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Left Behind

Barack Obama Thought He'd Ditched Hillary Clinton in Iowa. Turns Out He Only Ditched Me.

Left Behind

Laurie Ragen Gustafson

3:00 a.m., January 2: Let Me Off

I was on the wrong bus. Worse, I had no idea where exactly I was. I knew what the travel schedule was telling me, that we were somewhere between the small towns of Creston and Centerville, somewhere in southern Iowa. But all I knew for sure was that I'd boarded a plane leaving Seattle at 5:45 a.m. on New Year's Day and now, steadily approaching another 5:45 a.m. and still, unhappily, awake, I was sitting in a cramped seat on the John Edwards bus tour, a 36-hour nonstop race toward the Iowa caucuses that the candidate was calling his "Marathon for the Middle Class."

For a marathon, there was not much moving of legs. We in the press bus moved our fingers, typing up what we saw whenever Edwards aides ushered us briefly off the bus and into a farmhouse, or a diner, or a local campaign headquarters packed with supporters. But mostly we moved in our seats, trying to get comfortable on what seemed like a rolling upper-middle-class hobo camp—a high-end reporter with her pillow; a guy with a digital camcorder and a different caffeinated drink every time I looked (Red Bull, Mountain Dew, Coke, coffee, repeat); empty plastic water bottles everywhere; complaints of "I thought the Middle Class Express might have power outlets" and "I got sticky bun on my BlackBerry." Meanwhile, the candidate mainly moved his lips, saying the same thing over and over, from Ottumwa to Fairfield, Mount Pleasant to Burlington, Fort Madison to Iowa City.

In these days of limited attention spans and fragmented media, this is actually the hallmark of a good campaigner, this repetition. Message discipline, it's called. It assures that whether it's a blogger, a print reporter, a television crew, or an opposition researcher hoping for a YouTube-worthy slip, the candidate's presentation stays the same. But on a campaign bus late at night, after trundling off into the freezing weather to hear the same speech given yet again—this time to a rugged, ruddy-faced, beer-gutted crowd that has come out, unbelievably, at 2:15 a.m.—it becomes easy to get very cynical about all of this, about how much people want to believe what comes out of the mouths of politicians, about how little substance it takes to get a crowd cheering.

Edwards is offering a message of fiery populism paired with uncompromising attacks on the corporations and special interests that he says are hurting average Americans like never before. "I will fight for you," says the son of a mill worker, everywhere we go. "This is very, very personal for me." I actually wrote in my notebook sometime in the middle of that long night: "People are such feeble creatures. You give them a little hope and a smile and they will do whatever you want."

Then the sun came up. I could see where I was, even if I still didn't know where I was, and I felt a little more positive about the world. I could see corn fields covered in snow, old stalks sticking up through the crunchy white like cut bamboo. Small churches and barns appeared and receded. Beneath us, for a moment, a half-frozen river with circular chunks of ice floating in it like dirty-white lily pads. I thought to myself, with less cynicism than the night before: Okay, sure. One can understand why many Americans would be drawn to Edwards's message—would be feeling, these days, as if they need someone to stand up for them, would come out in the cold and feel warmed by platitudes and promises.

It is not enough, however. Not the right pitch, from the right face, for this unsettled moment in American politics. It shows in Edwards's crowds, which are enthusiastic but not overwhelmingly huge. It shows in the reporters around me—most of whom are my age, or younger, not the older big shots who get to ride with the candidates everyone thinks are going to win. I'm on the wrong bus. The really big crowds are elsewhere. They're with Barack Obama, the charismatic senator from Illinois who is offering this message on repeat: Hope and change. Hope and change. Hope and change.

Two days later these Obama crowds will form a record-breaking turnout that will propel Obama to an historic 8-point victory in Iowa, making real what has until now only been a hypothetical possibility at best: a black man winning big in white Iowa, a black man seemingly within reach of the Democratic nomination and, perhaps, the presidency. A black man. Repeat it to yourself again, just in case you think it's not an incredible turn of events.

After his win, Obama will give a victory speech in Des Moines in which, like Edwards, he will stay strictly on message. He will talk about hope and change, hope and change, and he will talk about fighting. He will say: "Hope is that thing inside us that insists, despite all the evidence to the contrary, that something better awaits us if we have the courage to reach for it, and to work for it, and to fight for it." But he will not shout the word "fight," won't thrust it out of his mouth the way Edwards does when he talks about the "epic battle" he plans to "fight" with the big corporations. Obama will say it firmly, with conviction, but he won't shout—his power and his allure are in his restraint, in its implicit promise that there is something more to him, something different, something that seems new but is actually old. It's that seemingly paradoxical thing that used to draw people to America: soft power.

