THE NOTE: 'Real Elections'


The opening rounds behind them in a five-day flash, the presidential contenders leave New Hampshire with Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton and Sen. John McCain firmly back in contention -- and with the candidates weary from a wild ride that leaves the field back where it started more than a year ago.

In trading two upstarts for two stalwarts, Granite Staters sent a much different message than their Hawkeye State brethren. They also stripped from the race any notion of anointed frontrunners, leaving the contest to a crush of other states -- through Feb. 5 and very possibly well beyond -- to sort out.

The campaign now loses its tight focus, replaced by a dizzying series of state-by-state contests that will pit different combinations of the remaining candidates. With the two states that have consumed maybe 90 percent of the candidates' attention and energy now done, any campaign that claims to be fully prepared for what's to come isn't spinning -- it's lying.


What's clear is that the primary campaign is going to last for a while: Two Democratic contests plus three Republican contests (don't forget Wyoming) have yielded five different winners. The frontloaded calendar may yet yield an early set of nominees, but like so much else in this campaign that's seen everything, don't count on it.

Clinton's stunning victory (her campaign let out word of shake-ups even before polls closed on Tuesday, seeking to change a storyline aides were certain would be negative) robs Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., of what was certainly his best chance to lock down the nomination swiftly and cleanly.

"Over the last week, I have listened to you, and in the process I found my own voice," Clinton, D-N.Y., said in declaring victory, this time alone at the podium and with young faces behind her. And this was the money line, looking back but also forward: "Together let's give America the kind of comeback that New Hampshire has just given me," she said, as supporters chanted "Comeback Kid!"

Clinton said Wednesday on ABC's "Good Morning America" that her now-famous emotional display on Monday "could well have been" what made the difference for her, particularly among the female voters who returned to her camp on Tuesday

"Certainly people have mentioned it to me," Clinton told Robin Roberts. But mostly, she said, it was the change in tone (toward the sharper) that started with ABC's debates on Saturday: "I really felt like, from the debate on Saturday night forward, we were finally having a real election," Clinton said (and you can guess there's more real distinctions to be drawn). "It was a really representative election, and it felt very good."

The angst and uncertainty that resided in Camp Clinton moved over to Obamaland in the space of a few hours. "This is going to be a close contest. We've got a lot of work to do," Obama told Robin Roberts on "GMA." "Any of us who sit back and think that we know how voters are going to respond at this point are probably misleading themselves."

And Obama is none too happy with a certain former president: "President Clinton is passionate about his wife and wants to see her win. And, during the course of this week, said some things that distorted my record."

This isn't where Clinton or Obama thought they'd find themselves -- and it isn't the script McCain, R-Ariz., wrote for himself all those months ago, either. After all, for all the heady confidence he draws from victory, the path through New Hampshire left him falling to George W. Bush eight years ago.

"I am past the age when I can claim the noun 'kid,' no matter what adjective precedes it," McCain told supporters Tuesday night. "But tonight, we sure showed them what a comeback looks like."

"I came back to tell them the truth," McCain told ABC's Diane Sawyer Wednesday on "Good Morning America." And this on the man he just vanquished: "It's clear that Gov. Romney has changed positions on a lot of issues, but I think he's a very fine person, and works very hard." (Had to work hard for that compliment, didn't you, senator?)

Get ready for some messy hand-to-hand combat. "Candidates will be forced to move limited resources around an electoral map with the goal of simultaneously demonstrating viability to the media and voters, earning credibility with donors and party elites, and accumulating delegates whose count ultimately will determine the parties' nominees," Sasha Issenberg writes in The Boston Globe.

"Each campaign -- weighing the relative assets of cash and candidate time -- will approach those strategic decisions differently, leaving it unlikely that there will be many state contests where all candidates face one another at full power," Issenberg continues.

The Republican field in particular stands in disarray, and a glance at the candidates' schedules tell the stories from here: McCain and former governor Mitt Romney, R-Mass., hit Michigan on Wednesday, with Romney knowing he needs to carry the state he was raised in next week after losing in his backyard on Tuesday.

Former mayor Rudy Giuliani, R-N.Y., headed straight for Florida -- where he's got all of his hopes pinned on a Jan. 29 vote, and on Wednesday appears with Steve "Flat Tax" Forbes to outline his plan for "the Largest Tax Cut in the History of America." (Capitalization courtesy of Maria Comella of the Giuliani campaign.)

