New Hampshire Tea Leaves

Posted: Jan 10, 2008 11:18 AM
New Hampshire Tea Leaves

In the aftermath of hearing from the pleasantly contrarian voters of New Hampshire, pundits and prognosticators are picking up the political pieces - and analyzing them.  Things didn’t turn out quite the way they were “supposed” to.  So, I venture a few quite amateurish observations.

First, the experts who tracked the trends over the long weekend from the events in Iowa last week to Tuesday in New England took a page from the playbook of those wonderful weather forecasters who adorn local and national newscasts.  In spite of state of the art methodology and the various versions of political Doppler available, experts still got it wrong because at the end of the day what goes on in the privacy of the voting booth, not to mention the human heart, tends to remain secret until the moment when it must be counted – exit polls and surveys of likely voters notwithstanding. 

It reminds me of that old George Carlin line when he used to be the “hippy-dippy” weatherman: “the satellite picture for today didn’t come out – SOMEBODY MOVED.” Well, the numbers were quite blurry the other night – and is it just me, or did it seem like it took a long time for the reporters on the tube to acknowledge that something was, well, amiss? 

Another thought I have about Tuesday is that the word “comeback” should be retired - at least for awhile – and then maybe it can come back.  Classic comebacks happen during the 4th quarter or 9th inning, not while the fans are still finding their seats.

And while we’re at it maybe the next time someone wins only 10 or 12 percent of the total vote, it should be acknowledged as not so good. Claiming any victory of sorts for such puny numbers strikes me as analogous to an old boxer saying something like: “Yep, I had Joe Louis really scared in that 2nd round – he thought he’d killed me.”

Of course the New Hampshire primary did shake things up – quite a bit. I’m sure the citizens of the Granite State are pretty happy with themselves. They certainly proved to be relevant.  The political landscape doesn’t look today quite like it did a couple of days ago.

One thing is that Romney is on the ropes. He’s not down. He’s not out. But, he’s stuck in a corner and he needs to stick and move in Michigan.  All fighters find themselves at times on the ropes – the great ones get off them and win.  If Mitt loses to McCain in Michigan his millions and Mormonism will become a footnote in the ultimate political story of 2008 - the way his father’s did 40 years ago. 

Michigan is crucial to Mr. Romney. He was born there, his dad was Governor of the state, and he even announced his presidential candidacy at The Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn eleven months ago.  Losing to John McCain there would be as bad as losing Massachusetts – or Utah.

On the Democratic side Barak Obama learned a lesson about what happens when machine meets movement.  His crowds have been enthusiastic – and he does have more charisma than all other candidates combined.  But, so did Jesse Jackson in 1984 and 1988 – in the latter year winning 11 contests (primaries and caucuses) while capturing nearly 7 million votes.

It remains to be seen if Obama will turn out to be more like John F. Kennedy, the common media comparison, than Mr. Jackson, at least in an electoral sense.

Finally, Hillary Clinton proved that, though risky, tears can work. They didn’t help Edmund Muskie in 1972 or Pat Schroeder in 1988.  But, Mrs. Clinton seemed to touch the hearts of many when she had her teary-eyed moment the other day. It’s not something she should do every day – or maybe ever again - but I imagine it was a key factor in her win.

Please pass the Kleenex.

Though the Hillary story was interesting, John McCain was the big winner on Tuesday. And, he was gracious and visionary in his victory speech. I do think, though, that as he now emerges as formidable, his age (he’ll be 72 in August) will become the elephant in the room that will stimulate some talking head and opposition chatter.

Stay tuned. 

Now, if I were Pat Robertson I might claim that God gave me these insights by direct revelation.

But, I’m not – and HE didn’t.