Watching the election results from New Hampshire tonight now makes it clear that Senator John McCain, given up for dead politically in August-September of 2007, is alive and well.
Senator McCain has created quite a stir over the course of his public career in the U. S. Senate. He is a self-described "maverick" and never seems to fit into the comfortable categories of any single interest group. He is clearly a social conservative, if you check his record, and at the same time he can appeal to both Republicans and Independents. He even appeals to some Democrats, like Joe Lieberman sorts, who believe the president needs to be a strong commander-in-chief.
McCain won tonight among those who were looking for a person who was most qualified to be commander-in-chief. Personal qualities were more important than leadership qualities, at least to voters for John McCain. His fiesty and no-nonsense style is popular once again. And 74% of NH voters today said John McCain is the most likable. (By the way, in the last two general elections George W. Bush was the "most likable" in 2000 and 2004.) Further, McCain won among those who feel that he can actually win in November. The oldest candidate of all in this race, now 71 years of age, John McCain won among every age group tonight except for one, senior citizens.
It seems McCain can still appeal to younger voters, which will be needed if a Republican has to face Barack Obama. So tonight looks like John McCain’s night. But it is only one day in a cycle. Next week, in Michigan, things could shift again. That is the nature of this system and how people think and then vote.
What about Hillary Clinton? She leads early in the evening but exist polls are unclear right now. If she wins it will be quite a comeback for sure. If she loses then it will be interesting to see how she does in South Carolina and other competitive states. It also appears that she will change her team tomorrow to try a new approach. As her strategy fails, or seems to fail, I expect former-president Clinton will take a more hands-on approach than ever. Does the nation have Clinton fatigue? We shall soon see.
In South Carolina evangelicals will help Huckabee in large numbers. I even saw a poll today that said West Michigan, with its heavily evangelical and home-school population, will back Huckabee. Make no mistake about this, Mike Huckabee is seeking to build a coalition of very conservative evangelicals into a distinct political base. So now evangelicals have become a definable "special interest" group to be sought for by a Baptist minister running for president. I confess that I still have significant questions about this strategy and about this man, who I do not think is a consistent conservative in a number of ways. I respect my friends who like Huckabee but I fear he has none of the experience needed in a person who is up to the task of leading this nation.
The simple reality is that in one more month most of this will be sorted out. By Super Tuesday it is likely that the race will be over and then a way-too-long general campaign begins in earnest. Then third part candidates will consider what they might do. Will Michael Bloomberg run? I think he might.
Make no mistake about it. The nature of our system is that we will continue to discuss these issues until November. Before you criticize the system, and fuss about our polarization, realize that these kinds of debates and elections have gone on for well over a hundred and fifty years. The nature of our system invites this and I am glad we can still carry on such a process, even though at times it is too costly and too long.