Long story short, the 25 days until Super Tuesday are shaping up to be a make-or-break period for a presidential candidate who had arrogantly campaigned as Ms. Inevitable and had to scramble to reinvent herself, and another candidate whose astounding momentum suffered a glancing blow -- if not hit a granite wall -- in New Hampshire yesterday and cannot reinvent himself.
Barely one week into a year in which Hillary Rodham Clinton would breeze to the Democratic nomination flush with a $100 million-plus war chest and then possible coronation as the first woman president, her campaign appeared to be in disarray and there were whispers that some of her advisors were lobbying her for an exit strategy.
A fast fading John Edwards got 17 percent and Bill Richardson 5 percent.
Clinton did not prevail over Obama among independents -- of which there are more in New Hampshire than Democrats -- nor did young voters gravitate to her, but she won the battle of the gender gap and did significantly better among traditional Democrats. Independents and women had gone for Obama in Iowa.
The new political wisdom is that
Clinton had been first undercut by a lousy campaign strategy and then by her own self in unconvincingly arguing that she has oodles of Washington experience but is an agent for change even though that experience has not included efforts to reform a system of governance that many Americans believe has betrayed them, let alone make a clean break from President Bush on the Iraq war. She now has to encourage scrutiny of Obama while not seeming like she is picking on him. This is a balancing act that she has thus far not mastered.
Meanwhile, Obama has to lobby hard for the endorsements of fellow senators and stay on message. The former will be more difficult than the latter, at least until Obama is able to rack up more victories. But it is his message where he remains most vulnerable.
New Hampshire voters appeared to be more interest in issues than personalities, and Obama has yet to put flesh on the bones of change, bipartisanship and coalition building -- the buzzwords that are integral to his message.
You can practically hear the knives being sharpened as the mainstream media gets around to noticing that. Clinton the Comeback Kid already has.
Nevertheless, McCain's 37 to 32 percent point victory over the former Massachusetts governor, who has a vacation home in New Hampshire, sets him up for what could be the ultimate vindication – a showdown with Romney in the Michigan primary on January 16.
Romney was born and raised in
Almost twice as many New Hampshire residents voted in the Democratic primary, yet another sign that there Republican field is generating comparatively little enthusiasm. The GOP is indeed in big trouble this November.
A final note: For all of the catterwalling, including some by Yours Truly, that the nominating process was front loaded and unfairly favored a couple of small states, the system has more or less worked because the people have more or less spoken.
Onward through the fog!