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The Real Winner: The Voter By: Ben Johnson
FrontPageMagazine.com | Wednesday, January 09, 2008

The true winners of the New Hampshire primary were not even on the ballot. While the vote established McCain as a serious contender for the nomination and gave Clinton an enormous and unexpected triumph, it also discredited the media’s distorted, self-reverential reporting. Their poll-driven narrative anointed Barack Obama as the charismatic front-runner whose smooth rhetoric and multicultural campaign had united the nation around his left-wing agenda.

The best witness is Barack Obama himself. In his concession speech last night, Obama beamed, “You know, a few weeks ago, no one imaged that we’d have accomplished what we did tonight in New Hampshire.”

He’s right, and what he did last night was lose.

Every poll taken up to election eve had Obama leading by between 5 and 13 points; none showed Hillary winning, and few even had the race within the margin of error. Only one, the Suffolk University/WHDH poll, reflected the election’s photo finish – and it titled the press release announcing Obama’s projected one-percent lead, “New Hampshire Voters See Obama Presidency.” Reportedly, even the Clinton campaign’s internals forecasted a double-digit loss in the Granite State.

Despite being humbled four years ago by exit polls that predicted a President Kerry, the media maintained the illusion of a growing Obama blowout, setting up an easier contest in South Carolina. Some even hinted Hillary would withdraw from the race last night – an idea that would have been only slightly less ludicrous had she lost. The voters themselves checked the media’s “irrational exuberance” for Obama.

The press similarly reported a last-day surge for Mitt Romney. In a far more tactful variant of Ed Rollins’ exchange with Chris Wallace, John McCain told his supporters, “When the pundits declared us finished, I told them, ‘I’m going to New Hampshire, where the voters don’t let you make their decision for them.’” In fact, New Hampshire has regularly found itself correcting the voting bloc distortions of the Iowa caucuses: In 1980, when Reagan rebounded from his loss to George Bush; in 1988, when Bush rebounded from loss to Bob Dole and Pat Robertson; and in 1992, when it interred the candidacy of Tom Harkin.

Again this year, New Hampshire refocused the Republican and Democratic races around general election themes missing from the Iowa caucuses, especially national security. For that alone, we should be grateful.

The Democrats

Hillary Clinton’s win in New Hampshire is a greater victory than her husband’s “Comeback Kid” performance in 1992. Her win would have been more stunning anywhere other than New Hampshire: she won registered Democrats by 11 points. Obama’s strong showing among independents contained his upset defeat. Most troubling for his candidacy, Hillary also won non-white women, handily (50-38). By pulling out a race no one, including Hillary, expected her to win, she regains the appearance of inevitability, and her strong finish among minorities will complicate Obama’s efforts in the South, where African-Americans may be tempted to hedge their bets and vote for Hillary.

The mechanics of the victory can be attributed to her machine and her Walter Mondale-like subservience to traditional Democratic interest groups. In addition to women, the poor, and uneducated, Hillary won union voters by nearly 10 percent over Obama.

She also demonstrated her moderately more rational foreign policy, winning among those “very worried” about another terrorist attack (45-39), while splitting those only somewhat worried or not worried.

Most interesting, Hillary won among voters who settled on a candidate long ago – or those who decided in the previous 24 hours. Those who decided in any other time-frame (including the last three days) went for Obama. This is all the more impressive given Hillary’s own missteps during that time. Did it really help that she likened herself to LBJ in the midst of a war her base despises, and which she voted to authorize?

The only positive campaign step she took during that time was – shedding tears. She wept – apparently out of self-pity – then used the sympathy her vulnerability won to launch into campaign boilerplate against Obama. The fact that the gambit (whether scripted or not) worked indicates a tactic, one for which the conspicuous non-housewife is ill-prepared: showing maternal concern for her country, looted by rapacious Fat Cats. It appears this is what she indicated when Mrs. “Ready” told her victory rally that she just found her “own voice” – one with a quaver in it. The remainder of the speech betrayed a new style, more reminiscent of her husband’s 1992 delivery, although she still delivered it with her habitually stilted cadences:

I’ve met families in this state, and all-over-our-country…men and women who work day-and-night, and hope-they-don’t-get-sick, because they can’t afford to-pay-the-bills…

Then her pitch for the class warfare vote, filtered through Michael Harrington’s lexicon:

Too many have been invisible for too long…The oil companies, the drug companies, the health insurance companies, the predatory student loan companies have had seven years of a president who stands up for them. It’s time we had a president who stands up for all of you.

