It’s just after 7.30 am US time as I write this, on the morning after the biggest political upset in recent American history. In a previous post I speculated about the banana skins that might slip up the Obama victory parade. I just didn’t expect them all to come at once.
We are now at a very odd moment in the campaign. Last night all the people who mattered flew out of New Hampshire. They drove to Manchester airport, got on planes, and went to South Carolina, Michigan, Florida and California, to continue the fight. So in one sense the campaign will continue, and quickly. But in another it stops now.
Now, only two things matter. First, for a few days, the only important thing in the public eye will be the battle for the explanation for what on earth just happened. The last time this happened in America was just after the presidential election in 2004, when the dominant frame of the “values voter” did battle with the influence of the “exurbs” to be the quickest instant explanation. (See, for example, this article by the conservative writer David Brooks, which was extraordinarily influential in helping people to understand President Bush’s victory. There was also in 2004 a snap poll which asked a misleading question about the relative importance of values vs foreign policy in deciding who to vote for; it too helped to shape the debate.)
Second, as ever, is cash. Ezra Klein, one of the most talented young bloggers in America, yesterday asked if the Clinton campaign was running out of cash. The thought was that given that Hillary was going to lose, her famous money machine might even break. Now we can expect it to come back to life with a jolt. And even more interestingly, what had previously been predicted to be the most expensive campaign in history is about to get even more costly. The campaigns must now go and fight for the really big states—Florida, California and New York. None will have ground operations in these states. And buying television adverts in these places costs a small fortune. So the big question becomes: who wins the new money race?
So for the next few days, the spinners and op-ed merchants will do battle. The moneymakers will make frantic calls. And this is even without mentioning that wise pollsters have an awful lot of explaining to do. Last night, as those planes left, each of the teams will have been huddled with their exhausted candidates trying to figure out how this just happened. Frankly, I have no idea which of the many things we didn’t see coming just came. But it strikes me this morning my list of six banana skins may well have usefully included two more:
The Girl Power Effect. The most extraordinary split from last night seems to have been the women’s vote. In Iowa, Obama won women. Last night Clinton won the female vote by a mile, leaving Obama with a majority only among men. The initial story, then, is that women in New Hampshire are different from women in Iowa. But I wonder if the underlying story might not be the continuing strength of the women’s movement. In particular, pro-choice groups like NARAL wield huge power in the US. I noticed last week that media were beginning to report the likely impact of Republican victory on the make-up of the supreme court. (One of the liberal justices is nearly dead, and one more conservative on the nine-person court would be likely to overturn Roe v Wade and much else.) So it might be that the prominence of abortion as an issue will have had an effect. Or it might be that for all the talk about the fantastic organizing effect of the young “netroots,” well-marshalled women’s groups helped Clinton to turn out her huge number of votes. The Bhutto Effect. In the days before the poll, after Benazhir Bhutto was assassinated, there was much talk of how this made Clinton’s victory inevitable. The thought was that the killing would move the debate on to US foreign policy in a scary world, good terrain for Hillary. Herd-like, two days later, we all decided that it wasn’t going to be “about” foreign policy, and Obama was the certain victor. Through a group email list I received a message a few days ago, from a well-respected American commentator, the subject line of which, dripping with sarcasm, ran something like: “Why Bhutto’s Death Just Won it For Hillary.” His point was, at that time, everyone thought Hillary was certain to lose. The press moves in packs, and what had been conventional wisdom 48 hours previously suddenly wasn’t. Perhaps the knowing journo, without knowing it, was right after all? New Hampshire voters are attuned to foreign affairs. There are a lot of white veterans in the state, and many young people serving in Iraq. McCain’s influence made people think more about foreign affairs. And people think Hillary is by far the better candidate for sorting out bad guys abroad.
And with that, I’m off to find out what people think really happened, and find some breakfast.