As the reverberation of the stunning Iowa results slowly fades and attention turns to the GraniteState, we see that the world of politics has changed dramatically over the past few months. The seeming Obama surge and Clinton slide was very real…painfully real for the Clintons. Clinton’s distant third place finish behind Obama (and Edwards though by a small margin) was the worst possible result for her. It totally shatters her already cracked image of “inevitability” and transforms her into a politician desperately in need of a win.
Clinton always had high negatives among the public which put questions in many Democrats minds of whether she could be elected or not. Despite those questions, many Dems supported her because they thought she stood the best chance of delivering the victory in November that they want so badly. Most Dems liked Obama much better but really did not think he could pull it all off. The Iowa debacle was devastating on both fronts for Clinton. First, it exacerbates the latent feelings that she is unelectable. If she could not win in Iowa where she had the organization and had unleashed her secret weapon (the Bill bomb), can she win in the general election. Secondly, Obama’s victory in vanilla-white Iowa demonstrated an across-the-board appeal that many Dems thought he lacked.
All of this translates into New Hampshire being an almost must-win for Clinton. If she loses there, she faces the prospect of going into South Carolina, where the primary electorate is about 50 percent black, with an 0-2 record. In that case, a South Carolina loss to Obama would almost certainly finish her candidacy. Clinton would not drop out and has the money to continue to make a fight of it but Obama should cruise to victory.
The Clinton camp faces a Hobson’s Choice. They can continue to do things as they are doing them and hope that her razor-thin lead in the New Hampshire polls holds out…not a good prospect for victory in view of the momentum that Obama will surely gain with his victory…or they can go negative, hoping to bring down Obama’s favorable ratings by direct challenges to his honestly, electability, and experience. The second route is surely the one the Clintons will take because it holds the best prospects for success though it also risks raising her negatives even higher and giving the nomination to Obama. The Clintons’ have never been the types to leave things to chance so they will definitely roll the dice for the big gains with the hopes that their allies in the media will cover for them. It is a risky option but probably the only one open to them now.