I admit it: I was among those who were taken by surprise when Hillary Clinton won the NH Democratic primary. Given the fact that independents generally dislike the old school partisanship that Hillary Clinton represents, that NH independents in particular had experienced several favorable encounters with the Barack Obama camp in recent months, that by contrast Clinton pretty much dissed them, and that independents comprise 44 percent of the electorate in NH, an Obama win seemed like a sure thing. You could accurately call me confused when the results came in.
Then the ever-astute Jackie Salit of the Committee for a Unified Independent Party (CUIP) cleared up my confusion, as she often does, this time in an analysis of the NH primary posted on the CUIP website. Reminding us that independents in NH get to choose whether to vote in the Republican Party primary or the Democratic Party primary, Salit offers this:
The CNN exit polling indicates that Obama got 41% of the independent vote and Hillary 34%. That would mean Obama got the votes of about 50,000 independents and Hillary got about 41,000. Extending this on the RP side, exit polling says McCain got 39% of indies, which would put his total independent vote close to 32,000.
Obama suffered as a result of McCain's independent draw. Polling originally anticipated that 67% to 70% of independents/undeclared would choose Democratic ballots. Obama would have been the beneficiary of that. But McCain succeeded in pulling enough independents out of the DP equation to grab a win for himself as 60% of independents chose to vote DP yesterday, lower than originally expected. Current numbers indicate that Clinton beat Obama by 7,500 votes. That means that if roughly 1-in-4 McCain independents had voted for Obama instead, Obama would have been able to close the gap with Clinton.
Salit goes on to analyze the female vote, speculating that Obama may have received more votes from independent women than Democratic women. That wouldn't surprise me at all; the female independents I know generally favor Obama over Clinton.
The McCain Factor is a fascinating one, really. Maybe independents' well-known opposition to the war in Iraq has tempered a bit, but I doubt it. Maybe his pro-war stance has become of secondary importance in the context of everything else he represents. I don't know. But I do know this: if McCain's popularity in NH can be credited with contributing to Clinton's NH win, we've got some wild ride ahead of us.