The amazing rebound of Hillary Clinton may have a beneficial effect on Republican fortunes. Instead of facing an inexperienced but inspirational opponent in the general election, it now appears that the GOP nominee will have to fight the Clintons and their political machine. And that could make a big difference in party turnout and cohesion in November:
Mr. Obama was counting on a New Hampshire victory to serve as a permission slip for Democratic leaders across the country to step forward to support his candidacy. He was hoping to trade the title of insurgent candidate for the perilous crown of front-runner. But the race is now a draw between the two rivals — with John Edwards of North Carolina, who came in a distant third, vowing to continue — and a furious scramble lies ahead.
With a confidence buoyed by a series of polls that consistently showed Mr. Obama leading Mrs. Clinton by as many as 10 percentage points, the Obama campaign was shaken by the loss as the final ballots were tabulated from a primary election held on a glorious springlike day where a record number of Democrats turned out.
If Mr. Obama had hoped to leave New Hampshire as a soaring victor, on his way to seizing the air of inevitability that had belonged for months to Mrs. Clinton, his narrow loss underscored the challenges that lie ahead for turning a political movement into an electoral success.
Winning states that candidates should have lost provides momentum. Losing states they should have won kills it. Hillary had little chance of winning Iowa, but Obama had New Hampshire in his grasp and got outfought in the waning hours. With Hillary's advantage in the coastal states and a fresh wind in her sails, she has once again established herself as the overwhelming favorite to win the nomination.
Republicans could not have asked for a better scenario, except perhaps to have Hillary twist in the wind a little longer. She has proven herself very vulnerable to self-inflicted wounds, but remains in control of the race. Independents still shy away from her, and her own party mistrusts her; Bill can't even fill the room any longer.
A run against Hillary relieves a lot of pressure from the GOP. No one believes that Hillary can inspire people out to the polls like Barack Obama. Her negatives run far too high for that kind of reaction to her candidacy. Republicans worried more about Obama because he changed the dynamics of presidential races, where experience and strength may have turned into liabilities rather than assets. Hillary hasn't run that kind of campaign, instead emphasizing her "training" as First Lady as experience and strength unmatched by her opponents.
But everyone, Republicans and Democrats alike, know why the GOP wants to face Hillary in November. It's not because they like the Clintons, but because the Clintons unite the Republican base like no other Democrat -- and perhaps like no other Republican. Hillary will star in thousands of mailers, television ads, and websites, all cajoling Republicans to open their wallets, organize, and get to the voting booth.
And -- it will work. Even in a year where the fractures among the Republican coalition have been painfully evident, everyone will unite to keep the Clintons out of the White House. While Obama may have won some moderate Republicans to his side just based on his personal appeal, none will endorse the Restoration. Fredheads, Log Cabins, evangelicals, small-L libertarians, and hawks will all find a truce to battle Hillary to the last vote.
If the Democrats didn't see this, they will have made their biggest mistake since John Kerry reported for duty and lost the Democrats an election they easily could have won.