So, all coronations have been deferred. The story today is of two riveting political comebacks from John McCain and Hillary Clinton. From the standpoint of suspense, McCain's win has made the Republican race the more interesting of the two - three states have so far selected three different candidates, the money and the momentum each reside with different persons, and some wags will even tell you that an insistent pulse still beats in the moribund campaign of Rudy Giuliani. But the media, having more or less predicted the McCain win, will probably find the Democratic race to be the more fascinating. After all, it's the race they got wrong. (I include myself in their company.)
Coming out of New Hampshire, the Obama-Clinton tilt will likely foster two major topics of discussion. The first, of course, will be the havoc wrought by the all the polls taken in advance of the primary. As it turns out, when the numbers were right, they were very, very right - but when they were off they were horrid. By a vast margin, the polls underestimated Clinton's support in New Hampshire. There are a ton of questions. Was there really a post-Iowa "bounce" for Obama? Did the McCain comeback bleed away independents from the Democratic race? Did the ebbing of Edwards' support favor Clinton over Obama? If so, will a rise in Edwards standing in South Carolina doom Clinton? And, if forced to choose another candidate, will the Edwards hardliners behave in the same way as Edwards' more fickle supporters?
One effect this fiasco is going to have is it's going to put both the Obama and Clinton campaigns in a bunker where polling is concerned. Neither will likely stake any claim in what the Zogby/ARG/Rasmussens of the world say for a good long while, because the false certainty of the numbers put both the Obama and Clinton campaigns at a disadvantage. On the Obama side, one can't help but feel like a certain overconfidence was in play, and it soon gave way to an unexpected tension, loss, and sagging spirits. And while the Clinton side may today relish having seen their opponent's bubble get so dramatically burst, that will be tempered by the fact that the bad numbers took their campaign to the edge of imploding. And all the talk of hiring, firing, eleventh-hour gambits and last-ditch strategy went down in the public eye.
Of course, the irony of that public implosion is that it gave rise to the key New Hampshire moment that will be the second major topic of discussion - Clinton's emotional display on the stump. Talk about a turnaround! Within hours, Clinton's tears had gone from the bell that tolled her last to her saving grace!
This meme began it's evolution last night. In this clip from early in the evening, you'll see Rachel Maddow suggest that the hit Hillary took for crying was a significant "double standard." Then, hilariously, Pat Buchanan and Chris Matthews attempt to make a set of qualitative rules that govern when it's all right to cry. As far as the idea of "Pat Buchanan: Guru of Emotional Openness" goes, I advise you: do not try this at home.
Later on last night, Maddow got in her licks in stunning fashion, when she noted that Talking Points Memo was suggesting that it was Chris Matthews' own shoddy treatment of Clinton (and we'll remind you that there was no more eager participant in the whole "gender card" discussion that Matthews) that drove people to vote for Clinton out of "defense."
Of course, over at Talking Points Memo, one reader was quick to offer that "Voting to disprove a media narrative has to be the stupidest thing I've ever heard. Truly." And we also note that on American Morning today, John Roberts reported that Marianne Pernold-Young, who asked the question that brought forth Hillary's tears wound up voting for Obama. But then again, check out what Matthews said this morning! It's a classic ouroboros! I'm sensing that this discussion could go on for some time.
Of course, the volatility in Democratic race has proven to be an infectious agent throughout the entire campaign season. After Iowa, the spirit of Change infected every candidate everywhere with the Esctasy of Saint Barack. Now that Hillary's Les Miserables act is suddenly in vogue, perhaps we'll see the rest of these grown men out on the stump behaving as if they've just emerged from a screening of Terms of Endearment. Naturally, Mitt Romney will face a new round of scrutiny after the Boston Phoenix reveals that neither he nor his father ever saw the movie.