Friday, 11 January 2008

What can Brown learn from New Hampshire ?

Well, it's been a remarkable political week in the United States. The New Hampshire Primary held on Tuesday has transformed the political landscape for both the Republicans and the Democrats and, I believe, could be a crucial pointer to future events in Britain.

Last weekend, Barack Obama appeared to have plenty going for him. After a convincing eight-point win in the Iowa caucus on January 3rd, early post-Iowa polls suggested Obama had cruised past Hillary Clinton and one infamous poll suggested he had opened up a massive thirteen-point lead. Clinton, on the other hand, looked to be a busted flush with rumours of dissent in her campaign and the suspicion that an Obama victory in New Hampshire would cause the Clinton campaign to unravel.

As we now know, Hillary Clinton defied the polls and in a remarkable and often bruising night for exchange players (at one point Clinton's odds of winning New Hampshire were 250/1) scored a narrow but decisive victory defeating Barack Obama by 39% to 36% and effectively knocking John Edwards out of the race.

How did this happen ?

Exit polling on the day of the primary told a fascinating story. Hillary Clinton had drawn her support from older people, women (especially single women) and low wage earners (under $25,000). Looking at it another way, Clinton won among those voters aged over forty while Obama held sway among the younger voters. The victory has energised the Clinton campaign and while it is far from over for Obama, he faces an uphill battle in the upcoming Michigan, Nevada and South Carolina primaries.

Yet it also appears another factor worked in Clinton's favour. The evidence (and I've only seen this reported in the Racing Post in Britain) is that many in New Hampshire had waited until the televised debates before deciding and the perception was that Hillary Clinton had decisively won the debate. Indeed, it seems that Hillary Clinton did a superb job in demolishing Barack Obama's credentials for "change".

This is the key message for British politics and for Gordon Brown. If I were Brown, I would get a copy of the debate, watch Clinton's performance and work out how a similar demolition job could be done on David Cameron. Perhaps for the first time, we are seeing some evidence that the generation of "new leaders" I mentioned in my last post might be vulnerable to the more experienced politicians.

None of this of course means that Hillary Clinton will be the next American President. She has hardly secured the nomination and, as I've argued before, the GOP will be far happier taking her on than Barack Obama though that might not look the case now.

On the Republican side, all the momentum is now with John McCain who won the New Hampshire Republican primary effectively ending Mitt Romney's hopes - Romney had gambled on winning both Iowa and New Hampshire to build momentum for later battles. Two second places just doesn't cut it. Huckabee was well back in third but must have better prospects in the southern states. Meanwhile, rumours in the blogsphere suggest all is not well with Rudi Giuliani's campaign and a poll from New York apparently suggests McCain rapidly closing the gap. IF McCain wins big in Michigan and South Carolina, the GOP race will effectively be down to just McCain and Giuliani but nothing is certain.

If the GOP choose John McCain it will clearly place them in the "pro-Iraq" camp and McCain's conservative credentials have been criticised across the conservative media and blogsphere. Nonetheless, it won't be difficult for conservatives to rally around McCain against Hillary Clinton - against Obama, it might not be so easy.

There's plenty of twists and turns ahead on the road starting in Michigan on Tuesday which is also my birthday.

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