WASHINGTON – While the chattering class has discussed the possibility of three tickets out of New Hampshire this year, the race for the Democratic presidential nomination traditionally narrows to two the day after the first-in-the-nation primary.
This year's top Democratic presidential contenders are Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry and former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean, who hit it big Tuesday night in what is considered both men's backyard.
And while each spins his message on what the New Hampshire contest means -- Kerry promoting himself as the unbeatable Democrat to take on President Bush and Dean casting himself as an endurance player on the way to a comeback following a surprisingly poor showing in Iowa -- several political analysts are predicting that the race may already be over.
"Fifteen points can be seen as a blowout ... if it stays in double digits, I think the Dean camp is going to have a hard time making the case that Dean is the comeback kid," political analyst and Fox News contributor Susan Estrich said before the final results were in.
"Every candidate who has won the Iowa caucuses and the New Hampshire primaries has gone on to win the nomination," regardless of party, said Weekly Standard editor Fred Barnes.
"Look at the bump that Kerry got out of Iowa, coming into New Hamsphire, that will pale in comparison to what we will see tomorrow," said Democratic strategist Mary Ann Marsh.
Kerry won New Hampshire with 39 percent of the vote and 13 of the 22 pledged delegates. Dean won 26 percent of the vote and nine delegates. Eight days earlier, Kerry won Iowa and took 19 delegates. Dean placed third and won eight delegates.
North Carolina Sen. John Edwards, who fell late in Tuesday's race to a close fourth place finish behind retired Gen. Wesley Clark, earned 17 delegates from his second place showing in Iowa.
The eventual nominee needs 2,161 delegates out of a possible 4,321 to win.
According to exit polling, Kerry won or ran virtually even in several demographic groups that seemed to belong to Dean. Among youth voters, whom Dean had hoped to capitalize on following an intensive Internet campaign, Dean won 34 percent of 18- to 29-year-olds while Kerry won 33 percent. Among 30- to 44-year-olds, Dean won 26 percent compared to Kerry's 37 percent. Kerry also pulled far ahead among voters 45 and older.
"We knew voters in New Hampshire knew John Kerry, knew him well and liked him. They needed to understand that he was a viable candidate," said Kerry pollster and strategist Mark Mellman. "John Kerry has coming roaring back in New Hampshire, giving us tremendous momentum all around the country. Iowa answered all the questions about viability."
Kerry also surprised many when it comes to voters' positions on the Iraq war. Kerry has argued that he supported the congressional resolution for the war in Iraq because he thought the president would handle his authority more responsibly. Dean said he opposed going to war in Iraq from the start.
Exit polling showed that 23 percent of New Hampshire Democratic primary voters said the war in Iraq had made the United States safer while 70 percent said it did not. Among the 70 percent who said they thought the country is no more safe, Dean won 36 percent of that vote compared to 35 percent who went for Kerry and 10 percent each for Clark and Edwards.
Kerry dominated among voters who wanted an electable candidate with the most experience who had the best chance to beat Bush. And while he won 30 percent of the self-described "very liberal" voters compared to Dean's 41 percent, Kerry picked up 39 percent of "somewhat liberal" voters compared to 33 percent for Dean. Kerry also crushed in the "moderate" category of voters, taking 43 percent compared to 18 percent for Dean.
"If electability is the issue, look at what the Fox News poll showed," said National Public Radio national correspondent Juan Williams. "It said that if you really care about electability, 50 percent of those voters in New Hampshire, went where? They want to Kerry. I think that trend is going to continue nationwide."
Lastly, among the one-third who said Dean does not have a presidential temperament, half voted for Kerry, about 20 percent favored Edwards and nearly all the rest split among Clark and Lieberman.
"The temperament issue has come to be [Dean's] millstone, the log around his neck, whatever you want to say," said Williams. "He doesn't want to address it, he doesn't want to talk about it, he didn't want the networks to ask voters about it as they were leaving the polls today."
The Winds of Change
Michael Barone, co-author of the Almanac of American Politics, said that Dean and Kerry's fates started changing in the run-up to Iowa, noting two specific occasions where the tides began to turn and the issues began to crystallize.