Former senator Fred Thompson, R-S.C., stays in South Carolina (a state he fled to a day early). Former governor Mike Huckabee, R-Ark., and McCain also campaign in South Carolina on Wednesday. And Huckabee makes things a little more interesting in Michigan by launching his first TV ads there.

Dare we dream (or is this a nightmare)? "I don't see how we don't come down to a convention that is going to decide this thing," former senator Rick Santorum, R-Pa., tells The New York Times' Michael Luo.

Among the Democrats, former senator John Edwards, D-N.C., is in South Carolina (maybe one last shot for him there, though it's a long one) while Obama hits New York and New Jersey (Feb. 5 states). Clinton does perhaps the smartest thing: On Wednesday, she rests, at home.

The next Democratic fights will be waged in Nevada and South Carolina -- and Obama and Clinton appear reasonably well-matched. (How long ago it seems that Clinton was talking about skipping one or both, the better to marshal resources for a scattershot, regionally focused attack that would mark a post-New Hampshire recovery.)

Obama on Wednesday is set to pick up the support of a major national labor organization, Unite Here, along with its 60,000-strong culinary-workers local in Nevada, Kris Maher writes in The Wall Street Journal. "The decision would be the first national labor endorsement for Mr. Obama and would give him a leg up in the Jan. 19 caucus in Nevada," Maher writes.

Late Tuesday, Obama locked down SEIU Nevada, but "the chaotic selection process and deep division within the union's ranks will likely diminish the endorsement's weight," Tony Cook writes in the Las Vegas Sun.

South Carolina was the state Clinton was most likely to skip before winning New Hampshire changed everything, and it may still be Obama's best chance to win another round. "Obama's strong performance in two states with overwhelmingly white populations may solidify his standing among blacks in South Carolina," Perry Bacon Jr. writes in The Washington Post.

As we barrel ahead toward Feb. 5, Clinton now doesn't have to worry about donors growing skittish -- and New Hampshire provides her with "a road map that could guide the former first lady to the Democratic presidential nomination," Peter Wallsten writes in the Los Angeles Times. "The margin in the New Hampshire primary was razor-thin. But she clearly beat Barack Obama among core Democratic voters, the very bloc that will grow in influence as the nomination fight continues in the coming weeks."

How she pulled off New Hampshire will be the subject of much analysis and more speculation, but know this: Nobody -- except maybe the former president and his hunch -- truly thought they'd win. The campaign was poised to declare victory even if she lost narrowly, like a certain candidate named Clinton did in 1992.

That wasn't necessary. It came down to organizing and Michael Whouley and aggressive messaging against Obama, but mostly "Clinton herself," Time's Karen Tumulty writes. "In the tumultuous days before the primary, she showed sides of herself both tougher and softer than previously known."

Mainline Democrats and women -- particularly older women -- powered Clinton's victory, per the analysis from ABC's Brian Hartman. "Clinton won by 9 points among women. And women, as usual, made up a disproportionately large share of New Hampshire Democratic voters -- 57 percent this time," he writes. "Among older women, it was no contest. Women over the age of 65 supported Clinton by a huge margin -- 57 percent to Obama's 27 percent."

Maybe she should have welled up a week earlier. "Several New Hampshire women, some of them undecided until Tuesday, said that a galvanizing moment for them had been Mrs. Clinton's unusual display of emotion on Monday as she described the pressures of the race and her goals for the nation -- a moment Mrs. Clinton herself acknowledged as a breakthrough," Patrick Healy and Michael Cooper write in The New York Times. It worked so well that "advisers [are] promising that voters would see more personal touches in the days to come."

"A Clinton loyalist said internal polling found New Hampshire women were overcome with sympathy when Clinton choked up publicly in a diner Monday under the stress of her expected loss," the New York Daily News reports. "Even Obama women were moved by it," the source said.

The Chicago Tribune's Jim Tankersley also credits the "televised tenderness." "From her tears came healing. From her slushy funeral pyre, new life," he writes. Terry McAuliffe thinks that singular moment on the trail on Monday made it happen for her. "People saw the real Hillary Clinton," he said.