Its opposite—unabashed hard power, twined with a different implementation of rhetorical repetition—is what brought America to the state it is in now. Think of the threat of the "mushroom cloud" and the notion of links between al Qaeda and Iraq, both false, both repeated ad nauseam by Bush administration officials during the selling of the Iraq war. Repetition works, for ill and for good.

Yet even when you think it's working for the good, to watch this repetition in action, from behind the curtain, is nauseating. Political consultant David Axelrod, Obama's top campaign strategist, once told a reporter: "Here is the rule we follow with our clients—when the campaign staff and the reporters become physically ill over the repetition of the message, only then have you begun to penetrate the public consciousness."

It's true. In the Twilight Zone of the Edwards bus tour—same message, same day, new location—people in the crowds were having a once-in-a-lifetime experience that was making them make "I believe" faces, and I was having a 10-times-already-since-2:00-a.m. moment, which was making me sick and reminding me that it's not real, can't be real, that John Edwards can't really care about everyone he meets and want to fight the corporations every hour of the day.

I heard, however, that reporters on the Obama bus started to believe, which is extraordinary considering the hope-deadening aspects of watching a message on repeat. Tommy Vietor, 27, the Iowa press secretary for Obama, told me after the caucuses were over, when he was packing up his office and had much less interest in spin, that in the days before the caucuses he'd seen a change in the press crowd on Obama's bus. "When you start seeing cynical reporters getting moved and saying nice things, you know something is happening," he told me.

Maybe Vietor had an interest in saying such things, even after his work in Iowa was done. All I know is that at some point, not long after I found myself crawling around on the upstairs carpet of a home in rural Iowa, looking for an outlet to plug my laptop into while Edwards was giving a speech I now knew by heart in the living room below, I couldn't take it anymore. I wanted off. So did other reporters. In Cedar Rapids, a photographer who had been at a packed Obama event nearby came to our rescue. We rode back to Des Moines, four smashed into her back seat, happy to get away from Edwards, his bus, and his message—which, for all its disciplined repetition, turned out to be good for only second place in Iowa, anyway.

7:00 p.m., January 3: Hope and Leather

It was clear from the moment I walked into the sanctuary at Grace United Methodist Church in Des Moines that Barack Obama was going to win this Democratic caucus site, and probably the state, and that he was going to win big. His supporters—younger, more diverse, and more excited than any others—filled the entire left bank of pews. Hillary Clinton's mostly middle-aged and mostly female supporters took up only a few pews on the right side of the room. All the pre-caucus predictions said a big turnout would favor Obama, and that proved as true at Grace United as it did around the state. Turnout was higher than usual in this precinct, with 322 people showing up, a 16 percent increase from the turnout in 2004. Clinton needed 49 supporters to be viable for the second round of caucus "voting," but she had only 48 supporters—an astonishingly low number for a supposed front-runner candidate who is so well-known and well-funded. A woman in the middle row of pews who was the caucus's lone Dennis Kucinich supporter took pity on the Clinton crowd, walked over, and made herself their 49th person, the one they needed for viability. Still, after the second round, when all was said and done, Obama trounced Clinton at this caucus site, with the final tally—Obama 151, Edwards 53, Clinton 49—mirroring the Iowa results as a whole: Obama in first place by a significant margin, Edwards a distant second, and Clinton just behind him in third.

Even more dispiriting for Clinton supporters, she ended the caucus at Grace United with only one more backer (the Kucinich supporter) than she began with. This was a visceral reminder of one of Clinton's central weaknesses as a candidate: that she quickly reaches her upper limit of support and struggles to get any higher because so many people already have hardened negative opinions about her—opinions that, among Democrats, certainly won't be changed if there is a promising alternative such as Obama.

I met three of Clinton's hardcore supporters in the campaign's refreshment room at Grace United just before that caucus began. All of them were older women: Judith Harlan, 67; Elsie Monthei, 62; and Lois Neff, 83. The Clinton campaign has made a point of recounting stories of elderly women who tell Clinton they've lived through almost the entire women's rights movement and want to see a female head of state here before they die. These were them.

Monthei told me: "We shouldn't be the last country in the world to have a woman leader." Neff, a slim woman with tight gray curls and leather pants, told me: "I'm 83 years old and I want to see a woman in there."

Why? I asked.

