By Dan Kennedy • The press, politics, technology, culture and other passions

Random thoughts on N.H.

So what do you care what I think? Like everyone else, I believed the polls and figured Barack Obama was going to win New Hampshire by 10 points — and then run away with the Democratic nomination. In retrospect, Hillary Clinton’s victory makes sense. (It always does in retrospect, doesn’t it?) Why? A few thoughts.

1. The gender card. No, I’m not going to say what you think I’m going to say. The gender card was not played so much by Clinton as by her enemies, especially among the media commentariat. I was struck by something Robin Young said on WBUR (90.9 FM) this morning. During the last few days of the campaign, she said, it seemed as though the media were really piling on, gleefully predicting Clinton’s demise and all but calling her a “bitch.” (Young didn’t actually use the word.)

The result may have been that women in New Hampshire were offended enough to cast their votes for Clinton, whereas in Iowa they largely supported Obama. It wasn’t a huge leap for them to do so, given that the polls showed they had supported Clinton for months, and had only briefly considered switching to Obama at the end. It didn’t help that some of the more idiotic commentators all but accused her of faking tears on Monday.

2. A real primary. Following Clinton’s defeat in Iowa, her supporters tried to claim that the boutique nature of the Iowa caucuses had worked against their candidate. The caucuses are custom-made for the sort of affluent, well-educated liberal activists who’ve comprised Obama’s base from day one. The idea was that middle- and lower-income working people are less likely to blow an evening at their local caucus. For one thing, they might be working.

Everyone snickered, of course. But it may be that the Clintonistas were right.

3. Depth of support. One aspect to the race that the media completely missed was the longstanding affection New Hampshire Democrats have for the Clintons. When you see polls showing Clinton losing by a double-digit margin, it’s hard to remember that. In the end, though, the idea that voters would abandon her solely on the basis of Obama’s Iowa victory was ludicrous, even if it didn’t seem that way until the results started coming in.

4. The Bradley effect. Maybe. Probably not, though I raised it as an issue last night. But I do hope some enterprising soul spends some time examining the entrails of all the exit polling from New Hampshire.

Howard Kurtz expertly assesses the media lowlights:

This was delicious. The coverage had been so out of control there was speculation about when Hillary might have to drop out. Polls giving Obama an 8- or 10-point lead were accepted as fact. The news surrounding the former first lady had been uniformly negative for days. She’s done everything wrong, Obama has done everything right. She got too emotional in the diner. People just didn’t like her. She campaigned in boring prose and Obama in soaring poetry (to use her analogy). Bill was hurting her. A campaign shakeup was on the way. An era was ending. Some pundits were predicting a 20-point Obama margin.

And then the voters actually went to the polls.

The result: Dewey Defeats Truman.

Will the media ever learn? Will they ever just cover this stuff instead of framing everything within the context of what they think (and hope) is going to happen next? I’m not talking about columnists, commentators or — perish the thought! — bloggers. I’m talking about straight-news reporters who spent five days swooning over Obama as the New New Thing, only to learn that they had missed the story once again.

So, do you want another prediction? I think Clinton has regained most, if not all, of her momentum as the inevitable nominee. If Obama wins the South Carolina primary on Jan. 19 — which he certainly could, given that half the state’s Democratic electorate is African-American — then he could be right back in it. But who really knows?

As Jay Fitzgerald says, channeling Bill Parcells, “That’s why we play the games.”

Photo — obviously not from last night — (cc) by Llima. Some rights reserved.

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  1. jvwalt

    In a way, I can understand the media’s rush to judgment after Iowa. After all, they’d been covering this endless campaign for month after month, and then they actually had a result they could analyze. Imagine what our sports pages would be like if, instead of a short spring training followed by 162 games, the Red Sox had a 6-month warmup and played their first game on Labor Day. The result of that game would be absolutely analyzed to death. That said, much of the media did a real disservice over the last several days. And I suspect that the pre-coverage had something to do with the networks’ reluctance to declare a Clinton victory, on a night when the vote totals showed a clear and consistent pattern. The Globe didn’t exactly cover itself in honor with its banner headline this morning. (At least, the one that appeared in my edition; I live in Vermont.) “McCain Trounces Romney, Clinton Edges Obama in N.H.” So a five-point victory is a “trouncing,” while a three-point win is an “edging?” Not in my dictionary. The Globe is either giving too much credit to McCain, or not enough to Clinton.

