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New Hampshire Primary Results Fuel Talk of Most Unpredictable Presidential Race in Decades

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We go to New Hampshire for a discussion on last night’s primary results with University of New Hampshire Professor Dante Scala and longtime TV and radio host Arnie Arnesen. [includes rush transcript]

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: We to go to New Hampshire for a discussion on last night’s primary results. Dante Scala is with us. He is associate professor of political science at University of New Hampshire. We’re also joined by Arnie Arnesen, longtime TV and radio host in New Hampshire. She ran for governor in ’92 on the Democratic ticket, also served as a Democrat in the New Hampshire House of Representatives for eight years.

Dante Scala, let’s begin with you. Tell us the breakdown. Why this shock at Hillary Clinton winning? Why were the polls so wrong?

DANTE SCALA: Well, that’s a very good question. I think a lot of pollsters should be thinking about that today. A couple of different theories out there. One is that college women, college-educated women were really on the edge this whole past weekend, maybe thinking one way, maybe they moved at the last minute toward Hillary Clinton. You know, that’s one possibility.

But certainly there was something of a phantom wave, I think, that was predicted by the polling that just didn’t come to pass, and it really throws a lot of cold water on the whole notion of momentum, you know, because Obama clearly was supposed to have that momentum. The media said so. The pundits, including myself, said so.

But what happened here was that Hillary Clinton had a much more resilient base of support here than she ever had out in Iowa, which makes a lot of sense, I think, because of the political culture of the state.

AMY GOODMAN: Arnie Arnesen, you’re going back and forth between our show and your own radio show that you’re on right now. Can you talk about your response to what took place? I mean, after Senator Barack Obama won Iowa, the polls just shifted entirely from Hillary Clinton having a double-digit lead to saying actually that Barack Obama had a double-digit lead, that it would be a landslide.

ARNIE ARNESEN: Well, let me just recommend something. If you go to the Guardian newspaper in England, go to the front page of their website, you will see a three-minute video of me reacting to what happened last night, literally as it was happening, because I was being asked to do Australian TV and UK TV to explain it, and I couldn’t explain it to myself. So just imagine my predicament.

I think what is so phenomenal is that what happened for Hillary Clinton is even bigger than anyone understands, because she was able to rehabilitate what happened in Iowa in five days. She was able to rebuild that firewall that she knew she had to build and she had been working on for a year in five days.

And the other question we have to ask: how could every poll, every national poll, every local poll, except for one —- let me just tell you right now, Suffolk University did an amazing job, because they had her up one with their tracking poll as of that morning. But virtually everybody else called it the other way.

And the question then becomes: Did people lie to the pollsters? And if they did, was it because they wanted to protect what they were going to do, or they were undecided about what they were going to do? Or was it like what happened in Virginia with Governor Wilder, that it turns out when it becomes a question of race, that people want to tell the pollster what the pollster wants to hear, not necessarily how they’re going to exercise their vote.


DANTE SCALA: I don’t know — I don’t know about the — I mean, I’ve heard that theory before about polling and so forth. I’m a little unconvinced of that. I think, you know, perhaps a lot of people were genuinely undecided between two candidates that they really liked going into the polls. I mean, it’s certainly possible that some people would say —- would not reveal to a pollster that they wouldn’t vote for a black candidate. I don’t know. I wonder if the firewall ever really went away, when all is said and done. You look at some of the exit polls -—

ARNIE ARNESEN: Yeah, you’re right.

DANTE SCALA: — and it shows that, you know, a lot of people had made up their mind a month ago, and Hillary Clinton did really well among those folks.

ARNIE ARNESEN: And let me just show you something else, Amy. I mean, I think you’ve got to remember that Hillary Clinton has a long history in the state of New Hampshire. Why could she build a firewall in New Hampshire and not in Iowa? Because she had never played in Iowa. Bill never ran in Iowa in ’92. That was the place where he actually became the “Comeback Kid” here. This was a place where they have relationships, they have establishment, they have a great rolodex. They knew people. They made sure they got the insiders right out of the box.

