POLITICS
03/28/2008 02:45 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Clinton Biographer Tries To Answer: How Did Hillary Win NH?

Hillary Clinton's upset victory in New Hampshire this week starkly underscores the unique and long-standing political union she has built with her husband, according to Clinton biographer Sally Bedell Smith.

"Look at what was being reported from inside her campaign, culminating in Bill taking over. It was a classic case," Smith said in an interview. "What happens when they are up against the wall, is that they only trust each other."

Smith spent more than three years and conducted more than 160 interviews in the process of writing her latest book, "For Love of Politics -- Bill and Hillary Clinton: The White House Years." The work probes deep into the Clinton marriage and argues that a shared political partnership has defined the couple for more than three decades. And Clinton's unexpected win over rival Barack Obama, said Smith, was but one more chapter in the symbiotic history of America's most famous power couple.

In the wake of news reports of infighting within Hillary's team, of fundraisers threatening to rescind their support, and of a possible restructuring of the campaign strategy, the candidate naturally turned to her husband, Smith said. "He was deployed to do the dirty work for her. Just as she was deployed to do the dirty work for him," she said referring to Hillary Clinton's role during the last years of her husband's embattled presidency.

Clinton's strong New Hampshire showing, Smith argued, simultaneously revealed the candidate's weakness and strengths. One of the most telling moments of the New Hampshire primary, Smith said, occurred when the stress of the campaign apparently began to gnaw at Senator Clinton's psyche. Asked a question about how she maintained her composure while on the trail, the New York Democrat quivered and visibly started to tear up. The highly-publicized incident was seen by many as Clinton's turning point as New Hampshire voters responded positively to her emotional reaction. For Smith, however, the fact that the tears became so widely discussed was as telling as the display itself.

"Just the very notion of that," Smith said, "shows how ingrained the mistrust is of whatever she says or does. So much of what she has said for so many years has been calculated that it is so tough to judge something like that given her history. It is tough to except it at face value... The fact that it is a matter of debate is incredibly revealing."

Yet it was a return to aggressive politicking, Smith said, that ultimately helped Clinton turn around her electoral fortunes. Following her third place finish in the Iowa caucus, the former First Lady responded with vigor, taking Obama to task for policy positions, contradictory votes, and accusing him of offering "false hope."

"The thing that surprised me the most were in the last few days of Iowa," said Smith. "It was the woefully subdued affect she had. She was lowering her voice, speaking slowly, trying to be presidential, I guess. That seemed out of character. When she sprang to life was [during the New Hampshire] debate, when she got her back up. That was the Hillary who everyone knows. Her essential role for her is to be confrontational. And it worked for her in the debates."

"Even at the weepy moment, when her eyes were filling were tears. What was most remarkable was that she stayed relentlessly on the attack," Smith added. "She got emotional up to a point and then just never deviated from her focus, which was to continue to throw the daggers at Obama and Edwards. She got in some deft points while she was apparently melting."