New Hampshire: Some Expected Outcomes, Some Surprises

I’m writing this about 8:00pm Pacific Time and 11:00pm Eastern Time. The polls are closed in New Hampshire and the winners have been declared: John McCain is currently carrying 37% of the Republican vote and Hillary Clinton carries 39% of the Democratic vote. Just under 80% of the vote has been counted.

John McCain’s win isn’t much of a surprise as he bypassed Iowa to concentrate on New Hampshire. The news is that Mitt Romney did not win. He has been spending a great deal of money in both Iowa and New Hampshire; New Hampshire is also adjacent to Romney’s home state of Massachusetts. He was expected to win Iowa because of his presence and the money he poured into it and he was expected to win New Hampshire because, frankly, they know him from living next door. Mitt faces an uphill battle; two of the next three primaries are in the South (Michigan, South Carolina, and Florida) whose populations contain a high percentage of evangelical Christians who will have trouble voting for a Mormon. The next few weeks should be good for Mike Huckabee but he needs to sew things up pretty quickly or miss his chance. The evangelical message plays well only in those states with high evangelical populations.

The results of the Democratic primary surprised me a little. Until a few days ago it appeared to be neck and neck between Senator Clinton and Barack Obama but a poll a few days ago had Senator Obama pulling ahead. Tonight it appears that this last poll was dead wrong. That happens: polls always have a margin of error. Interestingly enough the vote count is close enough that they will both end up with 9 delegates (John Edwards takes the other 4). Things would have gone much better for Senator Obama if he had won. As he heads into the South he carries with him an uphill battle of his own. There is a segment of the population in South Carolina and Florida who simply will not vote for an African American and won’t necessarily admit it. He won’t be able to fully trust the polls because of this. I’m originally from Virginia and remember L. Douglas Wilder who was governor from 1990 to 1994. He learned during the race to factor out a certain percentage of people who said they would vote for him but really wouldn’t. Senator Obama may face the same thing.

John McCain may have something to say about this. In the now famous election of 2000 he beat President Bush in New Hampshire and was doing well in South Carolina. The Bush campaign in South Carolina did something called “push polling.” They called Republicans in South Carolina under the guise of taking a poll. They started the call by asking who the person intended to vote for in the primary; if the caller said he or she would vote for John McCain the poller would ask: “Would you be more or less willing to vote for John McCain if you knew he secretly fathered a biracial child out of wedlock?” Of course Senator McCain had done no such thing (though, interestingly enough, South Carolina Senator Strom Thurmond had) but that wasn’t the point. The point was to imply to the voter that McCain had, and enough voters were put off because of this that Bush won the South Carolina primary and went on the win the nomination.

In any case, stay tuned. The primary season is just beginning and should prove to be an interesting ride.