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[Washington Babylon]

The Post-New Hampshire Road


Plus: Media Stockholm Syndrome

It was amusing to watch the news last night and see so many pundits explain why they had essentially been right all along about the New Hampshire primaries, even though everything they’d predicted about the outcome during the past few days had been dead wrong. Then they began making new and improved forecasts about the political future with the same confidence as ever.

Meanwhile, some of the campaign correspondents seem to be suffering from Stockholm Syndrome, so faithfully do they repeat the talking points of the candidates they are covering. The worst here was Ron Allen of NBC News. Mitt Romney’s entire campaign strategy was based on winning Iowa and New Hampshire–both of which he lost decisively despite the expenditure of untold millions in those two states. It will take a near-miracle at this point for Romney to rebound, and yet there was Allen talking about Romney’s optimism and laying out a case for his resurgence.

Despite all the polling, political races are–as New Hampshire proved–difficult to forecast, but pundits and reporters find it irresistible to do so. (Me too. My powers of prognostication are generally suspect, but the item I wrote last Friday–which said Hillary was not yet finished but that Edwards was, and suggested that McCain would win New Hampshire and thereby effectively knock out Romney–held up well.)

It’s especially tempting to try to be the first one to make the call. Hence, an item on the New Republic website following the Iowa caucuses said that “Hillary Clinton is toast…Obama wins New Hampshire by double-digits, then crushes Clinton in South Carolina, at which point the race will be over.” During the New Hampshire debate on January 5th, the American Prospect website even spotted the precise moment at which Obama clinched the nomination. “Get your kids out and put them in front of the TV,” said the item. “The Clinton Era officially ended at 9:34 p.m. EST when Edwards paired with Obama to bury Hillary as a non-agent of change.” (This reminded me of one of my favorite episodes of The Simpsons, in which Bart replays for Lisa a videotape showing the precise moment that Ralph Wiggum’s heart breaks).

In retrospect, that may have been a key moment marking Clinton’s revival, given the sympathy it seems to have generated for her. Indeed, I’d bet that Edwards’s idiotic and mean-spirited attack on Clinton when she famously “teared up” did as much as anything to undercut Obama’s momentum.

So, having stated that it’s impossible and unwise to make predictions, where do things go from here?

The Democratic race is obviously impossible to call, other than to make the obvious observation that Edwards had little chance before Iowa, less afterwards, and none now. Otherwise, it’s hard to see how anything becomes clear before February 5th.

Hillary could have sewed up the race if she’d won Iowa and New Hampshire, and Obama might have done the same but it’s hard to see how the individual or combined results from Michigan, Nevada, and South Carolina would be decisive.

On the GOP side, I said in my post last Friday that if McCain won New Hampshire he’d had a slight advantage over Huckabee, and that seems to now be the case. The other three GOP contenders are all but finished. Thompson’s campaign isn’t going anywhere. Giuliani is still waiting for Florida to roll around–but that’s weeks away, and meanwhile a poll released yesterday showed he’d fallen to fourth place there. Romney can keep spending money but even if he were to win Michigan (difficult given his two crushing defeats of the past week) it’s hard to see him getting much of a bounce.

I know that’s not terribly precise–but if New Hampshire taught us anything, it’s that handicapping presidential candidates so soon is a dangerous business.

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