Hillary Clinton’s upset victory in the New Hampshire primary on Tuesday against Barack Obama gave her campaign new-found momentum. It was big relief to her Hollywood supporters and donors. And more than ever this campaign, it spelled out the perils of instantaneous media predictions and assumptions.
On the Republican side, John McCain, all but written off in media circles last summer when his campaign was nearly broke, beat Mitt Romney, reviving McCain’s hopes of winning the nomination. Mike Huckabee was a distant third. John Edwards trailed Clinton and Obama among Democrats.
But it was Clinton’s victory, boosted by overwhelming support from women voters, that belied both national polls and much of the punditry that had predicted Obama the winner, even by a significant margin. Her support among women was a reversal of the results in Iowa, where Obama actually led in the demographic.
Clinton may have benefited from a change in strategy over the weekend that has seen her more personal, even emotional in campaign and TV appearances. And on Monday, no other moment got more play than when she spoke, almost teary-eyed, about the stresses of the race and why she was in it.
Before a backdrop of youthful supporters, Clinton said, “Over the last week, I listened to you, and in the process, I found my own voice. Together, let’s give America the kind of comeback that New Hampshire has just given me.”
Over the past few days there has been much speculation as to whether Clinton, who has garnered a significant share of the industry’s political establishment, would even see some of her backers in Hollywood defect to the Obama camp, or whether undecided donors would start to break his way.
If anything, her victory sets up what is bound to be a new round of fund-raising in Hollywood and elsewhere by both the Clinton and Obama campaigns, which have so far raised almost equal amounts of money from the entertainment business — $2.2 million for Obama and $2.1 million for Clinton as of the end of September, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.
As political consultant Andy Spahn said, “Donors from both campaigns will now be digging deep.”
Political consultant Chad Griffin, who has been raising money for Clinton in the entertainment industry, said, “There is a long ways to go. We now have a race.”
It also raises the prospects that California’s Feb. 5 primary will be a highly competitive fight to the finish, giving the state a say in the nomination process that it hasn’t had since 1972. Clinton and Rudy Giuliani hold leads in the state, although their margins have been shrinking. Her victory could help stem erosion in her support.
“One thing I have learned is, do not ever count out Hillary Clinton,” said John Emerson, a major Clinton fund-raiser and the chairman of the Los Angeles Music Center. “She showed real grit and determination, she found her voice, and people responded. This was an extraordinary night for McCain and Clinton. This is going to be a very long process.”
But what made her victory so stunning was that media coverage had so focused on Obama as an unstoppable force, driven by polling that showed him with double-digit leads. Shortly after Clinton was declared the winner, there was consternation among news anchors, some of whom wondered whether voters were simply lying to pollsters. Tom Brokaw warned of “making judgments before the polls have closed in trying to stampede and affect the process.”
In fact, the Clinton campaign had complained loudly of a double standard in the news media’s coverage of their campaign. Last night, Bill Clinton complained of the media’s coverage of the campaign, charging that Obama had been given nothing short of a free ride and even labeling it as “the biggest fairytale I have ever seen.”
“A lot of the people in the media seemed gleeful in the direction things seemed to be headed,” Emerson said. “As Mark Twain said, ‘Rumors of my death are greatly exaggerated.'”
But aware of the changing nature of the race, he added, “That’s true for both candidates as this thing progresses.”
Griffin said that New Hampshire “saw the Hillary Clinton that we have all known for a long time now. She is a compassionate, caring, funny, loving woman.”
“She proved a vast amount of naysayers wrong,” he added. “There’s a lot of pundits with pie on their face.”
In recent days industry names such as Larry David and Ari Emanuel traveled to New Hampshire help turn out the vote for Obama, and after conceding the primary the candidate sought to assure supporters that, “We always knew our climb would be steep.”
“You know, a few weeks ago, no one imagined that we’d have accomplished what we did her tonight in New Hampshire,” he said. “For most of this campaign, we were far behind….But, in record numbers, you came out and you spoke for change.”
Obama is scheduled to return to Southern California on Jan. 16 for a $2,300-per-person fund-raiser at the Pacific Palisades home of portfolio manager David Fisher and his wife, Marianna. Among the cohosts are Ted Field, Jamie and Michael Lynton, Irena and Mike Medavoy, Rob Friedman, Ellen and Jon Vein and Susan Tolson and Charlie Rivkin.
About 100 supporters — obviously disappointed but hardly somber — gathered at Obama’s headquarters in Los Angeles. Among those there were Alfre Woodward and Joy Bryant, along with music industry executive Nicole Avant, the campaign finance co-chair in the state. Obama’s state campaign director, Mitchell Schwartz, said that the race could even come down to the results in California, which holds the largest number of delegates among the 22 states that go to polls on Feb. 5.
Edwards, meanwhile, vowed to continue and said that he was “in this race until the convention.”
“Two races down, 48 states to go,” he said, with a crowd of supporters including actor James Denton standing behind him.
McCain’s victory, meanwhile, also is expected to give his campaign a much-needed boost to his fund-raising. According to the Center for Responsive Politics, he has raised $386,826 in the entertainment industry to Giuliani’s $376,826. But much of McCain’s money came at the beginning of last year, before his campaign began to falter. In fact, his campaign had trouble finding campaign co-hosts, as Giuliani seem to garner the lion’s share of Hollywood Republicans and celebrities like Adam Sandler and Kelsey Grammer.
Those names could prove even more critical in the coming weeks, as campaigns turn to famous names and endorsers as a way of gaining free media attention.
In New Hampshire, Denton, Madeleine Stowe, Tim Robbins and Susan Sarandon traveled the state for Edwards. Dennis Kucinich was joined by Viggo Mortensen,. McCain campaigned with Wilford Brimley.
And on Monday and Tuesday, David created a minor sensation at some of Obama’s events, turning them into a surreal mixture of politics and entertainment.
“It was this incredible combination of hundreds of young people excited about this election and excited about Larry David,” said Arianna Huffington, the founder of the Huffington Post, who followed him to several events there.
At one event, as Huffington recounted on the Huffington Post, a young woman told David that she was trying to decide between Obama and Clinton.
“Aren’t you tired of the old?” David asked the woman. “Don’t you want to put on some clean clothes? Voting for Hillary would be like doing ‘Frasier’ again on TV. Don’t you want something fresh, new and creative?’
Perhaps. But given the results, many New Hampshire voters saw the race in a different light.