01/14/2008 08:43 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Did an Obama Voter in a New Hampshire Coffee Shop Accidentally Help Make Hillary the Democratic Nominee and McCain the Next President?

To paraphrase a Buddhist proverb, "a butterfly flaps its wings in a New Hampshire coffee shop and a tsunami hits Washington, D.C."

If one moment can be credited with saving Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign after her devastating loss to Barack Obama and John Edwards in Iowa, many believe it's the 10 seconds in which she teared up in a New Hampshire coffee shop (before expertly pivoting to attack Obama's readiness for the White House), which apparently helped convince thousands of women to rally to Hillary to defeat Obama in New Hampshire by 7,500 votes.

The woman who asked the question "How do you do it?", which set off the tears, was Marianne Pernold-Young, a 64 year old breast cancer survivor, Democratic party activist and freelance photographer (she was a campaign photographer for Jimmy Carter's campaign and hosted a fundraiser for Bill Clinton in 1992) who says she actually voted for Barack Obama. According to reports, Pernold-Young almost didn't ask the question, thinking it was "too girlie", but when the microphone came her way after an hour of wonkish answers from Hillary, it was all she could think to ask.

In our upside down political system where personality counts for more than substance, it seems as though that moment may have changed the outcome of the New Hampshire Primary, strongly contributing Hillary's to surprise victory, rescuing her campaign from near death, and again making her the front-runner for the Democratic nomination.

A USA/Today Gallup poll taken January 4-6 between the Iowa Caucuses and the New Hampshire primary showed that among Democrats nationally, Clinton and Obama were tied at 33% each with Edwards at 20%. A CNN poll taken January 9-10, after the New Hampshire Primary, shows Clinton leading with 49% to 39% for Obama and 12% to Edwards. In polls taken January 9-12, CBS News shows Clinton ahead with 42% to Obama's 27% to Edward's 11%, and American Research Group has Clinton leading with 47% to 27% for Obama and 13% for Edwards.

In short, Clinton's New Hampshire victory, propelled in part by the incident in the New Hampshire coffee shop, may have saved Hillary Clinton's candidacy as the 2008 Democratic nominee.

Unfortunately, history may also come to show that it helped make John McCain the next President of the United States.

McCain's own New Hampshire victory restored his stature as the front-runner and likely Republican nominee. According to most polls, McCain would soundly beat Hillary Clinton in the general election and become the next President.

Ominously for Democrats, a Rasmussen polls released January 13 shows McCain defeating Clinton by 11 points, 49%-38%, up from Rasmussen's December polls which showed McCain beating Clinton by 6 points. January's Rasmussen polls shows McCain beating Obama by only 3 points, 46%-43% which is within the margin of error. In other words, according to Rasmussen, Obama has an 8 point advantage over Clinton in a race against McCain. A December 12-14 Zogby Poll has McCain defeating Clinton 49%-42% but Obama beating McCain 47%-43%, a 10 point advantage for Obama over Clinton.

Beyond the polls, there are many other reasons to fear that if the Democrats nominate Clinton and the Republicans nominate McCain, McCain would be the next President. Over the past two years, Hillary's "unfavorable" ratings have ranged from 40%-55% and are currently running about 45%, the highest "unfavorable" of any presidential candidate in presidential history at this stage of the campaign. With nearly half the voters already having decided not to vote for Clinton, she has almost no margin for error.

It's hard to think of a state that Bush won in 2000 or 2004 that would be won by Clinton over McCain in 2008. In contrast, it's not hard to conceive of McCain beating Clinton is such traditionally Democratic states as New Jersey and Pennsylvania. In fact, Rasmussen's most recent poll has McCain beating Clinton by 8% in Pennsylvania. Missouri Democratic Whip Connie Johnson recently warned, "If Hillary comes to the state of Missouri, we can write it off". That's one of the main reasons why Missouri's Democratic Senator, Clair McCaskill just endorsed Obama.

Morever, turnout is key in a Presidential campaign and, since McCain is not popular with much of the Republican base, many might stay home in a race against Obama or Edwards. In contracs, the Republican base rightly or wrongly despises Hillary, which could easily increase Republican turnout motivated just by defeating her, even if many Republicans are less than thrilled with McCain.

There are very few Democrats who would vote for Clinton in the primaries who would not also vote for Obama or Edwards in the general election. However, there are many independents and even disaffected Republicans who would not vote for Clinton in the general election but might well vote for Edwards or Obama, who, unlike Clinton, have shown the ability to reach beyond the traditional Democratic base. This is clearly shown by Obama trouncing Clinton among independents in both Iowa and New Hampshire. In contrast, the recent Rasmussen poll shows McCain beating Clinton by 21 points among independents.

Both Obama and Edwards show the potential of moving beyond the 50/50 blue/red divide of recent elections and significantly expanding the number of voters for the Democratic candidate, with a good chance of winning border states won by Bill Clinton in 1992 and 1996 like Virginia, Missouri, West Virginia and Tennessee and mountain states like New Mexico, Arizona, Montana and Colorado where Hillary Clinton would have a very hard time.

In addition, while many Congressional Democrats in red and purple distracts would have to run away from Clinton, Obama and Edwards are more likely to bring larger Democratic majorities in the House and Senate. Whether in theory you think that progressive change would more likely come from demanding it, negotiating for it, or working hard for it, in practice progressive change will come most easily if a Democratic President is elected by a significant margin and Democrats add 5-7 Senate seats, creating a mandate that would discourage Republican filibusters of major reform legislation on issues like health care, taxes on the wealthy, and global warming. As a Democratic Senate candidate in a battleground state recently said, "I can tell you who would hurt me the most--Hillary Clinton."

So thank you Marianne Pernold-Young, if John McCain is our next President. I know you didn't mean it, but politics can take strange turns.