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Forget Iowa: It’s New Hampshire, Stupid!

Memo to pundits, political junkies and reporters: with less than three weeks to go to the Iowa caucuses, expect the Clinton campaign to start downtalking the importance of Iowa while beefing up New Hampshire. The reasoning: the Clintons were never that strong in Iowa, but New Hampshire has always been the ‘litmus state’ for any Clinton campaign since 1992. And contrary to Iowa, losing that state in the primary is not an option.

So forget Iowa, the Clintons are going after New Hampshire. Bill Clinton in the past few days has within the campaign thumped on the importance of New Hampshire for everything Clinton ever since his second-place ending in the state in the 1992 Democratic nomination campaign. That pivotal feat revived his campaign and kick-started his succesful run for the presidency.

As Alex MacGill of the Washington Post pointed out in this excellent report, the Clintons have cultivated their ties to the state ever since, so much so that New Hampshire is seen as almost synonymous to Clinton’s destiny and political standing among pundits, commentators and — yes — national media journalists. Because of the state’s importance and the significance the Clintons themselves always attributed to it, losing that state in the primary would make Hillary Clinton’s star fade faster than you can say “implosion”.

And so the game that is being played for New Hampshire is one of expectations. Since Bill Clinton’s succesful run for the presidency, New Hampshire has always been high up the political expectations ladder, whilst Iowa — where he never campaigned — was mostly off the pundits’ radar screen when it came to the political fortunes of the Clintons.

In 1992, Iowa senator Tom Harkin had such a strong local following for his nomination campaign that Clinton was smart enough to not even bother trying to get caucus votes there, and in 1996 he didn’t need Iowa. But unfortunately for Bill Clinton, whose reputation is pretty much on the line now that his wife is campaigning for the presidency, the Hillary campaign has put considerable importance on Iowa, so much so that expectations are running high.

And if there is one thing Bill Clinton dislikes, for all his political mastery, it is uncertainty, and Iowa has become a huge question mark. The campaign has realised that all the extra efforts in Iowa of late have been too little, and definitely too late. Hillary Clinton has simply been unable to stem the Obama tide in the unpredictable midwestern state. And even though Hillary’s team pounces on each individual Iowa poll that shows Hillary one or two percent ahead of Obama, the campaign knows full well that the majority of polls are showing the reverse picture.

And so the new strategy will be as follows. Bill Clinton is still probably the single, most popular politician in New Hampshire. Thus, the coming weeks shall see Bill and Hillary — but especially Bill — tour New Hampshire while ensuring as much local media coverage as possible. Hillary will be projected as a Clinton once again bringing the message of ‘change’, much like her husband succesfully did in 1992. Realising the mistake made in Iowa, where there was a big disconnect between Hillary and Iowans, the campaign will get down to the good old nitty-gritty of traditional campaigning, including having her go door-to-door, which she has already started doing.

Meanwhile, the campaign will start what the Russians would call a ‘maskirovska’-campaign, or masking; having everybody believe that they’re still going full-steam for a win in Iowa, while in reality they aren’t. The goal is no longer to win in Iowa but to force Obama to concentrate most of his resources there while the secondary goal is to try to come in second, above Edwards. Look for Bill Clinton and other surrogates to start talking down the importance of Iowa in the last week or so before the caucus there takes place, while at the same time becoming New Hampshire cheerleaders.