  2. Rick in Duxbury

    JV,IMHO, you underestimate the Globe’s enmity towards Romney, (whose world-view they despise) and ambivalence toward the progressives. “Which compelling narrative would I rather take part in, Obama or Clinton?” Dan absolutely nailed it (again) when he spoke of journalists, asking: “will they ever just cover this stuff?” Just because you have a fancy-shmancy journo degree doesn’t mean I want your agenda coloring my STRAIGHT NEWS.

  3. mike_b1

    Romney has no world view. Romney, if anything, is concerned only with the quick return. That’s the single truism of his career — business or political.If the press really covered him, they’d look at his business dealings, the companies he bought on the cheap, ripped apart for the cash, and the workers who were left in the cold. Then America would really get a sense of who he is.

  4. Steve

    If the press really covered him, they’d look at his business dealings, the companies he bought on the cheap, ripped apart for the cash, and the workers who were left in the cold.Mike, my memory is hazy but didn’t they do this in 1994 (when he challenged Kennedy for the US Senate)? I’m going to have to dig through the Globe archives (available for free on-line for Minuteman Library and Metrowest Massachusetts Library members).

  5. Anonymous

    Dan,YOu said, “If Obama wins SC…he could be right back in it.” How is he out of it? They’re tied with 1 win each, and more importantly, in delegates (or very close) and that is what wins nominations. I would argue that framing the contest the way you did is doing the same kind of thing that media has done, and it’s just not accurate!

  6. Lissa Harris

    We shall indeed see about South Carolina–but I wouldn’t underestimate Clinton’s support among black Americans. Expecting Obama to get the bulk of the black vote just because of his skin color is as simplistic as expecting women to vote for Mrs. Bill (though that venerable one-trick pony, Gloria Steinem. clearly thinks we ought to–catch that NYT editorial? Blargh.)I was listening to Choice 102.9 the other night (pirate radio from Mattapan), and the DJ was taking callers on the upcoming Iowa primary. Lots of skepticism about Obama, lots of talk about his supporters being mostly upper- and middle-class white folks. The battle for black America between these two is just getting interesting.Oh, and on Choice FM: for a bunch of pirates they’ve got a pretty souped-up transmitter. I was getting signal all the way to Cambridge. Kinda ballsy considering they just got smacked for $10K by the FCC.

  7. Anonymous

    Yes, Peter Porcupine loves to talk about her comMITTment, but the real question is what comMITTee developed his opinions for him. He’s the poster child for cynical pandering.

  8. Dan Kennedy

    Anon 5:59: How can you tell when a candidate is losing? When his supporters start talking about delegate counts. For instance, today, while Jay Severin kept telling his listeners that Romney is winning because he has the most delegates, Romney himself was pulling all his TV advertising in Florida and South Carolina.The momentum is clearly back with Clinton. I have no idea if she can keep it. What I object to is commentary-driven coverage by news orgs that ought to be focusing on straight coverage, and the out-and-out hatred of Clinton that came springing forth from segments of the media as soon as it appeared she was on the ropes.

  9. Anonymous

    Hillary has been picked on, no question about it. However: If Hil gets the nom, Bloomberg gets in and queers NY,NJ,PA,OH (“The Vote Belt”) and all but gives Florida to the GOP. However if Obama wins the nom Bloomberg stays out (becomes and advisor!) and gets to go one on one with a 70 something on the possibilities of change. Think rationally: Hillary is a disaster.

  10. acf

    Will the media ever learn? No, they never will. They’re too interested in the competitive aspect of the media game, ‘being first’, ‘not missing the boat’, and making prima facie, not well thought out statements designed to showcase their astute view of the situation. I’m probably guilty of that last item, here.About delegate counts, Mitt has been falling over himself insisting he will win Michigan, has the lead in delegates, and now has 2 silvers (an attempts to remind voters of his Olympic success?). Of course, proportional winning of delegates not withstanding, coming in second is LOSING, not winning a silver.

  11. amusedbutinformedobserver

    I missed Dan Rather. On a day when the conventional wisdom was thrown to the wolves and the inherent inadequacy of judging an entire presidential race on what Ma and Pa Kettle out in the middle of nowhere think, Rather would have been in his element.

  12. Anonymous

    Dan,I agree with you about the press wholeheartedly. However, I think it’s a mistake to suggest Hillary’s got the momentum based on a 2 pt. win in NH. And even if she does have the momentum, it’s a stretch to suggest Obama’s “out of it.” All polls of upcoming states suggest an extremely close race bewteen the two of them. Hardly the stuff that implies Obama’s not in this race.

  13. mike_b1

    Steve, Romney’s business career didn’t end in 1994. He absolutely annihilated many companies after that.

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