In the first, a voter asked Dean during a Jan. 11 question-and-answer session to stop badmouthing President Bush and to be more neighborly. Dean's soon-to-be-obvious temper flared when he responded, "George Bush is not my neighbor ... you sit down, you've had your say and now I am going to have my say."
"If you look at the tracking polls in Iowa, Howard Dean's tracking numbers started going down on Jan. 12. He had some other shows of meanness, or whatever, that clearly hurt him with Iowa voters. He went into a slide from which he has yet to recover," Barone said.
Vietnam veteran and registered-Republican, Jim Rassmann, whom Kerry had saved from drowning during the war, called up the campaign to offer his volunteer services. The incorporation of Rassmann into the campaign began driving attention toward Kerry's leadership and courage.
"He says he is apparently somewhat politically naive," Barone said of Rassman. "He said when he called the Kerry headquarters, he thought they might be asking him to man a phone bank in Oregon. Whoever answered that phone in Kerry headquarters in Washington had a pretty good idea what do to and they had him on a plane from Oregon to Iowa in less than 24 hours.
"That helped John Kerry sprint over the line ahead of John Edwards in Iowa, and that looks to have been very significant because John Kerry, the winner in Iowa, got a big bump out of Iowa in the New Hampshire polls. He immediately rose the next day after the Iowa caucuses, Howard Dean fell," Barone said.
Despite Kerry's bump, as the primary campaigns head onto the national stage, he is not free and clear to receive the nomination yet, say some experts. Kerry has a long record in the Senate voting against intelligence appropriations, the Apache helicopter and other weapons used in the Iraq war, said Roll Call executive editor Mort Kondracke.
"That's going to hurt him" if those votes are effectively used against him, Kondracke said.
But Barnes said Kerry can effectively put those criticisms to rest.
"I think his Vietnam experience, if he doesn't overdo talking about it and have Jim Rassmann appear on every podium with him, which he hasn't done, it really takes the edge off some of the votes that Republicans are going to attack him on," he said.
What to Do Now
Dean campaign manager Joe Trippi said Tuesday night that the campaign does "not consider South Carolina and Missouri to be battleground states next Tuesday," and Dean plans to concentrate on other states. Dean said he will start with a series of television interviews and ad buys in the seven states scheduled for primaries next week and then build on the strong grassroots efforts already in place in California, New York and Texas.
Kondracke warned that Dean needs to rethink his campaign strategy if he's going to survive the next month of primaries.
"Dean going to New Mexico, not national, is conceding that the only way to win is to catch Kerry someplace. That's not the way a confident campaign operates," Kondracke said.
"If Howard Dean thinks that he can just pick out a few states and challenge Kerry, and take him to the convention, I think he's mistaken," added Barnes.
Republican National Committe Chairman Ed Gillespie said Kerry has shown some momentum, but it doesn't matter to Republicans which candidate wins the nomination.
"The fact is, all of the people who seem to be coming out of New Hampshire, going to South Carolina, Missouri, Arizona and places, the fact is they are all for higher taxes. There's not a bit of difference between them when it comes to whether or not they are in favor of raising taxes at a time when we're tyring to create jobs," Gillespie said.
Mellman said he's confident his candidate will face Bush in November.
I don't think you can come in third in Iowa, as Howard Dean did, come in a rather distant second here in New Hampshire, a state where he was leading by a tremendous margin just a few weeks ago, and claim to have the moral authority, if you will, to coontinue this race. I have no doubt they are going to continue, but I think Howard Dean is really the walking wounded," Mellman said.
But despite all the certainty the experts project, few care to make absolute predictions about the future.
"I still have this thought in the back of my mind that John Edwards could somehow surprise all of us in all of this and actually be the nominee himself," said radio talk show host Laura Ingraham. "That might be a longshot after New Hampshire today, but I would not count him out. I think John Edwards could be a formidable candidate against President Bush and he has one thing going for him. He is not a Massachusetts liberal."