So…New Hampshire has spoken, and John Kerry wins by 12 over fellow New Englander Howard Dean, Clark and Edwards tie for a distant third, and Lieberman falls to fifth. The game now shifts to the South and Midwest, including South Carolina.
Well, while it’s a bit off-putting to put this race in the fridge after only two states have spoken, I say it’s now definitely looking to be John Kerry’s year. That is, barring a strong showing by John Edwards on more favorable terrain, who has to win South Carolina convincingly next week to stay alive. As everyone’s known for months, Lieberman is clearly done, despite his ridiculous talk of a three-way tie for third in NH. (So much for the vote-swinging ability of the New Republic.) Wesley Clark may be able to pick up Oklahoma, but momentum counts for a lot, and he was fading fast all last week. So, barring something crazy happening, I’d say the general is also on his way out.
And Dean? Well, obviously he’s still got a large war chest and the frenzy of the Deaniacs to fall back on…but where does he go from here? The pre-NH polls have him dropping to fourth or fifth in every one of the polled February 3rd states, except New Mexico (and even that’s based on pre-Iowa numbers.) It’d be one thing if he had pulled closer to Kerry in New Hampshire, or even to within ten points, but a twelve-point loss is pretty decisive in terms of being a momentum-killer. (Consider in 2000 that Bradley got to within four points (52%-48%) of Gore in NH, something that was also spun by the pundit class as a “still-kicking” comeback after Iowa, and he got hammered in all 15 states the Tuesday next.) As Chris Suellentrop notes, Dean’s only hope may be to go “underground” for awhile, but it’s hard to see how a hail-mary play like that will have generated much mojo once the big states actually vote. It’s remarkable how Dean and Kerry switched places so quickly, but they did…and just as Kerry would be toast had he not won New Hampshire, the same now looks true for the governor of Vermont.