"I believe in her," Neff said. "I think she can do it."

Why?

"I don't know... She's smart, and she's a woman."

But why her over the other candidates?

"Because we need to have a lady get a chance."

All things being equal, this is inarguably a rationale for Clinton gaining the presidency. But this rationale has its strongest appeal among a relatively narrow group, women with an acute sense of their own mortality, and in any case all things are not equal in this campaign. Obama, as Clinton herself has admitted, is a tremendously talented and likable campaigner who has his own barrier-breaking rationale and who, unlike Clinton, has managed to draw huge support among voters—young and old, male and female, Democrat, Republican, and Independent—for his message of unity and change.

Young voters, especially, played a key role in giving Obama the win in Iowa. Voters like Olivia Johnson, 26, who had never participated in a caucus before but told me she wouldn't have missed the chance this year. Olivia was in college in New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina, attending Xavier University where she majored in English. Now she works customer service at a wall-covering distributor in Des Moines. She's black, but she said nothing about wanting a black president. Instead, she talked about how the experience of abandonment during Katrina made her see the caucuses as hugely important, and how she felt drawn to Obama's all-inclusive rhetoric.

"For me, having went through Hurricane Katrina, it's time for us to have somebody in power that's not going to forget about their people," Olivia told me. "Whether they're black, white, green, purple, poor, rich, middle class—I feel like I was forgotten."

It's interesting: Clinton talked on the stump about "invisible" Americans and the shame of Katrina, while Edwards made fiery promises not to neglect the average citizen any longer. But somehow that didn't move Olivia—or, at least, it didn't move her as much as hearing a similar message from a voice and presence like Obama. Coming from him, change meant something.

I asked Olivia why she thought Hillary was losing so badly at the caucus.

"It's about change," she replied. "It's all about change. He's not marketing to one specific group. He's trying to get everybody to come together to be one America. Which is what it's all about. We are a melting pot of all different nationalities, sexes, races, and it's all about coming together and doing what's right to make our country strong again. And yes, Hillary is a great candidate, but Obama is the one that is speaking the truth. He's speaking about what needs to be done to bring us together."

So much for Edwards's presentation of himself as the only "truth teller" in the election, and so much for Clinton's presentation of herself as the real "change agent." Also, notice that Olivia is speaking only in platitudes and impressions here. I heard this repeatedly in Iowa. People knew there were some policy differences among the Democratic contenders, but they saw them as relatively minor and were making their decisions based on emotion, on appraisals of character, on notions as ephemeral (and yet compelling) as hope.

Over in the Clinton crowd, William Cotton, 74, joked that he had hoped all of Obama's young supporters would skip out between the first and second rounds of caucusing to grab beers and never come back, thus giving Hillary the win. They didn't.

"It's a surprise," Cotton told me. "And I worry that this turnout of young people might skew the whole process for the general election."

Well, I replied, what if young people turn out to be the pivotal force in the general election that they were on caucus night here in Iowa?

"I'm not so sure about that," Cotton replied. "I hope that's true. I have grandchildren that are involved in this, most of them for Obama. I would like to think it's another Kennedy revolution. That would be my hope. I'm not sure about that, though."

10:00 p.m., January 3: Victory

I jumped in a car with a writer for The Nation and headed toward Hy-Vee Hall, the same place where, a few weeks previous, I'd seen Obama and Oprah Winfrey do a joint campaign event that drew a tremendous audience and made me think, for the first time, that Obama really could win Iowa. Now a radio announcer was saying Iowa was his, by a huge margin. I wanted to stop at my hotel and to post a blog item. The Nation writer told me I was crazy, that I was going to miss history, that this was no time for sitting in a hotel and blogging.

We went straight to the hall, parked, and joined the people streaming inside. I heard later that Clinton's caucus-night event in Des Moines was empty until she packed it with campaign staffers. The Obama event was filled with real people, caucus-goers who were coming to see the man who had inspired them, volunteers who hugged and shouted congratulations to each other as they rode the escalator to the convention room where Obama was to speak. Inside, the crowd was ecstatic, and so was a Seattle woman who happened to be standing next to me, Laurie Ragen Gustafson, who danced with the beat of a drill team that was rump-shaking its way around the room as a warm-up act, and who used words like "amazing" and, of course, "history."

Obama took the stage, lean, young, full of energy and magnanimity, clapping for the crowd to show his thanks before launching into a rousing victory speech in which he declared his win in Iowa proof that "America is ready to believe again."

