A Long, Unpredictable Race

We could be in for a long, perhaps very long, presidential campaign--in both parties. Sen. Hillary Clinton's stunning comeback victory in New Hampshire's Democratic primary, coupled with Sen. John McCain's runaway triumph on the Republican side, means the race in both parties could go on into the spring, if not beyond.

Among Democrats, there is every reason to expect a tough struggle between Clinton and Sen. Barack Obama. Hillary showed what a resilient person she truly is. She rose to the occasion, and then some. With the national spotlight on her in victory in Manchester, she got off a couple of great lines. "I listened to you," she told the voters of New Hampshire, "and I found my own voice." Then she said, "Let's give America a comeback like the one New Hampshire just gave me." Perfect.

The money crowd that was about to abandon her will be back. She can now go forward to plan a national, down-to-the-wire effort. She will make some changes in her campaign structure, but nothing major. She has adjusted the tone of her approach. She found a way to be more personal, and intimate, and focused on the needs of people.

Her allies will ask questions with increasing urgency about Obama, whose full biography really isn't known. He probably talked too much in recent days about "making history." That is an inspiring point, but an abstract one for many voters, evidently.

The media that in many cases dismissed her will have to consider how to proceed, as will the Clintons, for that matter. The media polls, by the way, were wrong, way wrong.

As Obama said in his gracious concession speech, it would have been a major surprise only a month or two ago for him to have come as very close as he did in New Hampshire, but he lost the expectations game, disastrously. But he is not going away, not by a long shot. He is the best-funded insurgent in modern political history, with a half a million contributors--the lion's share of them via the internet, and their average donation is only a few hundred dollars each. If they believe in Obama--and most of them do--they will tap their credit cards for more cash for their candidate.

Expect tough races in the upcoming events (I don't count Michigan, where the actual delegate count is unclear because both parties punished the state for having its primary too early): Nevada and South Carolina, prominent among them. Whom will the crucial Culinary Workers union support in Nevada? Will Rep. Jim Clyburn, the influential African-American congressman in South Carolina, endorse anyone? I'm not sure either key endorsement will materialize.

Will Obama rise to the occasion now himself? We are about to find out.

So who is really the Republican frontrunner? I don't know that there is one.

On the Republican side, it's anybody's guess who will win the Nevada primary. The latest polls show Rudy Giuliani, Mitt Romney and Mike Huckabee--and not McCain--locked in a three-way race. You have to assume that Huckabee will win South Carolina, but former Tennessee Sen. Fred Thompson already is attacking Huckabee (perhaps on McCain's ultimate behalf). In Florida, Giuliani still leads in the early tracking polls.

And none of that takes Tsunami Tuesday into consideration. February 5, 2008, with more than twenty states voting, is shaping up as one the most amazing, and unpredictable, days in American political history. Except for the one we just witnessed.