Here is how that’s going, in the financial heart of the Clinton machine.

Fundraisers are struggling to get maximum contributors ($2300 a head) into the room.

9:12 am PST — Gary Hart’s Perspective

Former Senator Gary Hart co-chaired the US Commission on National Security with former Republican Senator Warren Rudman which predicted major terrorist attacks inside America. Hart, who co-founded the Congressional Military Reform Caucus with Newt Gingrich, won the New Hampshire primary in 1984 in similar circumstances to Barack Obama’s, though his drive for the Democratic nomination was far less well-funded and fell short after winning 26 states.

His comment on last night’s tracking polls and what is happening in New Hampshire:

“Eerie. Almost the exact ’84 numbers.”

“And HRC actually said: “Where’s the beef?” (A line Walter Mondale used to barely hang on in the first set of Super Tuesday primaries and blunt the insurgent wave against him.)

“Who says history doesn’t repeat itself?”

8:46 am PST — A Report from Nashua

Correspondent Thomas Bowler, who early this morning cast his ballot for Mitt Romney, checks in … His anecdotal information about a big turnout today tracks with the New Hampshire secretary of state’s forecast yesterday, a record 500,000 voters, up 25% from the mark set in 2000. This, following on the heels of the record turnout last Thursday in the Iowa caucuses. There is a stirring.

“It’s warm here in Nashua this morning – 38 degrees at 6:30 and likely to reach the 50s this afternoon. That coupled with the intense interest in this election that has been built up in a full year of pre-primary campaigning means there will probably be a very heavy turnout. You wouldn’t guess it from the early morning traffic at the Charlotte Avenue Elementary School in Nashua, though. A half dozen voters were in line for ballots inside, while outside three people with Obama signs chatted among themselves on the sidewalk outside.

Early returns are in from Dixville Notch and Hart’s Location. Obama in a landslide:”

Dixville Notch Hart’s Location
Republican:
McCain 4 McCain 6
Romney 2 Huckabee 5
Guiliani 1 Paul 4
Romney 1
Democrat
Obama 7 Obama 9
Edwards 2 Clinton 3
Richardson 1 Edwards 1

6:40 am PST — Game Day

Today is the day, the New Hampshire primary. The polls place Barack Obama and John McCain in the lead for their parties. I’ll be providing all-day coverage of New Hampshire and its meaning, weaving in reports from correspondents and contacts inside and outside of the Granite State.

Here are the Zogby tracking numbers from New Hampshire, from over the weekend and through last night. On the Democratic side, Barack Obama leads Hillary Clinton, 42% to 29%. John Edwards is third, way back at 17%. Bill Richardson has 5% and Dennis Kucinich 2%.

On the Republican side, John McCain leads Mitt Romney, 36% to 27%. Mike Huckabee is a distant third at 10%, followed closely by Ron Paul and Rudy Giuliani at 9%. Fred Thompson and Duncan Hunter bring up the rear at 2% and 1%.

Yesterday was marked by major melodrama on the Clinton side, with Hillary tearing up, voice breaking, at the thought of losing today, her husband the former president blaming the press, and both tossing multiple attacks at Obama. Who essentially laughed them off.

Obama ended the last full day of campaigning in New Hampshire with a 10:45 PM rally at Concord High School. A normally ridiculous hour for a political event, but not for this campaign.

Correspondent Patricia Duff, a Democratic analyst who among many things organized Hollywood for Gary Hart and was New York finance co-chair for then President Clinton, reports on the scene.

Hundreds of people were lined up in the dark, reports Duff, as she arrived, waiting to get into the already crowded high school gym, which ended up standing room only. Inside, Obama regaled the crowd with “an almost unbelievably idealistic message” of bringing America together for change. For the rapt attendees, who hung on every word from the freshman senator — whose strained voice actually sounded all right — it was a sort of political communion.

