New Hampshire - Oops

Nobody - not pollsters, not pundits, not even Hillary Clinton's top political advisors, to judge from their interviews - expected her to win the New Hampshire primary. The only question was by how much Barack Obama would win.

Then - the nerve of them! - voters... voted. Who knows what motivated them.  Clinton co-chair Terry McAuliffe told FOX News that they appreciated the "human moment" when Clinton choked up discussing the strains of the campaign.  Another Clinton supporter suggested that Obama student boosters may have gotten drunk celebrating their assured victory -- and forgot to vote. Or it could be that contrarian folks in the Granite State just got sick of hearing that they were supposed to follow in Iowa's footsteps.

What we do know is that women, especially single and older women, chose Clinton over Obama, but that he won the majority of men. She did best among union members and lower income voters. He pulled in more independents.

It's not clear which combination of supporters might help a Democrat more in the general election. But had Obama won New Hampshire, pundits would have said that showed an African-American could carry two predominantly white states. Losing New Hampshire may now devalue a win for Obama in South Carolina, where about half the Democratic electorate is black. I'm not suggesting that New Hampshire voters were swayed by race. The debate over change versus experience may have been more important. But fairly or not, Obama losing New Hampshire will revive questions about a black candidate's electability. Nevada is the next test, and Clinton seems well positioned to win union votes there with backing from Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid.

Pundits have less egg on their faces when it comes to the Republicans, though only if you forget old predictions. Back in June, after the comprehensive immigration bill that John McCain co-sponsored was crushed by critics demanding border enforcement first, the Arizona senator was broke and plummeting in the polls. True, New Hampshire had come through for McCain in 2000, but now Mitt Romney, the ex-governor of a neighboring state, appeared poised to make it the second win in his opening two-state strategy.

Trouble was, the first state didn't behave. Iowans may have doubted Romney's late conversion on conservative social issues. They chose Mike Huckabee. New Hampshire, too, may have preferred John McCain's principled (if at times maddening) consistency to Romney's more recent conservative perfection. It certainly helped that McCain could claim a great deal of credit for the Iraq surge. In any event, Romney now must beat McCain in Romney's home state of Michigan.  No predictions here.