They also know the old way of campaigning. And what she did was, she not only went after the new voter that Barack Obama assumed was his — assumed was his — but she also went back to a traditional Democratic voter that rarely votes in primaries, and she brought that voter back into the primary mix. It’s an old-fashioned political tool. Katrina Sweat, Dick Sweat’s wife, the daughter of Congressman Lantos, she ran a primary campaign for her husband that way. You see that that’s exactly what Hillary Clinton did with the Manchesters and the old sort of manufacturing Democratic towns. It was a brilliant, brilliant political get-out-the-vote.

And here is a story that will tell you the difference. I have friends that said that the Clinton people were out of the house at 4:30 in the morning on primary day. The Barack Obama people were out of the house at about a quarter to 6:00. And what a difference an hour and fifteen minutes can make!

DANTE SCALA: Yeah. I would add to Arnie’s point that —-

AMY GOODMAN: Dante Scala.

DANTE SCALA: —- and Arnie’s a good example of this —- is that women in New Hampshire political culture have a much more independent position than, say, women in Iowa. I mean, out in Iowa, remember, Clinton was surprised to hear that there hasn’t been a female governor of Iowa. Well, there’s been one here. There haven’t been female congressmen in Iowa. Well, there is one right now, and they have several prominent female leaders in the state House -—

ARNIE ARNESEN: Exactly, Dante.

DANTE SCALA: — the Speaker of the House, for example. So as a real difference, I think we really saw that things cut along gender lines last night.

AMY GOODMAN: Arnie Arnesen, there’s been a lot of discussion about that revealing moment of Hillary Clinton sitting in the coffee shop and opening up and tearing up about what this race means to her. Talk about that moment, how it played and how significant you think it was.

ARNIE ARNESEN: I just spoke to a professor of political science from Iowa State University, Steffen Schmidt. Steffen, you know, has been doing this forever. He thought that was a turning moment for older women. It was a turning moment, because these are women that really always want to believe that they could share in the power. They are from the feminist movement. They are there. They looked at her, and even though they were swept away by the magic of Barack Obama — he’s a much more inspirational persuader, he’s a better speaker, he’s all those things — they suddenly looked at this incredibly competent, talented woman who has put a lot of time in, either behind the scenes with Bill or then put her neck on the line in the US Senate, and all of the sudden that softer image of Hillary Clinton, whether it’s real or Memorex — God help us, I don’t know — but whatever it is, it was powerful, because it humanized this powerhouse.

And to women, they suddenly realized the difference is a woman brings a different experience into any office — I don’t care if she’s a Republican woman or a Democratic woman —- and we need that different experience in the White House. And I think that exhaustion, that tear and that sense of frustration touched them. I can’t believe it, but I think it may have. And you saw it move women overwhelmingly, overwhelmingly for Hillary.

DANTE SCALA: I would add to Arnie’s point -—

AMY GOODMAN: In case people haven’t heard or seen it, let’s go to that moment with Hillary Clinton in the coffee shop.

    SEN. HILLARY CLINTON: This is very personal for me. It’s not just political. It’s not just public. I see what’s happening, and we have to reverse it.

    And some people think elections are a game. They think it’s like who’s up or who’s down. It’s about our country. It’s about our kids’ futures. And it’s really about all of us together.

    You know, some of us put ourselves out there and do this against some pretty difficult odds. And we do it, each one of us, because we care about our country. But some of us are right, and some of us are wrong. Some of us are ready, and some of us are not. Some of us know what we will do on day one, and some of us haven’t really thought that through enough.

AMY GOODMAN: That was Hillary Clinton on Monday, what many call the defining moment.

Dante Scala, last night when she gave her acceptance speech, she wasn’t standing next to Madeleine Albright, the former secretary of state under her husband, President Bill Clinton, and on the other side, Bill Clinton himself, sort of the old guard; she was standing against a backdrop of kids. What about the significance of this? And how important was that young vote for both Barack Obama and for Hillary Clinton? Talk about how it broke down around the state. Didn’t Barack Obama end up speaking near — was it Dartmouth?