"On this January night, at this defining moment in history, you have done what the cynics said we couldn't do," Obama began. And it was indeed something unprecedented and hard to believe; Iowa, after all, is over 90 percent white. There were tears in people's eyes as Obama continued, speaking to both the crowd and the national television audience: "You have done what the state of New Hampshire can do in five days."

The crowd interrupted, chanting: O-bam-a, O-bam-a, O-bam-a.

"The time has come for a president who will be honest about the choices and the challenges we face," Obama continued. "Who won't just tell you want you want to hear, but what you need to know." Not surprisingly, he received his biggest applause for this: "I'll be a president who ends this war in Iraq and finally brings our troops home. Who restores our moral standing. Who understands that 9/11 is not a way to scare up votes but a challenge to unite America and the world against the common threats of the 21st century."

He also tapped into the sense that something new is happening in this country, and that the result in Iowa was only its first manifestation. "Years from now," Obama said, "you'll be able to look back with pride and say this was the moment when it all began. This was the moment when the improbable beat what Washington always said was inevitable... Years from now you'll look back and say this was the moment, this was the place where America began to hope again."

He then launched into a defense of his campaign's emphasis on hope, an idea mocked as too starry-eyed and impractical by other candidates as they have tried to stop Obama's rise. "Hope is what led me here today," Obama said. "With a father from Kenya, a mother from Kansas, and a story that can only happen in the United States of America. Hope is the bedrock of this nation. The belief that our destiny will not be written for us, but by us. By all those men and women who are not content to settle for the world as it is, who have the courage to remake the world as it should be. That is what we started here in Iowa, and that is the message we can now carry to New Hampshire and beyond."

The crowd went wild, and a very new type of candidate, and a very new type of president, suddenly seemed a very real possibility.

10:00 a.m., January 4: Release, Then Emptiness

The parties after the Obama speech were chaotic affairs, filled with the last remnants of adrenaline and a frenetic desire to stave off thoughts such as "What's next?"—a desire to stay, as long as possible, in the ecstatic moment. There are only a few places to go in Des Moines to drink away the kind of paralyzing tension and mind-mushing exhaustion that a campaign like this engenders, and all of them were bursting. At the bar at the Hotel Fort Des Moines, reporters trailing Clinton huddled together grabbing a quick drink before they were whisked to the airport and off to New Hampshire, where a new fight was to begin as soon as the candidates' planes touched down. At the Raccoon River Brewing Company, a two-story bar and pub next to the hotel, cocktail waitresses couldn't move the crowd was so thick, and at the bar upstairs, people reached for drinks with the same desperate enthusiasm that I'd seen on the faces of Obama, Clinton, and Edwards as they reached across rope lines to shake supporters' hands in the final pre-caucus days.

A Yale student, in Iowa as an Obama volunteer, drank a beer more slowly than most around him and told me about his experience driving black Obama supporters to a caucus site earlier in the evening. He said the black caucus-goers were happy to have a ride, happy to vote for a black candidate, but absolutely did not believe a black man could actually win the Iowa caucuses. On the drive home, the Yale volunteer told me, they were crying.

The bar closed and we all went to a loft that belonged to Obama's Iowa campaign director. Journalists, staffers, and hangers-on talked with amazement about what had just happened, and tried to game out what might happen next, as a nice frat-boy type walked around the room passing out cans of Bud Light. People predicted Obama had unstoppable momentum on his side now, and would win the New Hampshire primary five days later. A local college student told me that even if Obama didn't win New Hampshire, he would win the next big nominating contest, in South Carolina, because of excitement among black voters and college students. "Our campus has sent huge groups down to South Carolina," he told me. I talked to one of Obama's speechwriters, who, I was surprised to find out, was a young white guy like me. He seemed asleep on his feet, but deeply pleased.

The night made me want to change careers. I wasn't the only one. Journalists wanting to move from writing about politics to participating in politics is an old story, and I would guess the urge to change often occurs on nights like this, when the writer becomes a witness to history and feels utterly inconsequential next to the participants. These campaign workers had helped change the course of this country. They were giving me drinks. I wanted to buy them drinks.

January 5–7: Hillary Cracks

Des Moines was a ghost town the next day. Or, at least, it felt that way. About 2,500 journalists from around the world had streamed into Iowa in the week before the caucuses, filling the sidewalks and hotel lobbies and bars, and virtually all of them left the morning after. Traffic bulletins were issued, warning of the impending mass exodus from the downtown hotels to the local airport.

