MANCHESTER, NH – New Hampshire has rewritten a script that called for settling the Democratic and Republican presidential nomination contests by February 5 at the latest.
The state that on the eve of its first-in-the-nation primary was supposed to settle some things has stirred everything up. Instead of sending Illinois Senator Barack Obama on his way to the Democratic nomination or giving former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney a New England-neighbor boost on the way to the Republican nod, New Hampshire has declared the race for the presidency to be wide open.
Obama gave his planned “new American majority” speech on primary night. But he delivered it not as a victory speech; rather, it came in the context of a concession to Clinton, who prevailed by a narrow but for her absolutely redeeming 39-36 margin.
The Clinton win was the stunner of the night, upsetting pollster and pundit predictions — and proving that getting a little choaked up, as the New York senator did on the eve of the primary, can do more than a thousand soft-focus TV ads to make voters rethink their impressions of her. The McCain win was anticipated by the pre-primary polls that failed so miserably when it came to predicting the Democratic race, but it has the same effect as Clinton’s victory.
“There is not going to be any premature coronation,” declared New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson, a Democratic contender who may not have won the contest but delivered the truest line of a roller-coaster night: “This race is going on and on and on.”
To February 5 and perhaps beyond that day.
Of course, the candidates of both parties will follow a long campaign trail between now and then. They will compete in Nevada’s January 19 caucuses, South Carolina’s January 19 Republican and January 26 Democratic primaries, and probably in Florida’s January 29 primaries.
Then they will go at it on February 5 in a score of states – including Clinton’s New York, Obama’s Illinois, Richardson’s New Mexico, McCain’s Arizona, Romney’s Massachusetts, Mike Huckabee’s Arkansas and Fred Thompson’s Tennessee — that will engage in the “tsunami Tuesday” voting that was supposed to settle both contests. But if this race that has not gone according to plan keeps producing unexpected and conflicting results, it is not unreasonable to imagine mixed February 5 results that could send the competition into states that were never supposed to matter: states like Wisconsin (February 19), Ohio and Vermont (March 4), Pennsylvania (April 22) and Oregon (May 20).