Clinton Repays the Faith of Her Foot Soldiers
Report from Martin Kettle of The Guardian
Manchester, New Hampshire
A crowd cheers as they watch election returns for Democratic presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton at the campaign headquarters in Manchester, New Hampshire. Photograph: Stan Honda/AFP/Getty Images
Clinton comebacks in New Hampshire primaries are the stuff of political legend. But even Hillary Clinton’s closest aides – and perhaps even the candidate herself – were stunned by the turnaround in her fortunes as the counting of votes got under way this time.
Yet as the realisation that the New York senator had not just survived the primary to fight another day but was in with a shout of a famous victory, the surprise quickly turned to confidence and a belief that the long-time frontrunner may have mounted an astonishing turnaround against the odds that could yet see off the surging challenge of Barack Obama.
What made this truly remarkable was that, only a few hours earlier, Clinton staffers were privately admitting defeat. “We have lost this time. We must learn the lesson. We must fight on,” said one at around lunchtime.
So prepared for defeat was the Clinton camp that, when the first votes were counted and reported shortly after 8pm local time, showing the narrowest of Clinton leads over Obama, they were not believed. “Interesting. Maybe we’ve pulled in more women this time,” was the most that any campaign official would say.
But when the narrow lead continued to hold steady as the night wore on – a three-point lead for a long time, then briefly five, before dipping back to two after two hours of counting – the mood hardened and the confidence began to rise.
By 10pm, the earlier uncertainty had been transformed into a new exhilaration. “This is a huge victory for Hillary,” a source close to Clinton pronounced as the lead held with nearly 60% of New Hampshire precincts reporting. “We have stopped the freight train.”
If the highest echelons of the Clinton campaign were taken aback by the way the count was going, there was less surprise among the Clinton campaign foot soldiers outside campaign headquarters as close of polling approached.
Although journalists have rightly reported the almost unprecedented levels of enthusiasm that have greeted Obama in the closing days of the campaign, the Clinton campaign has had lots of support and made lots of noise too.
“Ready for change. Ready to lead” the volunteers still chanted – just as they have been doing for the last few days – as they waved their placards outside the university campus in Manchester where the Clinton campaign’s post-primary rally was being set up.
“When I say President, You say Clinton. President Clinton, President Clinton” they chanted – meaning Hillary rather than Bill.
“I’m real nervous,” admitted Lauren Hurley, a Concord music student. “I just think that Obama is not ready for it. He needs a lot more experience. His message is connecting. But so is ours.”
She turned out to know more than the pollsters and the pundits. “This bubble burst very late,” was one view from inside the Clinton campaign last night.
According to Clinton campaign private polling, Obama was at least 10 points ahead of Clinton yesterday. Yet within 24 hours, that lead had been pegged right back, reopening a Democratic race that many had assumed was on the verge of collapsing in Obama’s favour.
“How did we do it? She did it,” an aide said as the lead over Obama continued to hold. “Plus the message was redone and the women responded.”
Perhaps, after all, that choke in the throat at yesterday’s rally in Portsmouth was the turning point. If so, it may have been the most politically significant near-sob in American history.
Many hours earlier, Clinton and her daughter, Chelsea, had poured coffee and offered doughnuts to queueing voters and a police officer at a Manchester elementary school before dawn.
“We’re going to work all day to get the vote out,” she said. And that is what they did. Two and half hours after the polls closed, with just over two-thirds of the votes counted, NBC News and then the Associated Press each called the primary for Clinton.
The Clinton campaign is back from the dead and the supporters are cheering and chanting in disbelief and delight.
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