HOW SHE DID IT…Reminder, this isn’t Kevin Drum writing this, so don’t blame him for the wayward musings of a Washington Monthly staffer. Two days after the fact, though, having pored over the post-New-Hampshire-upset analysis, I can’t help feeling that many of the explanations are a bit over-complicated. I wouldn’t have predicted the results that came out of the primary, but I wasn’t that surprised, either.
The “tears,” simply put, did the trick. They were central to a smart and deliberate campaign, and there was no “Bradley Effect” (in which white racist voters lie to pollsters, thus skewing results). The shift of allegiance didn’t show up in the polls, because, as far as I know, none of the polls were taken after Monday night, when all three nightly newscasts on Monday made Hillary’s “emotional” moment their lead story. The very last poll to come out, in fact, showed a much slimmer five-point difference between Clinton and Obama, suggesting a sudden narrowing and a surge in Clinton momentum. So fear not, pollsters. Had the primaries occurred 24 hours earlier, Obama would probably have won, and you would have been vindicated.
What was Hillary’s game plan? What the polling numbers showed was that her best hope lay in attracting female voters away from Obama. So Team Hillary went after them with determination. There was an appearance on Access Hollywood, in which Hillary talked about things like body image and got to say things like, “I find cleaning closets and drawers to be extremely gratifying because you know there is a beginning, a middle and an end, unlike a lot of what I do which seems to be much more long term.” There was her talk with undecided voters: two men–and 14 women. There were the tears, predicted by some, which stirred even greater sympathy. Finally, there was the heckling moment, when one or two young rogues stood up and started chanting “Iron My Shirt”–allowing Clinton to gain a standing ovation by tossing out three great lines about sexism and breaking through the “biggest glass ceiling of all.” (These hecklers turned out to be 20-something employees of a Boston radio show, and one even had a Hillary sticker on his bag.)
When the numbers came out, it turned out that female voters had flocked to Clinton in New Hampshire by a wide margin. It had been an effective approach. And the media, which had poorly concealed its glee over a Clinton loss, had only strengthened it.
So–am I suggesting that all of Clinton’s moments were choreographed? No. I expect some were choreographed, and some were the product of sheer luck. But even if they were all choreographed–and the hecklers turn out to have been sent out by, say, Michael Whouley (the Clinton operative who once boasted of clogging up the freeways in Boston in order to keep likely Bill Bradley voters away from the polls in 2000)–it would hardly be sensational. Republicans like Lee Atwater and Karl Rove have played a much rougher game than that. This was good old-fashioned political hardball, and Obama’s crew will have to be nimble enough to throw back some effective behind-the-scenes hardballs of its own.