MANCHESTER, New Hampshire (Reuters) - For years Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton has been married to America’s self-described “comeback kid.” Now she is one herself.
Knocked off her front-runner perch by rival Barack Obama last week in Iowa, Clinton was destined for a second straight loss in New Hampshire, maybe even by double digits, opinion polls said.
Then they started counting the votes.
A heavy voter turnout by women helped turn back Obama in New Hampshire to give a narrow, important victory to Clinton in her drive to become the first woman U.S. president.
New Hampshire may provide the 60-year-old New York senator with momentum in the race to determine which Democrat will face the Republican choice in the November election to succeed President George W. Bush.
“Now together let’s give America the kind of comeback that New Hampshire has just given me,” she told cheering supporters at a rally in Manchester, New Hampshire.
Obama, who would become the first black U.S. president, could declare a measure of success also, having come in a close second in New Hampshire ahead of another statewide vote in South Carolina later this month.
In 1992 Clinton’s husband, Bill Clinton, managed a second-place finish in New Hampshire at a time when he was being dogged by accusations of marital infidelity and draft-dodging.
He declared himself the “comeback kid” and went on to serve two terms as president.
Usually carefully scripted and in control of her temperament, Hillary Clinton let the people of New Hampshire see her emotions for a change.
At a debate on Saturday, she angrily denounced Obama for insisting that he represented change and that she was symbolic of the status quo in Washington. She said she had been fighting for change for 35 years.
When told by the ABC News moderator that Obama seemed better liked than she was, she responded coyly: “Well, that hurts my feelings ... He’s very likable. I agree with that. I don’t think I’m that bad.”
Then on Monday tears welled in her eyes when a woman asked her how she managed in the face of all the pressures.
“I have so many opportunities from this country, I just don’t want to see us fall backwards,” she said.
Were these the moments that seeded her ability to stave off defeat in New Hampshire?
Or was it Bill Clinton himself?
Usually a sunny presence on the campaign trail, he accused the news media of giving Obama a free ride.
“Give me a break. This thing is the biggest fairy tale I’ve ever seen,” Bill Clinton said.
All this has added to the presidential campaign history of a state steeped in lore.
In 1980, Ronald Reagan refused to be silenced during a Republican debate, announcing, “I am paying for this microphone.”
He had done no such thing, but the outburst was seen as showing his determination. He went on to serve two terms as president.
On the other hand, Edmund Muskie was the Democratic front-runner on a snowy day in 1972. It looked as if he was crying when commenting on words written about his wife in a newspaper. He lost.
(Editing by Howard Goller)
For more about the U.S. political campaign, visit Reuters "Tales from the Trail: 2008" online at blogs.reuters.com/trail08/