Wednesday, January 9, 2008

McCain, Clinton shake things up in N. H.

Posted by Scott Cavanagh
Just days after disappointing third-place finishes in the Iowa Caucuses, Senators John McCain and Hillary Clinton scored impressive and surprising victories in yesterday's New Hampshire Primaries--further clouding the already unpredictable races for their respective parties' 2008 presidential nominations.

Clinton's victory came less than 24-hours after most statewide opinion polls had her trailing Iowa winner Barack Obama by as many as 13 percentage points. The former First Lady's slim two point (39-37) victory over her rival did not reestablish her position as the frontrunner, but it did (at least temporarily) keep the press corps and big contributors from jumping aboard the Obama Express.

Clinton's win also put some breathing room between herself and fellow rival John Edwards, who was unable to repeat his strong second place showing in Iowa. After capturing 30 percent of the vote in Iowa, the former North Carolina Senator and 2004 vice-presidential nominee got just 17 percent of the New Hampshire tally and will need to win the January 26 South Carolina Primary in order to have any chance of moving on against his two well-funded opponents.

While McCain's New Hampshire triumph may be less of a surprise (he beat George W. Bush there in 2000), his margin of victory is not. The former POW got just 13 percent of the vote last week in Iowa, tying former Tennessee Senator Fred Thompson for third place--24 points behind winner Mike Huckabee and 12 points behind second place finisher Mitt Romney. McCain and Huckabee virtually flip-flopped positions this week, with McCain taking in an astounding 37 percent of the vote to just 11 for the former Arkansas Governor and Baptist minister. Romney remained in second place, despite spending more than Huckabee and McCain combined.

Tapping into New Hampshire's large independent voter base, McCain utilized the state's policy of allowing Independents, Democrats and Republicans to vote in either primary. According to yesterday's exit polls, McCain more than doubled the independent vote of both of his chief rivals.

While that news may be good for yesterday's results and great for general election prospects, it does not necessarily translate into a path to the GOP nomination. The majority of upcoming primaries involve only registered Republicans--no Independents (and certainly no Democrats). That's great news for Romney, who was neck-in-neck with McCain amongst New Hampshire Republican voters--and even better news for Huckabee, who will look to right his ship with a big turnout from South Carolina's large evangelical community.
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