I, on the other hand, was stuck in Des Moines. My deadline and limited budget made it unworkable to go on to New Hampshire with the rest of the media crowd. That morning I got into a cab and rode 20 minutes to a mall to pick up a new power cord for my laptop at an Apple store. My old power cord had burned through itself right before the caucuses, which in the digital age is equivalent to being cut off from almost everything a writer needs in order to work. The cab driver told me I looked terrible. I was terrible. I was hungover. I was exhausted. I was in the wrong business. I was in the wrong city. I was riding in cabs to get power cords to get connected again so I could tell the world what it already knew on a blog where most readers—at least the ones that comment—just want to bitch. Worse, I was a cliché, planning to quote my cab driver, the oldest trick in the journalistic book. He was black and had been unable to go to the caucuses the night before because he was working, but he registered to vote this year for the first time, and can't wait to vote for a black man for president.

Later I walked to a bar with another journalist who happened to still be in town. He also spoke of wanting to work on a campaign someday. He left the next morning. And then I was all alone, still in Des Moines, in a hotel with about 250 rooms, all of which had been the subject of fierce competition in the lead-up to the caucuses, and now almost all of them empty. I got into my pre-caucus room off a waiting list. Now, when I called the front desk to ask for a room with more natural light, I was slipped, at no extra charge, into a large suite with three big windows, two rooms, and plenty of space for spreading out notepads. No one else was using it. The hotel staff figured: Why not?

I walked around Des Moines, which was suddenly walkable, the weather having warmed up considerably. I headed down Locust Street, past the Ron Paul campaign office, a storefront space where all that was left was an empty cinderblock shelf, an empty cardboard flat that once held bottled water, and a few sleeping bags. Next door was the Mike Huckabee headquarters, also abandoned, nothing but a few red, white, and blue helium balloons that had sunk to the floor, a couple of campaign signs, and a phone with its bright green message light flashing urgently with news of messages that no longer mattered. Further down Locust, at the Obama headquarters, staffers were "scavenging," grabbing signs and materials that they would use when deployed to other states. Tommy Vietor, the spokesman for Obama in Iowa, spoke with pride about what the young crew had learned. "These guys, they could parachute into a state with a ballpoint pen and build an organization—they're incredible," he told me. We walked across the street to get coffee for Vietor, who used to be Obama's spokesman in the Senate but has been in Iowa since February of last year working on the campaign. He looked good, fresh-faced and wearing jeans and a gray hoodie under a green jacket, but said he was deeply tired and anxious for the verdict from New Hampshire. "Today was the latest I've woken up in a long time," he told me. He was headed to Chicago next, to await redeployment.

I ate dinner alone, at Centro, a trendy restaurant that had been stuffed every night before the caucuses with politicos. Chris Dodd lingered over his meals at Centro. Obama ate in a private room upstairs. Clinton took takeout. One reporter had fun digging through campaign reports and figuring out who had spent the most at the place (answer: Clinton, $1,332.95 as of December). Now Centro was empty, politically speaking, save for the Obama staffer who had handed me a Bud Light at the loft party. "Hey, Stranger," he said, walking in. He was taking a Clinton staffer to dinner, consoling her.

I went to the bar at my hotel. Also empty. On caucus night I could barely get inside. Now I was the only person there. There wasn't even a bartender. She emerged from a storage closet after I sat down. Her name is Amy Roller. She's 23. "I'm proud of Iowa," she told me. "We woke a lot of people up."

Two days later, the Democratic debate in New Hampshire is on. I'm watching in my hotel suite, in lonely peace, after being chased out of the hotel bar by a bunch of Des Moines guys who were over presidential politics and far more interested in the Redskins-Seahawks game. What I see is heartbreaking. Hillary Clinton, the smartest and most publicly humiliated woman in politics, seems to be imploding.

She is asked, point-blank, whether she can say anything to sway the large number of New Hampshire voters who tell pollsters they simply like Obama more. The nomination seemingly slipping away, new polls showing her down by double digits, Clinton takes a breath, leans into her mic, and says, "Well, that hurts my feelings." For a quick moment the mask that's designed to fit her campaign's poll-tested buzzwords ("strength," "experience," "ready") disappears. For a moment, you can see, very plainly, a woman deeply hurt by the fact that her ambition is being thwarted, not because she isn't qualified for the presidency, but because too many people simply don't like her as a person—think she's too old, too cold, too enmeshed in the very thing she's most proud of having survived, hardball politics.

She recovers, puts the mask back on. "I'll try to go on," she says sarcastically. The crowd laughs with relief. "He's very likable, I agree with that," Clinton continues, speaking of Obama, and adds: "I don't think I'm that bad."

