I spent the day yesterday back in Salem with Mitt Romney and Hillary Clinton -- the two candidates who, most likely, will end up in second place when the votes in New Hampshire have been counted. But rather than seeing two contenders on their last legs, I came away convinced it was far too early to count either Romney or Clinton out.
Much like George W. Bush in 2000 fought back from his New Hampshire loss as a "Reformer with Results," Romney has used his early setback as an opportunity to retool his campaign. His town hall featured a large sign reading "Washington is Broken" to the left of a big American flag. Romney's new stump speech posits him as not as the defender of the Republican establishment he was running as for all of 2007 but as what you might well call "an agent of change." He pitches himself as someone who is coming from outside the Beltway to transform Washington and explicitly defines John McCain as a veteran Senator who has been a decades long fixture of the status quo.
To the right of that big American flag, Romney has another sign: a numbered "To Do" list that he uses almost as a Power Point slide to guide him through the policy elements of his speech. It is Harvard MBA hokey, but -- for him -- it works.
Hillary Clinton is likely to lose big tonight. But the talk that she is out of this race is silly. In the past couple of days, she has shown more of her winning personality - and that is all for the good. She has also begun to grope toward something that she did not demonstrate for most of 2007: a rationale for her candidacy. Her campaign has allowed her -- someone who helped begin the Children's Defense Fund and the Legal Services corporation in the 1970s -- to be pigeonholed by the media as a part of the Washington establishment. Now, rather than vaguely professing her "experience," she is beginning to offer up her effectiveness in bringing change. With another loss in the space of a week, her road forward would be difficult. But at least in New Hampshire, she has begun to find her way to that path.
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