The New Republic's Michael Crowley puts his finger on an irony, accentuated by Bill Clinton's last-minute anti-press tirade on Monday: "In the final stretch here, it may have been the media's peculiar obsession with Hillary that rescued her," Crowley writes. Both her emotional moment on Monday and her flash of anger at ABC's Saturday night debates got endless play because she's, well, Hillary. "Both episodes drew huge amounts of attention precisely because the nation is so fascinated by what makes her tick."

Obama was right that a close second could have been viewed as a victory a few weeks ago -- but that was before Iowa, and he of all people should know the vicious expectations game by now.

"Mr. Obama was counting on a New Hampshire victory to serve as a permission slip for Democratic leaders across the country to step forward to support his candidacy," Jeff Zeleny writes in The New York Times. "He was hoping to trade the title of insurgent candidate for the perilous crown of front-runner. But the race is now a draw between the two rivals -- with John Edwards of North Carolina, who came in a distant third, vowing to continue -- and a furious scramble lies ahead."

"The defeat wore on his face and in his less-than-energetic movements on stage, a sharp contrast to his demeanor leading up to the vote," Michael Saul writes for the New York Daily News. "When Obama and his wife, Michelle, first reached the stage, she pulled him by the arm to the podium, where they waved to the crowd. She caressed his cheek before leaving to let him deliver his concession speech."

New rallying cry: "Yes, we can!" (Presidential politics has a strange way of determining whether rallying cries are true or not.)

Edwards and Romney were perhaps the evening's biggest losers. After falling short in Iowa, Edwards' strategy was pinned on Obama dispatching with Clinton quickly. That scenario is beyond far-fetched after her dramatic resurgence in New Hampshire.

Edwards rightly pointed out that 48 states haven't had their say -- but the two that he and the other candidates have focused on have, and he isn't breaking through. But he could make things quite interesting for Clinton and Obama if he makes good on his vow to stay in the race through the convention (and break out those delegate counts): "I do think it's likely that as we go forward that all of us, particularly Senator Obama, will be looked at very carefully by voters," Edwards told the AP's Scott Lindlaw.

Romney is feeling doused after Tuesday night (just don't mess with the hair). "Wins in Iowa and New Hampshire were supposed to light a fire that would help Romney march across the nation," ABC's John Berman, Ursula Fahy, and Matt Stuart report. "One New Hampshire Romney adviser described the problem as 'authenticity.' " (Nothing like some brutal honesty.)

Those silvers are getting dull, Time's Ana Marie Cox and Jay Carney write. "On the surface, at least, the campaign will stick to the messages they turned to after their defeat in Iowa: competence and change, no longer his conservative credentials," they write. Senior strategist Alex Castellanos is channeling his candidate's optimism: "Something big has changed, the race has refocused itself. I think the race starts here."

As for McCain, he's seeking a second act in a remarkable play. He "is back in the thick of the race for the Republican presidential nomination, propelled by a back-to-basics approach focused on winning the New Hampshire primary," Michael Kranish writes in The Boston Globe.

He knows he has won everything and nothing. "The architects of John McCain's 2008 campaign set out last year to avoid exactly where the Arizona Republican found himself last night: an insurgent emerging victoriously from New Hampshire with little money, little national presence and only the hope that momentum would take him to the White House," write The Washington Post's Jonathan Weisman and Paul Kane. "Now even his supporters are wondering whether he can take his adrenaline-fueled campaign national, a transformation he could not make eight years ago."

But he's got the old team ready to fight for him again: Said longtime (now former) strategist John Weaver, "Could you ever get everyone to go on a cruise together? No. Are we all rooting for John? Absolutely."

New Hampshire tells us -- again -- that what we often think we know either isn't right or doesn't matter. As they say, that's why they play the games. "Change? How about: The more things change, the more they stay the same?" John DiStaso writes in the New Hampshire Union Leader. Said Republican analyst Patrick Griffin: "Well-known brands got dusted off and that is where people wound up."

"Suddenly, the fallen front-runners look like winners again," AP's Ron Fournier writes. Tuesday's winners "lost their luster -- Clinton with her crushing loss to Obama in Iowa last week and McCain with the near-collapse of his campaign last summer. And now they're back, almost on top, in the wildest and most unpredictable presidential race of a lifetime."

