New Hampshire: In an epic electoral upset to rank with any in US history, Hillary Clinton turned up at her own political wake, after an act of escapology trumping all her family’s famous comebacks.
Her earthshaking win in Tuesday’s New Hampshire Democratic primary defied pundits, pollsters, and even stunned her own fiercely loyal staff, after voting opinion surveys forecast a slump to a double-digit defeat.
The people of New Hampshire, who treat their votes like a precious gift, sensationally revived a 2008 White House campaign teetering on life support only hours before.
In the process, they slowed the electrifying rise of Clinton’s top Democratic rival Barack Obama, who won the leadoff Iowa caucuses last week, and set up a long, intense struggle for the Democratic nomination.
And perhaps, most significantly, the shocker result revived the mystique of the Clintons, as a back-from-the-brink political duo, just at the moment when their supernatural survival skills seemed set to desert them.
“It’s quite a swing,” said Clinton’s traveling press spokesman Jay Carson. “From the only questions you are answering in the morning, are ‘how long are you going to stay in the race, and who are you going to fire?´ to beating an ‘unstoppable movement´ in the same day,” he said.
Even Clinton uber-loyalist, campaign chairman Terry McAuliffe, who spent a through-the-night flight last week trying to spin the campaign back to life after Iowa, seemed dazed.
“I said all day that you can never count out Hillary Clinton,” he told AFP. Once polls closed and there was no immediate projection of an Obama landslide, Clinton aides dared to dream, then endured two hours of nervous nailbiting before her triumph became clear.
When the victory was finally called, aides at campaign headquarters erupted in disbelieving screams of jubilation; some shed tears and just clung to one another for support.
Clinton’s victory was, for supporters, a delicious moment of political symmetry: it was in New Hampshire in 1992 that voters saved Bill Clinton’s political skin, earning him the nickname the “Comeback Kid.”
That result was the start of a long line of gravity-defying Clinton political comebacks, including a damaging 1994 rejection by voters in congressional polls and impeachment.
The former president did not make a speech Tuesday, letting his wife move out of his giant shadow, but glided serenely along a rope line, his snowy white head bobbing above the crowd, face creased in a contented glow.
Campaign insiders told a tale of the former first lady as a oasis of calm in the political storm which whirled around her, adding that first signs of a renaissance came in as voters streamed into the polls on Tuesday.
While most observers took a huge turnout to mean a cruise to victory for Obama, the charismatic senator who has acted as a pied piper for young and independent voters, Clinton staff said they noticed more of their partisans at the polls than expected.
“‘She kept saying this yesterday, ´I want to put this election to the voters,’” Carson said. Clinton, just a day after choking back tears as her campaign apparently foundered and the media machine wrote her obituary, savored her unexpected triumph.
“Over the last week, I listened to you and, in the process, I found my own voice,” she said, after beating Obama by a 39-37% margin. One Clinton volunteer, Christine Bartlett, from Nashua, New Hampshire, could barely express her joy, as she savored the Clinton victory celebration, with the hit “Ain’t no Mountain High Enough” pounding in the background.
“I knew in my heart she would win, but this is something else,” she said. And the scale of the latest electoral earthquake, in the Clinton pantheon of great escapes? “It’s number one,” Carson said.