Inside Washington's Headlines

by Ken Feltman

Radnor Inc.

January 2008


Legislative insight

Political intelligence










Ken Feltman is Chairman of Radnor Inc., a political consulting and legislative relations firm in Washington, D.C. He is past-president of the International Association of Political Consultants and the American League of Lobbyists.




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New Hampshire primaries special

Manchester - Everyone here keeps saying that New Hampshire is very different from Iowa. They are right, of course. And wrong: New Hampshire was a continuation of Iowa. New Hampshire's primary did not take place in a vacuum. Voters knew what had happened in Iowa and that knowledge changed how they did things in New Hampshire. They knew that Iowa had marginalized Edwards and Thompson. Politely, unless they were firmly committed to Edwards or Thompson, they ignored them.

Granite State voters knew that Clinton was in trouble. She had turned out an extraordinary number of Iowa caucus participants ? a number that would have swamped the field four, eight or 12 years ago. But Clinton lost to the avalanche of new caucus participants recruited and delivered by Obama (Democratic caucus participants outnumbered Republican caucus-goers by a two-and-a-half to one margin). New Hampshire voters knew that Iowans shared their feeling that Clinton was not as likeable or authentic as Obama. Their contrarian New England instinct was to go with the fresh-faced Obama. That instinct was validated by Iowa.

The voters knew that this campaign was not just about Clinton slipping or Obama soaring. Both of those things were happening. That meant that Clinton could not fix everything by putting her campaign in order unless Obama stumbled or stalled. Apparently, Clinton came into New Hampshire believing that she was like the athlete who needed to perform at the top of ? even above ? her skill level.

I used to be a baseball pitcher. When I got into a jam, I would wind up and lean back and put everything I could into the next pitch. I would overthrow and the result would be disaster more often than success. My coach would take me aside and tell me to pitch within my skills ? to quit trying to throw one super pitch and concentrate on throwing several decent to good pitches. Clinton tried for the one super pitch in New Hampshire. When that pitch went awry, she wound up and tried for another super-pitch. When that one went awry, too, she wound up and tried even harder to throw an über-pitch.

No real change

And she still did not understand change. Clinton got thumped in Iowa in part because she ran the wrong campaign. She focused on experience. All the other Democrats kept talking about change. She arrived in New Hampshire and up went her new billboards. They had her picture and one word: Ready. Local high school students in Nashua went out to ask people whether the word ready is closer to change or to experience. Overwhelmingly, people picked experience. Clinton could not change. She simply picked another word to convey the same idea.

Reporters probed for division among Clinton?s key advisors. They found panic and confusion. By Saturday, they learned that Clinton fundraisers were trying urgently to raise money. Was the well-heeled campaign running short? Did the Clinton financial people figure that she would lose New Hampshire and that the loss would scare away potential contributors?

Then reporters looked to see which staff members to blame for the decisions that seemed to weigh down the campaign. The decisions were made by candidate Clinton, often against the advice of her husband. He reacted by free-lancing too often. For example, when asked what voters may not know about his wife that would give insight into her personality, he had a chance to talk about how she loves animals, children, sports and chocolate. He answered that voters did not realize than she was always exonerated by the special prosecutors who examined Whitewater, Travelgate and other scandals of his administration. He also suggested publicly that he could not make her younger, taller or male. What a helpmate!

Rumors spread that the Clinton campaign was bringing in people from neighboring states to make her campaign meetings appear to be drawing as many people as the Obama meetings. People shook their heads. Could the Clintons do anything right?

Clinton?s first good moment came Saturday when a debate moderator told her that people find Obama more likeable. ?Well, that hurts my feelings,? she said, forcing a smile. That is the Clinton that voters like but so seldom see.

Everything changed on Monday afternoon. Finally, Clinton cracked a bit and tears welled in her eyes at a campaign appearance. The cynicism of the campaign trail showed as reporters assessed whether Clinton had contrived the moment to gain sympathy. Edwards dipped into his deep reservoir of sexist comments - comments that never seem to be criticized by the media - and suggested that the country needs a commander in chief with strength and resolve. Obama declined to comment. Pundits, including body-language experts, analyzed Clinton.

The voters took note. She is human. Not only that, she is a woman and it is okay to be a woman running for president. One in five Democratic voters decided in the last 24 hours. Enough late-deciding women, especially single women and older women, made up their minds to vote for Clinton. Enough independents did not vote for Obama in the Democratic primary. Instead, they voted for McCain in the Republican primary. Clinton, the person, won. Clinton, the woman, not Clinton-the-woman-who-can-compete-with-the-men-on-their-terms, won. In her victory statement she remarked that she had found her voice. Yes, and it is the voice of a woman who is perhaps finally comfortable in her skin. As a woman, she is authentic and less threatening to men as well as to other women.

