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Publication: Conservative Review
The Clinton Style

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               THE CONSERVATIVE REVIEW   
                   January 11, 2008
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The Clinton Style
By Robert D. Novak

WASHINGTON, D.C. - Late on Tuesday afternoon, when exit 
polls indicated Sen. Barack Obama would defeat Sen. Hillary 
Clinton in the New Hampshire primary, there was palpable 
relief from many Democrats -- including some avowed 
supporters of her presidential candidacy -- that the 
country soon would be finished with not only the Bushes 
but the Clintons. Four hours later came evidence of the 
political folly in underestimating the former president 
and his wife. 

The exit polls were so wrong because they grossly under-
stated the female vote in New Hampshire. Had the turnout 
of women there, which constituted an unprecedented 57 
percent of the actual Democratic vote, been plugged in 
to exit interviews, a 2-percentage point Clinton victory 
would have been forecast. The unexpected female support 
in turn can be attributed to the Clinton style, which may 
not be pretty but is effective. Hillary Clinton's tears 
evoked sympathy for her, and Bill Clinton's sneers 
generated contempt for Obama. 

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That is a good lesson for Republican strategists who 
had been fretting about the difficulty of running against 
a fresh face like Obama and hoping for Clinton. It 
strengthens the case for Sen. John McCain, who after New 
Hampshire is the Republican front-runner. The man who 
spent six years in a communist prison and has been abused 
and reviled by Washington's K Street power brokers may be 
the only Republican who can cope with what the Clintons 
would throw at him. 

It is difficult to exaggerate the funereal tone inside 
the Clinton camp on New Hampshire's election day. Sen. 
Clinton's campaigning there following her third-place 
Iowa finish was uninspired and uninspiring. Even her 
husband had seemed to lose his famous vibrancy. One 
Democratic old pro who supports her compared the atmosphere 
to the last days of Edmund Muskie's failed candidacy in 
1972. Expectations of a double-digit defeat on Tuesday 
led to speculation of at least a "relaunched" post-New 
Hampshire campaign and even a withdrawal before a possible 
embarrassment in her home state New York primary on Feb. 5. 

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With that background, Sen. Clinton's lachrymose complaint 
in New Hampshire Monday that "this is very personal for me" 
was widely compared to Muskie's crying jag in Manchester 
36 years ago that began his political downfall. But whereas 
Muskie's tears were involuntary, only the naive can believe 
Clinton was not artfully playing for sympathy from her 
sisters. It worked. 

Bill Clinton's accompanying belittling of Obama as 
unqualified ("the biggest fairytale I've ever seen") was 
similarly regarded within the party as a serious blunder. 
That indeed was the reaction from the Obama camp. Obama 
himself was condescending about his powerful detractor: 
"I understand he's feeling a little frustrated right now." 
In fact, an attack by so powerful and popular a Democratic 
icon should have been taken seriously by the neophyte 
candidate. 

In New Hampshire during the run-up to the primary, several 
prominent Republicans expressed to me their regret that 
they would not have the opportunity to run against a tired, 
vulnerable Hillary Clinton and had no strategy whatever 
for contesting a fresh, appealing Barack Obama. An 
exception to that mindset is Sen. Lindsey Graham, a long-
time McCain adviser who feels Clinton would be not only 
more experienced but a far more formidable contestant 
than Obama. 

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McCain, though he is far from beloved in his own party's 
ranks, is perhaps better equipped to withstand the batter-
ing he would receive from the Clintons and be able to 
respond in kind. In the intense four days of New Hampshire 
campaigning following the Iowa caucuses, McCain was the 
subject of unremitting attack from Mitt Romney because 
of his support for President Bush's immigration reform. 
He was able to turn aside those attacks by effectively 
denying that he sought amnesty for illegal aliens. 

The lesson of New Hampshire for Obama's campaign should 
be that rock-star popularity is not sufficient to take 
on the Clintons, who for a decade have given no quarter 
to their political foes. When it seemed that Obama would 
win in New Hampshire, the Clinton camp was preparing an 
attack strategy against him. Since Obama is favored in 
the next big primary test in South Carolina on Jan. 26, 
he can expect more of the same ahead. 

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Copyright 2008 by NextEra Media. All rights reserved.

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