Living in this little internet cocoon being bombarded by the daily spin of pundits, prognosticators, “experts,” and the campaigns themselves, it is quite easy to fall for a buzz that everyone – and I mean everyone – was touting.
Obama, the anointed one. Obama, the crowned one. Obama, the beatified. And his opposite number in the race was ready to quit, was weeping from exhaustion and frustration, resigned to being buried by the Obama juggernaut.
But someone neglected to tell Hillary Clinton that her defeat was foreordained and in the stars. So the candidate continued a killer schedule and doggedly soldiered on, refusing to bow to what everyone in Christendom was telling her was going to be a smashing, humiliating defeat.
I have been following politics for 35 years and cannot recall such a universal, all encompassing and ultimately, totally overblown media frenzy about a candidate that turned out to be so extraordinarily wrong. There’s a lesson there for us somewhere but frankly, I am too stunned to see it at the moment. Political pros were even swept up in Obamania and fell victim to being in love with the sound of their own voices pouring superlatives and encomiums on the senator from Illinois.
And all of this buzz affected the perception given off by both campaigns.
The mood of the two candidates and their supporters couldn’t have been more different in the last 24 hours. Obama, bouncing from site to site, his supporters wild with enthusiasm, the candidate speaking confidently about the future.
Meanwhile, Camp Hillary featured a noticeable trepidation among supporters, almost a sullen acceptance of impending doom. The contrast was so striking that rumors were circulating positing all kinds of scenarios; she drops out, she radically shakes up her staff, she’s broke, she calls on trusted hands who helped her husband to salvage her campaign.
Meanwhile the Obama tidal wave was meeting some resistance below the surface.
Clinton advisor Terry McAuiliffe pointed to two overriding factors that played into the former First Lady’s comeback from the dead. First, her performance in Saturday night’s debate which was criticized in some quarters as being too negative towards Obama actually served to sharpen their differences. Clinton took the “change” theme and turned it back on Obama by presenting herself as the candidate who is “ready” to make changes because of her experience. This played very well with elderly voters who went to Clinton by a 48-36 margin.
The second factor was the candidate’s show of emotion at an event on Monday when she responded to a question from a woman who asked after her well being on the campaign trail. There were many on both the left and right who cynically looked at this display as a calculated move to garner sympathy for the candidate rather than a genuine cracking of the “Ice Queen’s” facade.
But New Hampshire voters – especially women – responded in overwhelming numbers. A remarkable number from the exit polls is that fully 57% of voters who cast a ballot in the Democratic primary were women. And after losing the women’s vote in Iowa to Obama by 12 percent, women came back to support her with a vengeance. Mrs. Clinton turned the tables and took the women’s vote by the same margin she lost in last Thursday’s Caucuses.
Indeed, Hillary’s recapture of the women’s vote bodes well for the future. At her victory rally, the noise was tremendous. And by the high pitch of the cheers, it was easy to tell that the overwhelming number of attendees were women; young women who still see Hillary’s candidacy as almost revolutionary. Single women supported Clinton by a margin over Obama over Obama of 51-32% and married women by a slightly less margin. If she can maintain those margins, Obama is in trouble.
In addition to women, Hillary captured the over 55 vote and those who make less than $50,000 a year. The significance of her victory in those groups cannot be lost on Obama. Oldsters vote in greater numbers than any other age group. And those who make under 50 grand a year vote Democratic in large numbers.
Besides the over hyping of Obama, there is the utter failure of most pollsters to catch the late surge to Clinton. Pollster Frank Luntz believes that the turnout models pollsters are using are now obsolete given the number of new voters who cast a ballot for the first time. Although only 6% of the total were new voters, Obama captured a staggering 66% of them. Clearly, as in Iowa, Obama has excited young people and people who felt estranged from the process in the past. This is a remarkable testament to his political appeal and should be cheered by all those who care about democracy.
Pollsters, pundits, internet rabble rousers, and just plain folk who saw the polls, watched the enthusiasm, listened to the adoring words, and felt the Obama earthquake in the 48 hours before the polls opened forgot one, small detail about politics in America.
Anything can happen. And conventional wisdom is usually proved to be anything but conventional and not very wise.