Volunteers, campaign organizers and political tourists from around the country flooded into New Hampshire for what many believed would be a landslide election victory for Obama. The warm weather boosted voter turnout, and volunteers, campaign cheers and signs turned the usually quiet center of Claremont into a political circus. Cars regularly splashed through deep puddles from the melting snow, covering campaigners with water and mud.
Visiting different candidates' offices offered an interesting look into the psychology and climate of leading Democratic campaigns. The Obama office was busy and upbeat, almost celebratory. Most of the people there were convinced that Obama would win big in New Hampshire, as the polls had indicated. Some in the Obama office weren't even concerned about losing in New Hampshire; they were just worried about winning big enough to further weaken the Clinton campaign. This led to a kind of self-assuredness that could have hurt Obama's campaign in New Hampshire. Obama organizers and volunteers alike weren't as aggressive as they might have been if the polls indicated a closer race. On the other hand, at the Clinton headquarters, people were working hard for what they believed would be a decisive race that could be won with aggressive campaigning, door-knocking and phone calls. The Clinton campaign was fighting to survive, while the Obama campaign was sure of a victory, and in a sense, resting on the laurels of their win in Iowa.
This attitude was present among voters I spoke with as well. Many who supported Obama expected him to win big in New Hampshire, and so voted for Edwards or Clinton instead, to "keep the race interesting" or "help out the under dog." Some voters I spoke with didn't vote at all because they thought Obama's victory was sealed. It's likely that all of this contributed to Obama's loss in New Hampshire.
The other (possibly misleading) indicator of campaign strategies were the number of signs and sign-wavers out in the streets for respective Democratic campaigns. In Claremont, the snow banks and lawns were basically painted blue with Clinton signs of all sizes. There were comparatively very few Obama signs. Similarly, Clinton had a steady stream of young women chanting cheerleading songs in her support and enthusiastically waving signs in the town's center. The steady supply of Obama sign-wavers weren't as vocal. Again, I think this reflects the more laid-back, self-assured Obama supporters, versus the Clinton supporters who were fighting harder for votes and electoral survival.
Compared to the bustling Clinton and Obama offices, the John Edwards office was relatively empty, quiet and understaffed. When I entered, I was greeted by a dizzy organizer who proceeded to sway on his feet and eventually collapse on a nearby table in total exhaustion. "It's been a long week," he said, his head weaving back and forth. "I'm really tired."
As the voting results came in after dark, different tables at a local pizza place were occupied by competing campaign volunteers and organizers. As the numbers rolled in on the screen, those at the Clinton table looked surprised and ecstatic, while Obama supporters looked shocked and upset. Some kept waiting for Obama's number to climb, but they never did, and eventually Clinton was declared the winner. The results from the New Hampshire primary and the Iowa caucuses show that the polls and pundits were wrong, indicating that it's likely to be an election year full of surprises.
Benjamin Dangl is the editor of Toward Freedom and is based in Burlington, Vermont. Please stay tuned for upcoming articles from Toward Freedom analyzing the US presidential candidates and their policies.