Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Why Barack Obama lost in New Hampshire

The exit pollsters will give reasons why Obama lost last night. For example, single women went much more for Hillary than Obama. More broadly, for those more dependent on government for assistance with housing, childcare, healthcare, etc., they were more likely to go for Hillary, someone who they view as having a longer track record of producing, in some sense, politically for them. As to Obama, they don’t know him as well, so why try a new government provider, when the “old one,” seems pretty reliable.

Other exit pollsters will argue women, in general, gave this election to Hillary, with women breaking for Hillary 47 % to 34 % over Obama. And, for women older than 65, the breakdown was 57 % to 27 %, Hillary over Obama. So, there was a woman thing at work here, and especially for senior women, who perhaps appreciate more the gender discrimination the 61-year-old Hillary may have faced along the way.

But, much of the exit poll analysis that we hear so much about seems to be more ad hoc theories invented to explain voting patterns than true reasons to understand why Obama lost and why Clinton won.

Thus, it might be more illuminating to look at the mega-reasons why Obama lost, which should tell him what he has to start doing differently if he is going to win in the primaries before, on and perhaps post Super Tuesday (February 5, 2008).

Five big Reasons why Obama lost in New Hampshire:

1. Obama played a prevent defense. Expecting a big bounce coming out of Iowa, Team Obama followed the conventional wisdom: “The New Hampshire Primary is now yours to lose, so don’t do anything to lose it.” While Hillary was holding town hall meetings, answering as many questions as were asked and making herself available to the media, Obama gave speeches at large events, but answered few if any questions. Media access was limited. In short, he was placed in a bubble. The smart, talented, well-spoken, witty, charming, candid, knowledgeable Obama was shielded from public and media interaction, giving up a major advantage he has. Is it any wonder that winnable, undecided or “on the bubble,” voters chose a vibrant candidate (Hillary) over “bubble boy.”
2. Obama, as Howard Fineman of Newsweek said last night, “mailed,” in the debate on Saturday night. Again, he was told the debate was his to lose, and he did. The best debate prep would have been to make Obama read press clippings of candidates who had been favored and then lost the race. Then, Obama’s counselors should have made sure he had an agenda of ideas he was trying to communicate and grilled him in the same format as the debate-- to see if he could opportunistically communicate his agenda of ideas. Hillary, on the other hand, having lost Iowa, came into the debate as if she had to win, and looked for opportunities to do so. Is it any wonder that marginal or undecided voters chose a vibrant candidate (Hillary) over “bubble boy.”
3. In general, Obama and Team Obama appeared cocky. Team Obama was telling everybody if it could win in New Hampshire after winning Iowa, it would proceed to win the nomination. Maybe Team Obama wanted to raise the stakes of New Hampshire to motivate everyone to come out. Instead, it may have given the impression to Obama supporters that this train was so full; it didn’t really need anyone else to come on. Yes, voter turnout for Obama was up, but clearly not in a way that was proportionate to the much larger crowds Obama was attracting to his events than Hillary to hers. The energy and chemistry that worked so well for Team Obama in Iowa was apparently left in Iowa.
4. Team Obama didn’t tamp down expectations. Yes, all of the polls- privately commissioned and those for Obama and Clinton-- had Obama winning New Hampshire, with the range being from a few points (Somewhat ironically, that one came from Fox) to more than a dozen points. Under those circumstances, it might have been hard to “put a lid on expectations.” But, it didn’t seem like Team Obama even tried. That might have meant a lot of Obama volunteers didn’t go all out—why should they if they knew Obama would win by a dozen, if not more, points. Also, all of this made Hillary’s three or four point margin of victory the equivalent of a landslide.
5. Hillary wanted it more. She did something she never did before. She cried in public. [See here]. When all else fails, try to humanize yourself—especially if you are viewed as the dragon lady (And, to this reporter's surprise, the cry apparently worked). But, more to the point, Hillary kept pushing, being aggressive—even if it meant playing the victim—to give another reason for New Hampshire to vote for her. Obama, on the other hand, said, “If your name is Barack Obama, you are always the underdog,” but truth be told, he just didn’t seem to be contesting votes in the same way Hillary was. In short, Obama didn’t want to win as badly as Hillary. That, and the other reasons articulated, above, for Obama’s loss last night, are bad habits that Obama and his team will have to change quickly if he is to win the nomination.
Jeff Berkowitz, Show Host/Producer of "Public Affairs," and Executive Legal Recruiter doing legal search can be reached at You may watch "Public Affairs," shows with Presidential Candidates Richardson, Obama, McCain, Giuliani and Cox and many other pols at
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