Analysis: Clinton battles back

January 8, 2008 8:02:00 PM PST
Maybe it was Barack Obama and John Edwards joining forces against Hillary Rodham Clinton in a nationally televised debate.

Maybe it was the sight of her eyes welling with tears as she described the toll of the long campaign.

Those headlines in New Hampshire's brief five-day contest - plus a sharpened line of attack against Obama, whom she called an agent of "false hope" - helped Clinton battle back to an upset victory in the state amid numerous polls showing an Obama win.

Clinton benefited from a shift among women voters, who strongly supported the former first lady in New Hampshire after abandoning her in Iowa.

A Gallup pre-election poll had Obama 36 percent, Clinton 34 among women, but a survey of voters as they left their polling places found Clinton winning 47 percent of women compared to 34 percent for Obama. Women also voted in much larger numbers than men.

The survey was conducted for The Associated Press and the television networks.

To be sure, Obama's message of change continued to be a powerful draw from Democratic voters in the state. More than half said they were looking for a candidate who could bring changes, while only 20 percent said they were looking for experience. About half of those favoring change supported Obama.

But fewer young voters turned out as in Iowa, depriving Obama of crucial support. And he lost many independents to Republican John McCain, who won his party's primary in the state.

Clinton advisers are now scrambling to determine strategy after their surprise emergence from the post-Iowa freefall.

Clinton was expected to huddle with advisers Wednesday about plans going forward before returning to the campaign trail Thursday.

New Hampshire famously made Bill Clinton the "Comeback Kid" in 1992, giving him a strong second-place finish after his candidacy was nearly derailed by allegations of womanizing and efforts to evade the draft. He went on to win the Democratic nomination and the first of two terms as president that year.

His wife had a tougher go of it this time.

She received just polite applause and occasional boos at a state party fundraiser Friday night, while Obama was swamped by enthusiastic supporters. And while the Illinois senator was greeted with enormous, raucous audiences throughout the state, Clinton was left to help move chairs around at one campaign event to allow in enough people to make it appear respectably crowded.

In a nationally televised debate Saturday, Clinton was forced to defend her likability while Obama - somewhat ungraciously - deadpanned, "You're likable enough."

John Edwards, who narrowly bested Clinton in Iowa and has campaigned energetically in New Hampshire, joined forces with Obama in the debate to paint the New York senator as little more than a Washington hack.

Edwards place third in New Hampshire.

Clinton's team has been scrambling to retool her message to be more forward looking and less nostalgic about her husband's White House years. New faces are coming aboard to help craft strategy, including longtime confidante Maggie Williams and Doug Sosnik, who served as political director for President Clinton.

They also hope for stronger press scrutiny of Obama in the weeks going forward and are openly furious at what they perceive to have been fawning media coverage of him thus far.

Bill Clinton, who campaigned doggedly throughout New Hampshire for his wife, complained bitterly Monday that she had been unfairly treated while Obama had been given a free pass.

"The idea that one of these campaigns is positive and the other is negative when I know the reverse is true and I have seen it and I have been blistered by it for months is a little tough to take," the former president said at a campaign forum at Dartmouth College. "Just because of the sanitizing coverage that's in the media doesn't mean the facts aren't out there."

Indeed, her advisers intend to step up their scrutiny of Obama's record in the coming days and are likely to begin airing negative ads - the first in what has been a remarkably civil TV battle so far.

EDITOR'S NOTE - Beth Fouhy covers presidential politics for The Associated Press.