The voters of New Hampshire and the caucus goers of Iowa have spoken and their verdict: Hillary is no longer inevitable. Obama is no longer anointed. And McCain is no longer dead.
Hillary Rodham Clinton rebounded in New Hampshire from a near-death experience, confounding the pollsters, pundits and over-caffeinated cable hosts by edging out the predicted winner, Barack Obama, 39 percent to 37 percent. John Edwards finished with a disappointing 17 percent.
For whatever reason — whether women voters rallied around her at the 11th hour, whether voters lied to the pollsters about supporting Obama, whether notoriously independent Granite State voters didn’t like being told how they were going to behave in the booth — Clinton avoided a second and perhaps fatal loss in the presidential sweepstakes.
It is good that voters threw over the poll-tested conventional wisdom about the outcome, if only to establish that human behavior is not always quantifiable and predictable.
On the Republican side, John McCain rejuvenated his campaign by beating Mitt Romney, 37 percent to 32 percent, Romney’s second straight second-place finish, or “silver medal,” as he likes to call it. However, his money backers want to see gold and he has to win something and soon. The folksy charmer and sleeper candidate of this campaign, Mike Huckabee, finished third with 11 percent, but he was content to let McCain do the heavy lifting of taking on Romney in New Hampshire.
Thanks to Iowa, voters elsewhere will never get to hear what Democrats Joe Biden and Chris Dodd have to say for themselves. But, fortunately for voters elsewhere, New Hampshire didn’t perform the early states’ self-imposed duties of further “winnowing the field.”
The major candidates survived to fight another day, meaning more Americans will have a say about the field of candidates. The cast now moves on to Michigan, Nevada, South Carolina and Florida, not the most representative quartet of states but a real cross-section of America compared with what we’ve had so far. Republican Fred Thompson says he is drawing a “line in the sand” in South Carolina, and fellow Republican Rudolph Giuliani is betting his campaign on a Florida win.
There’s a lot wrong with the way we pick our presidential nominees, but so far the process, in its own maddening, imperfect way, seems to be working.