Wednesday, January 09, 2008

The Comeback Kids

Hillary Clinton of the Democrats, and the Republican John McCain, have won their respective New Hampshire primaries. It makes them the favourites to be the eventual choice of their party to fight November's presidential election. Both have had to make remarkable comebacks - McCain over the last few months, Clinton in the last few days.

Sixteen years ago, Bill Clinton's surprise second-place finish in New Hampshire led his strategy chief James Carville to call him the 'comeback kid' - and he ended up in the White House. Having been soundly beaten by Barack Obama in Iowa last week, and after days of free positive publicity for the Obama campaign, Hillary Clinton's victory is a far greater achievement than her husband's second-place was. She's taken Obama's best shot and is still on her feet in the campaign, so it would be a major shock if she didn't end up as the Democrat nominee now. It's not over for Obama, or indeed John Edwards (the next state is South Carolina - where Edwards is from and where he won the primary four years ago), but if either is to make it to November's general election, it's likely to be as Clinton's running mate.

John McCain's fortunes have run roughly parallel to those of the US military in Iraq. He lost his position as the Republican front-runner this time last year, as his continued support for the war left him looking a bit silly. But the spectacular success of the US troop surge, a policy McCain supported more than anyone, and the resulting sharp drop in violence in Iraq, now makes him look more like the vastly experienced politician he is. The maverick senator - who has done high-profile and good work on campaign finance reform and stopping torture in recent years - won the support of plenty of independent voters in New Hampshire, once again proving his ability to win support from outside the Republican party. That's something the Republicans desperately need if they're going to win another election in November. McCain's been here before - eight years ago he thrashed George W Bush in New Hampshire only for dirty tricks to help take the race away from him in South Carolina - but he looks the likely overall winner now. At 71, McCain's hardly a comeback kid, but his resurgence is still extremely impressive.

And so, we're looking at a Clinton v McCain contest for the White House. A couple of years ago that seemed by far the likeliest outcome, too. All the time, money and effort that's gone into the campaigning since then hasn't made too much difference. It won't stop them doing it all again in four years time.

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