With a backhanded ruthlessness he usually hides, Obama interjects: "You're likable enough."

I wince. She must want to punch him, but instead she thanks him, flashes an impenetrable smile. She tries repeatedly in the debate to make an argument that talk is not as important as action, that saying "change" is easy but actually making change takes experience. "Words are not action, and as beautifully presented and as passionately felt as they are, they are not action," Clinton says, responding to both Edwards and Obama. "What we've got to do is translate talk into action.... I have a long record of doing that."

But in cut-away shots, when Obama's speaking and she's watching him, I think I see a familiar look from Clinton—a way of staring, with both admiration and deep skepticism, at a gifted orator who is driving her crazy. Maybe I'm deluded. It's true that I have started to see the young Bill Clinton in Barack Obama. The long fingers, the charming pensiveness, the easy humor, the fluid mind, the rhetorical brilliance. The ability to embody change, optimism, and hope. But I think Hillary Clinton sees this, too. It sure looks like she does—looks as if she doesn't know whether to feel proud that her husband's manner is being mimicked or feel humiliated because her husband's manner is being mimicked and, once again, it's making her look bad, turning her into a tragic figure.

Two days later, seated at a diner in New Hampshire, way down in the polls, Clinton gets teary-eyed when asked how she goes on. "It's not easy," she says, choking up. "Some of us put ourselves out there and do this against some pretty difficult odds." She rests her head in her hand and her voice breaks. "And we do it, each one of us, because we care about our country. But some of us are right, and some of us are wrong. Some of us are ready, and some of us are not."

The sincerity of this moment will be endlessly debated, but it kicks people in the gut. It registers. So does Clinton's plea to voters that they consider not just who is the most inspirational speaker, but who is the most ready to start working the complicated levers of power in Washington from the minute he or she steps into the Oval Office. Obama talks about "the fierce urgency of now." Clinton possesses a fierceness that's calm and deliberate—she believes in experience, deference, respect for institutions, the slow grind of legislative change, pragmatism, realism. It doesn't make for a good presidential race sound-bite, especially not this year when the need for change feels so urgent among Democratic voters, but in New Hampshire it strikes people as a reasonable way of doing business. More to the point, it creates a sharp contrast with Obama.

10:00 p.m., January 8: Comeback

On Jan. 8, primary night, the race in New Hampshire between Clinton and Obama is much tighter than anyone predicted. Edwards, as expected, falls into a distant third, his path to the nomination less clear than ever. Meanwhile, Obama and Clinton are neck-and-neck as the early poll results come in, with Clinton, surprisingly, leading in the early returns. Once again, the people in the bar in the Hotel Fort Des Moines don't care much. They won't let me take the bar television off mute so I down a glass of wine and head back up to my suite to watch the results come in. I'm surprised the race is this close, but I'm thrilled to be leaving Des Moines the next day—and thrilled that this very interesting debate between Obama and Clinton over how, exactly, change best happens will continue to play out with the stakes still high.

By the end of the night, results show Clinton beating Obama in New Hampshire by a three-point margin that she was never expected to have. It's a comeback she desperately needed, a candidacy rescuer, given that for five long days bloggers have been calling her politically dead, bankrupt, washed up.

Obama, speaking at a high school in Nashua, congratulates Clinton on her victory, but doesn't give a concession speech. Instead, he gives a speech very similar to his victory speech in Des Moines and adds a response to Clinton's suggestion, during the New Hampshire debate, that he shouldn't be giving people "false hope" with his spirited rhetoric. "Nothing can stand in the way of millions of voices standing for change," Obama says. "In the unlikely story of America, there has never been anything false about hope."

Clinton, taking the stage in a gymnasium in Manchester, thanks the people of New Hampshire for helping her become a better campaigner. "I come tonight with a very, very full heart," she says. "Over the last week, I listened to you, and in the process I found my own voice."

It is impossible not to recall, with this statement, her moment in the diner. With a crowd of young people behind her, she then lifts a page from Obama and speaks of a "call to greatness" that the American people are destined to fulfill—with her in the lead.

Nothing, it turns out, has been left behind. Except, maybe, the sense that the Democratic nomination fight would be over quickly. And Clinton's reputation for personal impenetrability. And Obama's brief moment of seeming political invulnerability. The nomination is still up for grabs. The candidates plug the names of the places they're heading next: Nevada and South Carolina.

It's still a race. recommended

eli@thestranger.com

 

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