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Chief political reporter David Postman explores state, regional and national politics.

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January 9, 2008 9:45 AM

Did Clinton find her voice or Obama's?

Posted by David Postman

This is clearly the money line from Hillary Clinton’s victory speech last night:

Over the last week, I listened to you, and in the process, I found my own voice. I felt like we all spoke from our hearts, and I am so gratified that you responded.

That’s the focus of much of the morning-after coverage of Clinton’s win in New Hampshire. (You know, the victory that “stuns political world” and means she “escapes to fight another day” after a “devastating third place finish” in Iowa, which brought “shock and despair” to the Clinton campaign because she had been “widely depicted as the inevitable nominee.”)

Clinton’s reference to her heart was heard by many as a reference to her emotional moment the other day in a New Hampshire diner. I was shocked when I saw the video of where “a visibly emotional Clinton teared up,” not for what it said about her, but what it said about me. I get more emotional than that when the Man with the Yellow Hat reprimands Curious George.

What struck me in Clinton’s comment last night was the acknowledgement that prior to New Hampshire she wasn’t talking in her true voice. That’s a remarkable admission for anyone to make. Politicians usually can only be self-critical to the point of saying they care too much and work too hard.

John McCain is the master of showing his imperfect side. He did it last night in patriotic terms, saying he had always loved America, though at times imperfectly. And I remember from my brief time with McCain in 2000 when he said something that has always stuck with me as particularly human for a politician. He said he believed in redemption, and as I remember it, added, “I have to. I’m a deeply flawed human being.”

But Clinton now has to show that her real voice sounds different than what we’ve all heard for a year. She can’t take one win and go to Nevada in her old suit of armor. And she can’t just parrot Barack Obama’s platform of change, like she did in this clip from the weekend’s Democratic debate.

I want to make change, but I’ve already made change. I will continue to make change. I’m not just running on a promise of change. I’m running on 35 years of change. I’m running on having taken on the drug companies and the health insurance companies, taking on the oil companies.

So, you know, I think it is clear that what we need is somebody who can deliver change. And we don’t need to be raising the false hopes of our country about what can be delivered. The way to know what change I will produce is to look at the changes that I’ve already made.

She really did talk in bold, too.

I saw a photo of Clinton this morning outside her campaign bus that carried the slogan, “Countdown to Change.” It’s not just Clinton who has become a changeling in post-Iowa. In the past few days I’ve heard McCain, Mitt Romney and Mike Huckabee talk about change and try to suggest a common link between their campaign and Obama’s.

If only Obama trademarked “change” he could finance the rest of his campaign from residuals. What else will these other candidates do to be the New Obama? Find long-lost African-American family roots? Will Ron Paul, who brags of voting no more than anyone in Congress, talk of the Audacity of Nope? Will Romney, in one last desperate flip-flop, change his first name from Willard to Hussein?

The wise course at this point may be to take some advice from Tom Brokaw. He said last night on MSNBC that the media would do better by waiting for “the voters to make their judgment.” That was almost too much for Chris Matthews to bear.

MATTHEWS: Well what do we do then in the days before the ballot? We must stay home, I guess.

BROKAW: No, no we don't stay home. There are reasons to analyze what they're saying. We know from how the people voted today, what moved them to vote. You can take a look at that. There are a lot of issues that have not been fully explored during all this.

But we don't have to get in the business of making judgments before the polls have closed. And trying to stampede in effect the process.

Look, I'm not just picking on us, it's part of the culture in which we live these days. I think that the people out there are going to begin to make judgments about us if we don't begin to temper that temptation to constantly try to get ahead of what the voters are deciding, in many cases, as we learned in New Hampshire when they went into the polling booth today or in the last three days. They were making decisions very late.

It makes good sense to wait until we know something before launching a bunch of new theories and declarations. At The Slog, Eli Sanders has a theory about what happened on the Democratic side of the primary last night. He wonders if race played a role in private voting that didn't happen in Iowa's public process last week. It's an interesting take, that Democratic voters want some "sort of social permission" to vote for Obama, or more specifically to vote for an African-American candidate.

