Just when you think the unexpected can't happen any more in politics (unless it's being disappointed beyond your imagination yet again), along comes a big surprise.
Prefacing this with the fact that I like both Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama a lot for different reasons (and up until Tuesday I liked John Edwards pretty well too, but now he's fallen rather far out of favor with me), and that I don't want to express too many specific preferences in a public blog, I can admit that I was hoping for a close race in New Hampshire because I think we the voters benefit from a longer primary. Of course, I had no expectation that would happen given the poll numbers. Apparently no one did.
So how on earth did Hillary pull back into the victory lane? Well, I don't know anything, so I'll just throw out the facts I've heard which may paint a possible explanation. Still have to start digging into the pundits' explanations this morning, so maybe none of this is unique thinking.
First, according to the exit polls 15% of Dem primary voters yesterday had not made up their minds until the day of the election.
Second, apparently Hillary's 48 hours of events leading up to the primary found her staying late at each stop to answer every substantive question that every person wanted to pose to her. That's a lot of attention to individual concerns and policy details that likely didn't go unnoticed or un-talked about.
Third, Hillary showed some genuine emotion (sure, skeptics abound) the day before the primary that seemed to show she was in this because she truly believed she could make America better. I was rather moved when I saw it. Edwards' response to it was a bit offensive, while Obama could have cut off its impact by co-opting the passion behind it, but instead he just chose no comment.
Fourth, the exit polls showed a super-majority of Dem primary voters said they voted on the candidates' positions on the issues, not the need for change. Some might say the Clinton team has put more substantive policy proposals out there than Obama. Whether this is true or not, it's still probably the general perception.
Fifth, the educated and the rich broke for Obama, but the less educated and the less wealthy broke for Clinton... coupled with the fact that most folks aren't rich and the economy is the number one issue among Dem primary voters.
Sixth, the polls showed Obama so far ahead that maybe some Obama-favoring independents chose to vote in the Republican primary for McCain out of distaste for Romney. I think the numbers show that the Dem primary voter turnout was up from 2004 quite a bit, but not as far up as Iowa was.
If you add up all of those factors, you can see how in each category a few more voters might have said, "I want Hillary to keep going in this campaign," even if they're not yet sure whether she or Obama or anyone else in particular should be the nominee.
I'm excited that there's a race going on between strong Dem candidates. And I can't help but think that New Hampshire women reading this wouldn't have been given pause. It's not that Obama is undeserving of the enthusiasm he's generating, or that he should be somehow punished for it. To the contrary. Instead, it's just acknowledging the reality that a woman clone of Obama would not receive that same enthusiasm. Our society isn't at that point yet.
But on the bright side, I couldn't be more excited that the frontrunners in the Democratic candidates represent more diversity than any set of primary candidates in the history of our country.
For the first time in a long time, I'm getting excited about politics again. Nice.