New Hampshire's Republican primary was always a must-win for Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney. Now that it's clear that Romney is going to finish a distant second behind Arizona's senator, John McCain, Romney's campaign is all but over. But McCain's win in the Granite State will say the same thing that Mike Huckabee's win in Iowa four days ago said: Republican voters either want more choices (which they won't get) or they want more chances to choose (which are coming).
Iowa was always the ballgame for the Democratic nomination. Desperate to retake the White House, Democrats were bound to get in line behind the Iowa winner in order to focus on the general election. After Illinois' senator Barack Obama won in Iowa, his support in New Hampshire ballooned.
Following Iowa, Obama's win of the nomination was never in doubt. But a 10% margin of victory for the Illinois senator will make the continued campaigning of New York's senator Hillary Clinton and former North Carolina senator John Edwards untenable. Party leaders and contributors will send them the message to back off so that Dems can save their powder for the fight with the Republican nominee.
As of Wednesday morning, the big political story will be the Republican nomination fight. A New Hampshire win for McCain will give him a big boost in subsequent primaries. Party leaders, in the party that usually rewards its nomination to the next person in succession, may swallow their dislike of the Arizona hero in order to prevent Huckabee, this year's maverick Republican, from having a shot at the nomination.
The implosions of the Romney and Clinton candidacies are as analogous to each other as the successes of the Huckabee, McCain, and Obama campaigns have been to each other. Both the former Massachusetts governor and New York senator were favored by old hands in their parties who believed that with the amalgamation of enough money and consultant firepower, the deficiencies of their candidates--the negative reputation of Clinton and the cynical flip-flopping of Romney, among others--could be masked or overcome and the myth of inevitability be turned into a self-fulfilling prophecy. Clinton obviously had the backing of her husbands's political machine. Romney has enjoyed a lot of help from the Bush family and its allies, which has won the presidency in three of the past five national elections. Voters in the two parties, it turns out, have had something to say about the wisdom of the Clinton and Bush machines. Their message: "Nothing is inevitable. We'll be the ones to decide who gets to be president. (At least this year.)"
Meanwhile, voters in Iowa and New Hampshire, no doubt reflecting the views of the country, in their votes for Obama, McCain, and Huckabee, have said they want civility, fresh thinking, and, dare I say it, change.
[This was cross-posted at The Moderate Voice.]