The Obama media wave

Obama rode the media attention from his victory in Iowa. His campaign events were more like revival meetings or rock concerts, with long lines of people who were more caught up in the feel of the moment than in the issues. He picked up votes from former Edwards supporters who wanted to get on the bandwagon. He took the high road as Clinton, showing unnecessary desperation, attacked. His negative attack on Clinton was very subtle - he attacked her cravenness in going negative.

Other than that, Obama tried to stay above the fray, looking presidential.

Edwards tried to stay alive by piling on Clinton in the hope of finishing second and staying alive to fight another day. Perhaps, some of his campaign staff suggested, another third place finish for Clinton would eliminate her.

The Republicans were distracted by the media-generated Obama boom. McCain worried that the independents he needed to win would all vote in the Democratic primary. Romney took the brunt of the attacks from the other GOP candidates. Clearly, Romney was the piñata, disliked by the other candidates and their staffs.

Romney responded to the attacks by giving his best debate performance Sunday evening. He was sharp, decisive, the picture of a leader. But the damage from Iowa was too much to overcome.

New Hampshire was not good ground for Huckabee. Picturesque mainstream protestant churches are everywhere. Evangelicals were not nearly as influential as they were in Iowa. The Huckabee campaign, sensing that they were not getting the expected bounce out of Iowa, decided that if they could not win, they would try to kill off Romney. They spoke of an alliance with McCain. McCain shrugged and went his own way.

Giuliani and Thompson were barely visible (Paul made a bigger impression). Giuliani finally made an effort on Sunday and Monday and drew small crowds that seemed to like what they heard. It was too late for Giuliani in New Hampshire. Thompson's last-gasp efforts seemed to fall flat. Voters had given up on him.

McCain felt comfortable

McCain, with his experience from eight years ago as a roadmap, sensed that momentum was shifting his way and tried to be low key and presidential. His debate performances were designed to avoid losing ground, a sure sign that his polling showed him ahead. He understands that television is a hot medium that does not treat agitated and aggressive candidates favorably. Cool candidates come across better. He seemed at home with the moderate Republicans in the Granite State and that took the edge off his TV style. He made some errors but performed well enough.

What are the big lessons and questions from New Hampshire?

  • The two candidates with the most experience beat candidates stressing change.

  • The two candidates with records of support for the Iraq war won.

  • Iowa and New Hampshire are important. The media come. So the candidates need to campaign in Iowa and New Hampshire.

  • Did Giuliani make a fatal mistake in bypassing Iowa and New Hampshire? Giuliani campaigned hard all across the country. But he did not get the national news coverage that the candidates got in Iowa and New Hampshire. He lost control. He did not expect that. Is it now too late? If so, he made the decision that may doom him.

  • McCain is now the favorite among the Republicans. Will Giuliani supporters begin to shift to McCain?

  • Is Clinton the frontrunner again? From this point forward, the landscape changes from the small face-to-face meetings of Iowa and New Hampshire to large, controlled rallies and TV ads. Clinton is a control freak and her inability to control the events, the questions and the agenda in Iowa and New Hampshire wore on her. Now, control should begin to return to her. South Carolina favors Obama but after that, the way seems favorable for Clinton.

  • As Clinton hit a few rough spots in December, she lost control of her husband and he went around giving the impression that she was just his latest good idea. That hurt. She needs to keep herself under control so that she can control him.

  • Efforts by the two national political parties to downgrade the role of New Hampshire probably will fail. New Hampshire was beautifully snowy and warmer than expected. Sunny skies made the clapboard buildings shine and the melting ice sparkle. Outsiders poured in from near and far to see what this primary was all about. They crowded the roads and shops. They inconvenienced the natives, the media and the campaigners. They packed into candidate coffees and other events whenever possible. The enjoyed themselves. And the locals saw a potential for more revenue from the tourists in four years. This is not just democracy; This is business.

  • Chelsea Clinton impressed almost everyone she met. Some suggest that she combines the best attributes of her parents. Others predict a bright political future for her, if she wants it. She is a warm, charming, intelligent young woman. All parents know how hard raising children can be. It must be harder in the White House. The Clintons did something right in raising Chelsea.

    Now, they have pulled off one of the biggest comebacks in U.S. political history . Or does that honor belong to McCain?

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