Election 2008

After New Hampshire: Voters, Not the Media, Will Crown Their Nominees

For now, the race is wide open, and that's a good thing.
What really happened in New Hampshire? First -- forget what the polls say if you want to know what happens next. Forget the establishment media, too.

For now, the race is wide open. And that's a good thing. (Though, if we'd really bust open our money-drenched, front-loaded system, we'd really see elections of, by and for the people. But that's for the emerging pro-democracy movement, allied with sane citizens of all political stripes, to fight for next round.)

For now, candidates will be tested instead of crowned. And that gives us time to push from outside to define and sharpen candidates' stance on issues we care about as progressives. From a sane and humane immigration policy as we go to Nevada, a more populist jobs and economics program as we head into recession, and a sharper end-the-war strategy to stop the "strategic drift."

I'm still left with questions about how Hillary pulled off a win against Obama on Tuesday night -- and what that means heading into Nevada's caucuses, South Carolina's primary and the tsunami of 22 primaries and caucuses on February 5.

Why Hillary Won

1. Home court advantage: Clinton is well known in the Granite State; neither Edwards nor Obama much history there.

2. The women's vote: Women over 40, single women came home to Hillary, by a margin of 57 percent. Was it in response to the misty-eyed "human" moment in the coffee shop? Or in response to her more fiery, human and impassioned performance in Saturday's Manchester debate? Did Obama's peevish aside -- "You're likable enough, Hillary" -- resonate more than we understood at time? (Exit polls show that about half of those who voted said the debates were very important in their vote; Hillary won among these voters by a 40-32 margin. Among those who didn't think debate was very important, Hillary and Obama tied.) The heavily funded and super-organized field operations of Emily's List's paid off here after floundering in Iowa.

3. Registered Democrats support her bigtime: This augurs badly for Obama in those primaries which are closed to independents. And if more independents went to McCain, could that explain Obama's showing even more than what some call "The Bradley Effect"?

4. Boomers and older voters: The age slant of voting suggests boomers are resisting being pushed offstage. Andrew Sullivan may have underestimated the investment boomers have in their battles. They're not going to give it up just yet to the whippersnappers.

Dangers for Hillary

1. Bill was on the field and she made a comeback: Ergo, she'll keep Bill on the field. But as a boomer woman, I think her husband hurts her more than he helps. Hillary needs to make a forceful case for why voting for her -- the first woman president -- is about making history. Bill undermines that message, making her candidacy a referendum on his presidency, fueling the idea that she's completing a restoration, paternalizing and belittling the "little woman."

Hillary's candidacy is at risk, as Slate's Emily Yoffe recently pointed out, because it begins to look less like a gender breakthrough and more like a gender throwback. And he always ends up making himself the story.

2. She can't fire Bill, but she can fire Mark Penn: Penn's strategy and message peddles cynicism against hope, and as head of the lobbying form Burson-Marsteller embodies the lobbying corruption and corporate stranglehold Americans asssociate with the beltway status quo.

3. Hillary gains when she's picked on: This dynamic played out during impeachment madness, and was theme of first Senate race. Women -- with some notable media exceptions, like Maureen Dowd -- rally to her when she's treated badly. No question that the media has a double standard when it comes to women and tears in public life. But is this going to be how we want to reframe the powerful and mobilizing idea, "the personal is political" ? And is victimhood an effective argument for her campaign? I think it will wear out its effect.

4. Why, exactly, is she running? To say, "This is personal to me. I have so many things I want to do," doesn't really explain it. She needs to throw out Mark Penn and the pollsters, exile Bill to a few choice spots, and lay out a big case about what she wants to do over the next four years, not what she's done for the past three decades.
Katrina vanden Heuvel is editor of The Nation.
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