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Dan Payne

What N.H. taught us

Email|Print|Single Page| Text size + By Dan Payne
January 10, 2008

WOMEN RALLIED to Hillary. New Hampshire women roared for a beaming Hillary Clinton, giving her 46 percent to 34 percent for Barack Obama. And they were 57 percent of the Democratic vote.

Those lines outside Obama rallies were optical delusions. Obama became so cool that young people considered his rallies rock concerts. But when the young people went home, they stayed there. While Obama won nearly half of those who had never before voted in a primary, they were only 20 percent of primary voters. Any candidate who's counting on the under-30 crowd is headed for a loss.

The old Democratic coalition clicked. Clinton won union households, Catholics, people on the low end of the wage scale, and those without a college degree. She won Democrats by more than 11 points. FDR is smiling.

The state didn't want to lose its first-in-the-nation gig. If all New Hampshire did was mimic Iowa, why bother to have a New Hampshire primary? They could lose tens, maybe hundreds, of millions of dollars spent on TV ads, hotels, restaurants, rental cars, and those little maple leaf candies.

The pollsters, press, and pundits blew it. Reports of Clinton's death were greatly exaggerated. A pack mentality set in among the political chattering class: Hillary could not win. Chris Matthews's Hardball show was national headquarters for the wise guys of American politics (and most were guys); not one "expert" predicted a win for Hillary. Not even the name at the top of this column.

It's OK to get emotional. In fact it may help if you're Clinton. She showed she was human as she choked up for an instant at a women's luncheon the day before the primary. The male media fraternity waited about two minutes before comparing it with 1972 presidential candidate Ed Muskie, who choked with anger and seemed to cry during a wet snowstorm after mean-spirited articles appeared about his wife in the Manchester Union Leader.

Reports of a staff shake-up worked wonders. Even Hillary had low expectations about her chances in New Hampshire. All day Tuesday rumors of a Clinton staff shake-up swirled. I'm betting they were true. Regardless, the rumors emboldened the media to declare that Hillary's campaign was in trouble. But voters didn't get the memo. With such low expectations, her three-point win looked huge.

Gloria Steinem was the most influential columnist. In a much discussed guest column in The New York Times, the feminist pioneer argued that being a woman is more of a challenge than being black when running for president. Obama "is seen as unifying by his race while she is seen as divisive by her sex," Steinem wrote. "She is accused of 'playing the gender card' when citing the old boys' club, while he is seen as unifying by citing civil rights confrontations."

It's good to have Bill Clinton in the house. In the final days, the prodigal husband was tongue-lashing the news media and Obama. He called press accounts of Obama's opposition to the Iraq war as different from his wife's a "fairy tale." He's the Energizer bunny of politics; he keeps going and going and going.

Experience was underrated. Turns out having worked in the public sector is no more of a disadvantage for a candidate than having performed operations is for a surgeon. Voters judged Clinton to be the stronger leader over Obama by 38 percent to 35 percent. Ditto for ready to be commander-in-chief, Hillary 38 percent, Barack 26.

Mitt is dislikeable and dead. Is it just me, or has Romney passed the president as the most detestable Republican around? The other GOP campaigns can't stand him either.

The voters of New Hampshire heeded the advice of the Concord Monitor, which urged them to "see through the baloney." Apparently Mitt didn't slice his baloney thick enough.

After he grabbed eight whole delegates in the Wyoming caucuses, the next stop on Mitt's Lose-a-Palooza tour is Michigan, where his father was governor 40 years ago. The governor of Massachusetts 40 years ago was Endicott Peabody. Remember him? I didn't think so.

The two biggest newspapers in Michigan have already endorsed John McCain, and the Detroit Free Press revealed that Mitt's claim to have seen his father marching with Martin Luther King Jr. was completely manufactured.

Romney's is a candidacy of contrivance, consultants, cash, and cynicism.

Soon "everyone will see it for what it is: a construct of consultancy," said John Ellis, a smart political observer and kin to the Bushes. "His authenticity problem isn't going away."

But, if we're lucky, Mitt is.

Dan Payne is a Boston-area media consultant who has worked for Democratic candidates around the country.

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