At the same time, Stranger News Editor Josh Feit is bothered by theorizing about Clinton's win. He says people are looking for some sort of nefarious plot to explain the victory. I don't think that's it. But when last minute polls showed a far different outcome, it behooves us to look at why the actual vote turned out different.

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Posted by blathering michael

10:26 AM, Jan 09, 2008

The context on MSNBC last night of your quote, was Brokaw, the old news dog chastising news chihuahua Matthews for his 2-month, non-stop diatribes against Hillary, and his breathless coronation of Barack. Some in the blogosphere are crediting Matthews with generating sympathy which contributed to her stunning win.

Posted by stilwell

10:26 AM, Jan 09, 2008

I'm with Rachel Maddow: it's all Chris Matthews' fault.

Posted by debo

11:13 AM, Jan 09, 2008

The flip-flopping on the part of the media was obvious ... and painful to watch.

I hadn't thought it could get any worse than the "expert" who told us that Obama was favored over Clinton because "women like things that are shiny and new." Oh, puh-leeze. (And, no, I'm not kidding ... that was on MSNBC Tuesday night.)

Prediction: More than a few tvs will be critically injured before this whole thing is over.

Posted by Will in Seattle

11:16 AM, Jan 09, 2008

I'd say Sen Clinton found her voice, actually.

The MSM really needs to stop telling us who their pre-chosen candidates are. Whether it's the many months of the MSM pushing Clinton and Guiliani as inevitable, or the recent switch after Iowa, we would rather you discuss POLICY DIFFERENCES than tell us who's on First and who's on Second.

Let us decide.

Posted by Postman

11:46 AM, Jan 09, 2008

Yes, I liked how Brokaw addresses Matthews and Matthews says, "Yes sir?" Definitely a reprimand.

I, too, think the media goes too far. It's amazing how we -- and I guess I have to take some responsibility -- agree on who is the frontrunner, etc.

What New Hampshire and Iowa teach me this year as they did four years ago is that voters there are influenced more by meeting and talking to the candidates than what they're told by the media about the candidates. They didn't really care that Howard Dean had the nomination locked up, did they?

Posted by shoephone

11:50 AM, Jan 09, 2008

I'm not buying the race factor excuse. Obama won handily in Iowa, a state that is almost completely white:

94.9 percent white

2.3 percent black

1.4 percent Asian

3.7 percent Hispanic or Latino origin.

But New Hamphire got scared off of him? Obama's win over Clinton in Iowa was by 9%. Clinton's win over Obama in New Hampshire was by 3%.

It doean't look like race was the deciding factor. It does, however, look like independents gave more votes to McCain (unlike in Iowa) and that Democrats gave more votes to Clinton (very much like in Iowa). And all the pre-Iowa polling in New Hampshire showed Clinton ahead by a healthy margin. The Iowa results tightened her lead, that's all.

But Chris Matthews and his cohorts in the chattering classes wanted to affect the outcome, and so the posturing and the massaging of facts began one minute after the Iowa results were certified.

The mainstream corporate media blows it again.

Posted by redflag

2:12 PM, Jan 09, 2008

Finding your voice is not an admission that you didn't have one, particularly when you've been pretty consistent.

My own thinking is that things began to go more Hillary's way at the Saturday debate when she reminded people that we'd never elected a woman president before and that electing a woman would be a change. She also successfully raised doubts about the ability of her opponents to walk their talk that night.

The crazy media coverage of her eyes welling and all the guys on TV beating up on her for a show of emotion, which seemed like a perfectly reasonable and controlled show of emotion, could only help her close the sale with late deciders. She controlled the priority of the media agenda for two days, instead of a surging Obama, who got about just % of vote the polls expected.

This election looks to be an amazingly high turnout election everywhere. That fact alone could up end the ability of polls to reflect results in close contests.

That's pretty cool.

I also think the Clinton's are giving the GOP lessons in how to undercut Obama if he's the nominee. Not that it'll matter given the enormous odds any GOP nominee will face.