DANTE SCALA: Well, I think what we saw last night was — again, kind of along gender lines — is that a lot of young women in New Hampshire see Hillary Clinton as a role model. Their moms probably see Hillary Clinton as a role model.

And what’s got to be worrisome for Obama, and paradoxically, is that he did so well among the youth vote and that he did so well among more elite Democratic voters, you know, college-educated men, for example, but not college-educated women, did well among people who say that, you know, they’re actually getting ahead in the world, as opposed to falling behind. The worry for Barack Obama, I think, coming out of New Hampshire is that he won’t be able to expand his base among white Democratic voters, because what we saw last night is, as Arnie pointed out, Hillary Clinton got out her vote from the blue-collar wards of the cities in Manchester. That vote wasn’t there for Obama. And then we go into the suburban areas. Clinton won not only the city of Manchester, but greater Manchester, which includes a lot of, you know, prosperous Democrats. So that’s got to be the worry for Obama going forward. Can he expand his base?

ARNIE ARNESEN: And the other thing is, Dante, that the reason why she was surrounded by all these young people is she now looked at where Obama thought he had his asset, and she is saying to Obama, “I’m going right after that youth. That’s not yours. Don’t assume you own it. Don’t assume you’re the only one that can invite it in.” And she — I mean, this — it’s a brilliant strategy.

I mean, even that crying moment, she took the strength of Edwards: “This is personal for me.” Whose words are those? How many times has John Edwards used that word, “This is personal for me”? That is a John Edwards line. It is now owned by Hillary Clinton.

Then she goes after that youth vote. Who owned that youth vote? Barack Obama. Now Hillary Clinton, with that montage behind her of young people, she is now attempting to own that. This is a brilliant political strategy.

Now, the question is, does that mean she goes all the way? Can Barack learn from his mistakes in New Hampshire, and can he rehabilitate his campaign the way Hillary Rodham Clinton was able to do it in five days? Holy mackerel!

AMY GOODMAN: We should also say, though, that until the Iowa vote, it was Hillary Clinton who was double digits ahead, if the polls were right, in New Hampshire. It was Barack Obama who, in a sense, made a comeback. Would you say that’s also true, Dante Scala? It’s just that the polls got it wrong in the end.

DANTE SCALA: Well, I think, you know, what we saw in December was that Obama had narrowed the gap with Hillary Clinton. Hillary Clinton had at that point — I think it must have been about a week before Christmas or so — about a four-point lead. And that’s roughly, you know, what she wound up with; after Iowa and the dust settled, she wound up in New Hampshire with a narrow win. So what I wonder is — you know, I mean, gosh, you’ve got to give all sorts of credit to Hillary Clinton. This is the greatest comeback story —-

ARNIE ARNESEN: Absolutely.

DANTE SCALA: —- in the history of the New Hampshire presidential primary, and no question. But I wonder — I wonder whether New Hampshire voters digested what Iowa had to say and then said, “You know what? We have a different opinion on this.” And especially New Hampshire women said, “We have a different opinion on this, and we’re going to have our say.”

AMY GOODMAN: I want to thank you both. Arnie, one last comment.

ARNIE ARNESEN: Well, no, I think what is totally amazing here is that New Hampshire did what the Concord Monitor and the Keene Sentinel wanted them to do: they were a choice, not an echo. They were absolutely a choice, not an echo. They have changed the dynamic on the Republican side. They have changed the dynamic on the Democratic Party side. And that means, guess what, the conversation still continues for the rest of the country. And that’s probably a very good thing, Amy.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, Arnie Arnesen, I want to thank you very much for being with us. I could hear that music behind you. I know you have to go back on the radio. Arnie Arnesen is the winner of the New Hampshire Association of Broadcasters’ “Air Personality of the Year 2007.” Dante Scala is the Graniteprof. He is associate professor of political science at the University of New Hampshire.

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