For Clinton, a "voice" and a victory

"Let's give America the kind of comeback that you gave me tonight."

Published January 9, 2008 4:48AM (EST)

The political world will spend the next week wondering what happened in New Hampshire. Did the pollsters get it completely wrong, did voters change their minds at the last moment, or did some other dynamic -- the women, the teary eyes, Bill Clinton's offense or Barack Obama's defense -- bring Hillary Clinton back from the near-dead?

Clinton seems to have her answer already. Celebrating her victory in Manchester tonight, she said: "In the last week, I listened to you, and in the process, I found my own voice."

For all the talk of re-tooling her campaign after New Hampshire, Clinton said the key to victory was the heart-felt, two-way conversation she's started to have with voters. "I am so grateful that you responded," she said. "Now together, let's give America the kind of comeback that you gave me tonight."

It was an amazing moment for Clinton, a moment that didn't seem even remotely possible as the polls closed three and a half hours earlier. Pollsters saw a six- or seven-point Obama victory, a second devastating defeat coming hard on the heels of Clinton's distant third-place showing in Iowa. There would be a hard road ahead, and there were questions -- many repeated here -- as to whether Clinton could survive the journey.

Forget all of that. When Clinton launched her campaign last year, she said she was "in it to win it." Now, after tonight's resurrection, she says she and her people will get up tomorrow, "roll up our sleeves, and keep going."

It still won't be easy. Clinton needed New Hampshire to keep herself in the race, but it will take much more than this to win it. Obama is expected to pick up a major union endorsement in Nevada tomorrow. African-American voters could rally behind him in South Carolina. And even as she talked tonight of finding her own voice, Clinton showed that she can't really compete with Obama as an orator. She was tonight's winner, but his crowd was louder. She was tonight's story, but his speech was more triumphant.

She spoke in platitudes. He reached for poetry. Clinton said that her campaign would "transform America, because we will take on the challenges, we will seize the opportunities." Obama invoked the "workers who organized, women who reached for the ballot, a president who chose the moon as our new frontier, and a king who took us to the mountaintop and pointed the way to the promised land."

Maybe that won't matter in the end. Maybe none of this will. As John Edwards said earlier in the night, we're just "two races down" with 48 still to go. But if everything had gone as expected tonight, the contests to come might have been just the slow conclusion of what has already passed. It's not like that now. Obama gets Iowa. Clinton gets New Hampshire. And now the race begins.

By Tim Grieve

Tim Grieve is a senior writer and the author of Salon's War Room blog.

MORE FROM Tim Grieve

Related Topics ------------------------------------------

2008 Elections Barack Obama Hillary Rodham Clinton War Room