So how did she do it? How did Hillary Clinton defy Barack Obama’s double-digit lead in the New Hampshire polls and pull out a victory yesterday? Hindsight being 20/20, we can now see that she had a few things going for her.
Iowa Backlash. New Hampshire isn’t particularly apt to follow Iowa’s lead. The Iowa caucuses have preceded the New Hampshire primaries since 1972 on the Democratic side and since 1976 on the Republican side, and the former has never proven particularly predictive of the latter. Not counting contests when incumbent presidents were on the ballot, Democratic candidates have won both Iowa and New Hampshire in four out of eight races, counting this year. (The double-winners were Ed Muskie in 1972, Jimmy Carter in 1976, Al Gore in 2000, and John Kerry in 2004; only Carter went on to win the presidency.)
On the Republican side, a non-incumbent has never won Iowa and gone on to win New Hampshire. Many in the Granite State approach the idea that they should follow Iowa’s lead with the contempt best summed up by John Sununu’s declaration that “in Iowa they pick corn; in New Hampshire we pick presidents.” Obama’s coronation in the media — most notably on the cover of Newsweek — almost certainly stoked a contrarian instinct in some New Hampshire voters.
The Bradley Effect. Named for Tom Bradley, the Los Angeles mayor who narrowly lost the 1982 race for California governor despite a lead in the polls, this is the tendency of black candidates to under-perform their poll numbers. Whether because of closet racism or a more innocent reluctance to appear politically incorrect, a statistically significant number of voters often tell pollsters they’ll vote for a black candidate, but turn around and vote for a white opponent in the privacy of the ballot box.
The effect seems to have diminished in recent election cycles, but may have played a role in New Hampshire. (Likewise, it may be that the open format of the Iowa Democratic caucuses led to a “Reverse Bradley Effect.”)
The Reverse-Muskie Effect. Sen. Ed Muskie, the early frontrunner in the 1972 contest for the Democratic nomination, was supposed to be a steady, competent candidate. It was reported that, responding angrily to attacks on his wife on the campaign trail in New Hampshire, he had cried. His Rock-of-Gibraltar image was broken; those press reports helped drive Muskie’s campaign off the rails. But the age of Oprah isn’t 1972, and Hillary Clinton isn’t Ed Muskie. Being perceived to be made of stone has been one of Sen. Clinton’s major liabilities.
In her victory speech, Hillary offered this thank-you note to New Hampshire: “Over the past week I listened to you, and in the process I found my own voice.” Footage of her tearing up on the campaign trail was replayed almost continuously on local and national news programs. Clinton campaign chairman Terry McAuliffe, among others, credits the humanizing effect of Hillary’s misty-eyed performance with rallying late-deciding voters.
According to exit polls, 17% of voters in the Democratic race decided who to vote for on the day of election; Hillary won a 39% plurality of them.
The Clinton Machine. The Obama campaign built a Get Out The Vote (GOTV) operation in Iowa that matched Hillary’s ground organization in Iowa. The importance of the ground game is magnified in caucuses (because relatively few voters are involved), and by raising turnout Obama (and, to some extent, Edwards) were able to best Clinton.
But GOTV matters in New Hampshire, too, and Team Obama apparently couldn’t match Team Clinton on this front. Hillary had a structural advantage here, and not just the support of her husband’s old allies: Because her New Hampshire base was centered in Manchester, her team was probably able to focus their GOTV effort on a more concentrated geographic area than Obama’s.
The Democratic race isn’t over, any more than the amazingly fluid Republican race. In the coming weeks we’ll see where else the Clinton Machine can perform this smoothly. The only thing we can be sure of: It will continue to be easier to spot the most important variables the day after each primary election than it was the day before.