Wednesday, January 09, 2008

'Obamania' in eclipse as Hillary wins New Hampshire

Business Times - 10 Jan 2008


IN THE aftermath of last week's Democratic and Republican caucuses in Iowa, it seemed as though the political pundits in Washington were joining what was described as 'Obamania', an ecstasy-like outburst of enthusiasm over the impressive victory of the young and charismatic African-American Senator Barack Obama over Senator Hillary Clinton who once upon a time was considered to be the 'inevitable' presidential candidate of her party.

Defying all the political insiders and pollsters, Mr Obama ended-up transforming expectations about who was going to win the nomination, gaining a huge momentum, or a Big Mo as the political professionals call it, and leading the same people who dismissed his significance before Iowa to predict after Iowa that Hillary was 'finished', especially if - as most opinion polls indicated - the Senator from New York would lose the primaries in New Hampshire.

Indeed, television news shows and magazine covers were projecting the image of Mr Obama and speculating that the American voters could elect the first black president in November 2008.

That could still happen. But by winning a narrow victory in the first Democratic primary this week, Hillary Clinton emerged as the second Comeback Kid in the Clinton family. She succeeded in halting Obama's electoral 'surge', ensuring the race for the presidential nomination of the Democratic party would remain open and its outcome would probably not be determined before the primaries in Michigan, South Carolina and Florida this month and the so-called Super Tuesday on Feb 5 when 15 primaries and eight caucuses will take place, including in New York and California.

Opinion polls suggest that Mrs Clinton achieved her victory in New Hampshire by riding on a tidal wave of support from women voters, especially older ones.

African-American voters could also play a major role in the coming primaries in South Carolina, Florida and other southern states as well as in Illinois, New York and New Jersey. While many black voters have been delighted over Mr Obama's success in Iowa, both Hillary and Bill Clinton continue to enjoy enormous popularity among African-Americans, the majority of whom could end-up supporting Mrs Clinton, and not Mr Obama.

While Mrs Clinton's victory in New Hampshire has shocked the pundits, the impressive victory of Senator John McCain on the Republican side came as less of a surprise. Most pollsters had predicted that Mr McCain, and not former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee who pulled out a stunning Obama-like win in the Republican Iowa caucuses, would emerge victorious in New Hampshire, a state that he had also won in 2000 when he ran in the Republican primaries against George W Bush.

But not unlike Mrs Clinton, Mr McCain was also designated as a Comeback Kid. After all, for several months the pollsters and the media had concluded that Mr McCain was politically dead, in particular because his more liberal position on immigration clashed with that of the majority of Republican voters.

But Mr McCain's image as a maverick lawmaker and his personal story as a war prisoner during the Vietnam War seemed to have impressed the independent voters of New Hampshire who provided him with a strong lead over former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney who came in second place, and Mr Huckabee, who came in third.

It's important to recall that notwithstanding his 2000 win in New Hampshire, Mr McCain eventually lost the Republican nomination. And that could happen again. Mr Huckabee's victory in Iowa reflected the power of the social conservatives and religious Republican voters who don't exert major influence in New Hampshire but who could play a critical role in the large southern states where Mr Huckabee could do his own version of a political comeback.

Similarly, Mr Romney who is a billionaire with a huge war chest has a good chance of beating Mr McCain in some of the Midwestern and New England states, while former New York mayor Rudolph Giuliani is hoping to win in the races in New York, California and other Northeast and Western states where Republican voters tend to be less conservative and religious.

In short, neither Mrs Clinton nor Mr McCain - nor for that matter Mr Obama or Mr Huckabee - have a hold over their respective party's nomination after the first races in Iowa and New Hampshire. What the pollsters and the pundits need to do meantime is to refrain from 'choosing' winners and losers and wait for the final verdict by the only players that count in this game: the American Voters.

Copyright © 2007 Singapore Press Holdings Ltd. All rights reserved.

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