Obama made fun of Hillary’s warning about believing in “false hopes,” noting that John F. Kennedy “didn’t look up in the sky at the moon and say, ‘We should go there, but we can’t. It’s too far.'” He also invoked Martin Luther King’s “I have a dream” speech, saying that King didn’t bring a million people outside the Lincoln Memorial only to say “there’s nothing we can do, and let’s all go home.”

Obama will have another big win today, leaving the Clinton campaign, which long viewed New Hampshire as firewall territory against any Iowa setback, shell-shocked. But she won’t be quitting, and the January 15th debate in Las Vegas now looms large as a potential comeback event for her.

The American Federation of Teachers has just bought $100,000 in pro-Hillary radio spots for the January 19th Nevada caucuses, as an “independent” expenditure on her behalf. Hillary is backed by much of the state’s political establishment, and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s son runs her campaign there.

But the powerful Nevada culinary workers union, which won big contracts from all the big Vegas casinos and delayed its endorsement from early December to after Iowa, then after New Hampshire, is reportedly poised to endorse Obama.

If they do, it will just be the latest bad news from around the country for the Clintons. Hillary has suddenly lost her national lead. Hillary Clinton’s national lead among Democrats has disappeared. In a new Gallup Poll, it’s now Barack Obama 33%, Hillary Clinton 33%, and John Edwards 20%. On the Republican side, it’s Mike Huckabee 25%, Rudy Giuliani 20%, John McCain 19%, Fred Thompson 12%, Mitt Romney 9%, and Ron Paul 4%.

Her once big lead in South Carolina, another key early contest, has been reversed. The Rasmussen robopoll of the South Carolina Democratic primary has Barack Obama flipping his 10-point deficit of November to a 12-point lead now. It’s Obama 42%, Hillary Clinton 30%, and John Edwards 14%.

And Obama is now seen as the most electable candidate. This is a change, in a new Rasmussen robopoll, from the days of Hillary Clinton and Rudy Giuliani being seen as most electable.

Needless to say, California looms as a must-win state for Hillary Clinton on February 5th. Tellingly, the Obama campaign is hosting New Hampshire primary parties around the state, and California co-chairman Steve Westly, who helped launch eBay, is opening a new headquarters. On Wednesday, Obama’s California campaign will hold “California Counts” rallies in Los Angeles (on the steps of City Hall, from which Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, busy campaigning for Hillary in New Hampshire, will likely be absent), San Diego, Sacramento, and San Francisco.

The Clinton campaign is searching for the right tool with which to take down the Illinois senator. One tool they won’t be using is a reference to his self-acknowleged teenage drug use, which he disclosed in his best-selling autobiography.

NWN has learned that when that was brought up last month by campaign co-chairman Billy Shaheen, the Clintons faced an internal revolt from many of their prominent black supporters.

“You are not going to make the first black man who can be president out to be a drug dealer,” one told the Clintons.

While some inside the Clinton camp think she should quit the race if she loses again today, the likely approach is to try to paint Obama as just another conventional politician. And to hope for or to try to force mistakes. The mistakes right now are coming in bunches. But for Clinton, not Obama.

Meanwhile, the Republican race is fascinating and would be getting even more notice were it not for the rise of Obama and decline of the Clintons. John McCain is poised on the verge of a spectacular comeback, after melting down twice last year, a year which began with him as the frontrunner.

A potential major problem for McCain is that independent voters are increasingly captivated by Obama, making it more likely for them to vote in New Hampshire’s Democratic rather than Republican primary. But private polling indicates that 45% of the independents will nonetheless vote in the Republican primary, with McCain having the clear edge there.

“It’s looking good,” says Steve Schmidt. The campaign manager for Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, who is neutral in the race, is also a senior advisor to McCain. Having run the Bush/Cheney war room in 2004, he’s in New Hampshire now helping run the McCain campaign.

Mitt Romney, a near native son as former governor of Massachusetts, has long counted on winning Iowa and New Hampshire to launch his drive to the Republican nomination. He’s now faced with the prospect of going 0 for 2.

This report was written by PJM’s Bill Bradley and includes updates from the ground by Thomas Bowler and Patricia Duff.