We will all be called upon to deliver…on the promise that government will be of the people, by the people, and for the people – not just the privileged few.

Hmm, vowing “To fight for the people, not the powerful”? Pity no one has tried that before.

New Hampshire voters buried the candidate most exploiting the populist theme, John Edwards. Edwards has continued attacking Hillary, hoping for a two-way race against Obama, whom he believes is less electable and less experienced than he is. This is a mistake. Edwards has little more experience than Obama; their positions are virtually indistinguishable; and Edwards was a disappointment as a vice presidential candidate four years ago. And now Hillary is co-opting his main issue in a softer package.

The Republicans

New Hampshire voters returned foreign policy and national security returned front-and-center for the Grand Old Party. John McCain ran and won – more handily than some conservatives would like to admit – on his judgment, gravitas, and sponsorship of the Iraqi Surge. His commercials hammered Mitt Romney’s lack of national security credentials, insisting “America needs a president who is serious about foreign policy” and accusing Romney of turning national defense over to lawyers and bureaucrats.

McCain acknowledged as much in his acceptance speech, a pitch-perfect plea for a unity based, not on left-wing social justice and isolationism, but on defending ourselves in the war jiahdists have launched against us:

Whatever the differences between us, so much more should unite us – and nothing, nothing should unite us more closely than the imperative of defeating an enemy who despises us, our values, and modernity itself. …In this great historic task, we will never surrender. They will.

Perhaps learning from his 2000 performance, he then hit every note of the Republican scale. He vowed:

to return our party to the principles that have never failed Americans: the party of fiscal discipline, low taxes, enduring values, a strong and capable defense, that encourages the enterprise and ingenuity of individuals, business, and families who know best how to advance America’s economy and secure the dreams that have made us the greatest nation in history.

Not a bad line for the man who aspires to be the successor of Ronald Reagan.

Although McCain must be considered one frontrunner for the nomination, the overall picture remains clouded, particularly as he remains weak on the party's right-flank. As in his 2000 victory over George W. Bush, John McCain won every significant voter group (except senior citizens this time) – but this year, McCain lost self-described conservatives (30-38), who made up 55 percent of all primary voters, and those who voted based on issues (25-33), who comprised 44 percent of voters.

The GOP will have little time to coalesce around an anti-McCain conservative. When the perceived front-runners were McCain, Rudy Giuliani, and Mitt Romney, Romney had positioned himself as the conservative alternative. Had he not failed expectations in Iowa in New Hampshire, he could have resumed his role as the least objectionable (essentially the criterion that earned him the endorsement of National Review). He has, after all, won one state and come in second in two others. However, he set the bar high in Michigan – his home state, once governed by his father, George – and a state John McCain won in 2000. The Detroit newspapers have already endorsed McCain, who may be poised for another repeat performance.

Mike Huckabee hopes the voters will turn to him based on his Iowa win, evangelical appeal, and shifting position on illegal immigration – particularly in evangelical-rich South Carolina. However, South Carolina also has the highest percentage of veterans per capita and McCain has run a more traditional (read: less offensive) campaign there than he did in 2000. And Huckabee is more vulnerable on foreign policy issues than Romney. Fred Thompson may yet emerge as the consistent conservative in the race.

The “true conservative” mantle will depend largely on the appeal of Rudy Giuliani. He and McCain appeal to the same constituencies, and a strong McCain candidacy may marginalize Giuliani. However, if Hillary clinches the nomination, electability rises as an issue and with it Giuliani's hopes. If the race boils down to a final McCain-Giuliani fight on Super Tuesday, McCain will be positioned as the conservative, thanks to his largely conservative record in the Senate and their common weaknesses on immigration.

McCain will likely face questions about his long sponsorship of a National Service program – and how this will easily be morphed into a draft scare in the general election. One can nearly picture a Democratic ad showing McCain vowing to stay in Iraq 100 years, humming “Bomb Iran,” and asking, “Will McCain draft your son or daughter into Iraq?” The clincher would be his bon mot to a teenage questioner, “You little jerk. I hope you get drafted.”

However, at least New Hampshire put national security issues – and not celebrity endorsements, sex appeal, and white racial guilt – back at the forefront of the debate.

Ben Johnson is Managing Editor of FrontPage Magazine and co-author, with David Horowitz, of the book Party of Defeat. He is also the author of the books Teresa Heinz Kerry's Radical Gifts (2009) and 57 Varieties of Radical Causes: Teresa Heinz Kerry's Charitable Giving (2004).

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