To channel Donald Rumsfeld for a moment, there are plenty of known unknowns, and maybe even more unknown unknowns, as we try to make sense of what we think we knew. "So has [Clinton] demonstrated her resilience by not just beating the expectations of Sunday and Monday but actually winning the New Hampshire primary outright? Or has she fallen short of the expectations of a few weeks back?" columnist Scot Lehigh writes in The Boston Globe. "Here's a novel thought. Let's take a deep breath -- and let other states have their turn."

Check out the candidates' schedules in The Note "Sneak Peek."

Also in the news:

The Giuliani campaign may want to claim that Hizzoner's fourth place finish in New Hampshire came because he never tried to win -- but the numbers tell a different story. "Statistics compiled by ABC News indicate that he was clearly competing to win in the Granite State as hard -- if not harder -- than many of his rivals," ABC's Jake Tapper and Karen Travers report.

"Statistics compiled by ABC News Political Unit and ABC News' team of off-air reporters indicate that Giuliani held more events in this first-in-the-nation primary state than any other Republican except for former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney. . . . He also spent more on TV ads than anyone except for Romney and Sen. John McCain."

Huckabee has made a hasty retreat on the issue of birthright citizenship. He "contradicted his own top immigration surrogate, announcing he will not support a constitutional amendment to end birthright citizenship for children born in the United States to illegal aliens," the Washington Times' Stephen Dinan reports.

Gov. Bill Richardson, D-N.M., again finished a distant fourth, but he's counting on geography to change something -- and fast. It's a full Nevada push, ABC's Sarah Amos reports. "We head out west and the fight goes on," Richardson said.

Thompson is slashing staff salaries and moving resources into South Carolina in his final push, ABC's Christine Byun reports. "This campaign is going to be a South Carolina campaign," Campaign Manager Bill Lacy said in a statement.

Nothing says serious candidate like serious scrutiny. Shortly before polls closed in New Hampshire, The New Republic's James Kirchick dropped a piece about the newsletters that appeared under Paul's name since at least 1978. "What they reveal are decades worth of obsession with conspiracies, sympathy for the right-wing militia movement, and deeply held bigotry against blacks, Jews, and gays," Kirchick writes in summing them up.

To choose just one topic: "In the early 1990s, a newsletter attacked the 'X-Rated Martin Luther King' as a 'world-class philanderer who beat up his paramours,' 'seduced underage girls and boys,' and 'made a pass at' fellow civil rights leader Ralph Abernathy."

But Paul said through his campaign that he didn't write (or condone) those things in his newsletter, per ABC's Z. Byron Wolf. "The quotations in The New Republic article are not mine and do not represent what I believe or have ever believed. . . . "In fact, I have always agreed with Martin Luther King, Jr. that we should only be concerned with the content of a person's character, not the color of their skin."

Ahh, the stories we would have been obsessing over had Clinton lost New Hampshire . . . The New York Times' Patrick Healy has (general) details of a memo James Carville wrote to top Clinton advisers, and reports that Roy Spence will play a larger role in the campaign, joining Maggie Williams back in the campaign fold.

HuffingtonPost's Tom Edsall reported Tuesday that "some top independent expenditure groups supporting Clinton have been exploring the creation of an anti-Obama '527 committee' that would take unlimited contributions from a few of Clinton's super-rich backers and from a handful of unions to finance television ads and direct mail designed to tarnish the Illinois Senator's image." (Why go there now, though, right? Maybe . . . )

What happened with the polls? "It is simply unprecedented for so many polls to have been so wrong," ABC polling director Gary Langer writes. Theories abound, and Langer floats one posited by Professor Jon Krosnick of Stanford University: "That the order of names on the New Hampshire ballot - in which, by random draw, Clinton was toward the top, Obama at the bottom - netted her about 3 percentage points more than she'd have gotten otherwise."

It wouldn't be the last time people lied to pollsters, David Kuo writes in his Beliefnet column.

The kicker:

"We've lulled our opponents into a false sense of confidence." -- Rudy Giuliani, on his fourth-place showing in New Hampshire.

"Newman. . . . Because every time he would give a press conference and walk up to the podium, everyone would say, 'Hello, Newman.' " -- Larry David, campaigning for Obama, asked which "Seinfeld" character would make the best president.

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