Posted by bobbyp

3:58 PM, Jan 09, 2008

The pollsters were looking for what they believed to begin with. Lo and behold, they found it!

Either that, or they interviewed a lot of folks who either lied to them or didn't bother to vote.

Posted by JimD

9:22 PM, Jan 09, 2008

Look - the media was only reporting what Zogby and the other pollsters were sending them. And the polls were accurate - yes ACCURATE - of those they surveyed.
Calmer heads later today have now concluded that, since all other candidates - including Obama - voted within a reasonable margin of error to their polling, Clinton's unexpected result was due to ADDITIONAL voters who came out to support Clinton, probably due in part to the flak over the poor woman having an "emotion".
Older women in particular, were offended by the media's obsession not just with this clip (was it real, was she faking it?) but the sexist nature of the scrutiny she's been receiving all along. When she's dignified and business like, she's a btich. If she has an emotional moment, she's falling apart. "Good grief, I'm going to go vote for her and help her out."
There's no evidence - none - to suggest anyone who polled for Obama didn't follow through - his vote matched his polling. Same with the other candidates, including the republicans.
Clinton's numbers were unique. She received more votes than polling suggested because voters who otherwise were not expected to participate, simply came out and voted for Clinton after the last polls were put to bed for the day.

What I'm enjoying is the resurgence of Bette Davis's famous line, "It's going to be a bumpy ride." A few more cigarettes, and Candy Crowley could almost do a convincing Davis.

Posted by R. Travaille

10:06 AM, Jan 10, 2008

Senator Clinton "Found her voice"?? My question I guess is --Who's Voice has she been using?

Posted by Jenny Durkan, Washington State Chair, Edwards for President

2:56 PM, Jan 10, 2008

No -- it is John Edwards that should get the royalties.

The original voice for change is John Edwards. This was his message in 2004 and it is his message today. His message and his insistence that Democrats be a voice for change have greatly shaped the speeches and policies of both Obama and Clinton.

If you look at clips from 2004 and early this year, you will find that Obama lifted themes, words and sometimes almost whole phrases from John Edwards. For example, Edwards was the first to take on Clinton and say that we could not change the direction of Washington if we simply replaced their corporate insiders with our corporate insiders. This soon became a Obama theme. In 2004, Edwards often talked about having a President that would wake up every morning and go to work every day for the people of America. This too has crept into the Obama stump speech.

The media decided to differentiate the candidates by calling Obama the candidate of change, and Edwards the "angry" candidate. I have been in dozens of rooms with John Edwards and have heard him speak to audiences of every size and stripe. He is not "angry" -- though he rightly notes there is much to be angry about. He has as much hope and optimism as Obama. He just fundamentally disagrees on how you bring about real change.

The good news about New Hampshire is that now voters likely will focus more on substance, than feeling. Do they want truly universal health care coverage, which Edwards proposes -- or is it OK to leave millions of Americans uninsured (as Obama proposes)? Do we want an energy policy that includes more nuclear power plants and nuclear waste (like Obama supports), or one that is nuke free (like Edwards proposes) ? Do we want a White House that employs lobbyists (Obama) or a White House where lobbyists will not be working and shaping policies (Edwards).

There are 48 states to go. Edwards has only a few less delegates than either Clinton or Obama. Nothing in this race is decided or inevitable.

Caucus for Edwards in Washington state-- make a difference !

Posted by JimD

8:55 PM, Jan 10, 2008

Crediting Edwards as the originator of the decades-old "...a President that would wake up every morning and go to work every day for the people of America," is a stretch, to say the least.
You may not find Edwards angry in person, but he comes across as very angry on TV. His passion for the corporate evil-doers who did his father and grandmother, is not unlike Bush's passion for the evil-doers who tried to "kill my father." The problem isn't what he focuses the passion on, but the trait itself. If Edwards wants to represent change, he might want to change away from projecting the kind of irrational anger that America has come to know all too well in our current POTUS. Part of the "change" democrats want is a little less bluster.

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