New Hampshire victories for Clinton and McCain dramatically change the moods of Minnesota activists

Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Rodham Clinton
REUTERS/Carlos Barria
Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Rodham Clinton acknowledges supporters Tuesday night at her New Hampshire victory rally in Manchester.

People voted in New Hampshire Tuesday and changed moods throughout Minnesota.

Oh, what a difference a few hours made.

Tuesday morning, for example, Sandra Peterson, a DFL state representative from New Hope and a Hillary Rodham Clinton supporter, was down.

“People are pretty discouraged,” Peterson said Tuesday morning after polls showed Barack Obama with a comfortable lead. “She’s so smart, so strong and capable. I get concerned that she’s facing a gender issue and Obama is so charismatic.”

By Tuesday night, however, with Clinton topping Obama 39 percent to 36 percent, Peterson’s mood had changed completely.

“They both have wings now,” Peterson said of Clinton and Obama. “It’s an even start again. People (Clinton supporters) were pretty discouraged. People would ask me, ‘What can we do?’ Now you can say, ‘We can get out and work.’ If Germany and England can have women as leaders, we can, too.”

There was less raw emotion in Minnesota on the Republican side, where Arizona Sen. John McCain resurrected his campaign with a solid victory over Mitt Romney, as polls suggested. Results showed MCain with 37 percent, Romney with 32 percent and the others far behind. The Mike Huckabee supporters had no expectations for New Hampshire. Romney’s supporters, well, they’re sort of a quiet bunch.

While new life was breathed into the Clinton campaign leading up to the state’s Feb. 5 caucuses, Obama supporters were on a different emotional ride.

Obama supporter goes from giddy to worried
Tuesday afternoon, Ralph Remington, a Minneapolis City Council member who had gone to Iowa to work for Obama, was in an almost giddy mood. His candidate seemed to be on the verge of almost locking up the Democratic nomination.

“I never thought I’d see this is my lifetime,” said Remington, a black man.

Laughing, he even cracked a joke. “Leave it to you white folks,” he said. “You’re going to give it to us when it’s broken.”

After the New Hampshire votes were counted, Remington’s tone changed. There was so much work ahead.

“It’s going to be difficult,” he said. “The Clinton machine is very strong. Women broke for Clinton. He’s alive and kicking, but I can’t help but wonder if race is an issue.”

Victory boosts McCain supporters
Meanwhile, for Minnesotans supporting McCain, there was a deep sigh of relief.

Dave Kleis, mayor of St. Cloud and a McCain man, said he simply toasted his candidate with a glass of wine when the networks declared him the victor in New Hampshire shortly after the polls closed.

The win will pump new staying power into the McCain campaign in Minnesota, Kleis said.

“There were some people who didn’t jump ship, but they were getting close,” Kleis said. “I think this puts us in great position.”

Kleis had gathered with some friends, not all of whom were McCain supporters, to watch the New Hampshire results.

“We had some pizza, some brownies, some wine,” Kleis said. “It was like getting together to watch the Super Bowls. No, not the Super Bowl, but the playoffs. There are still more games to play before we get to the Super Bowl.”

It’s risky business to compare politics and football. After all, we’re supposed to take one of those seriously. (That’s politics, Vikings fans.)

State’s political landscape looks like football field
Yet, the temptation is hard to resist. Minnesota during this presidential selection process looks like a massive football field.

You had Obama breaking into the open, fans delirious, then, suddenly, oops. Down he goes. There’s Bulldog Clinton, after being stunned and woozy, back on her feet and looking tough again. There’s Rudy Giuliani on the sidelines, his supporters wanting desperately to see him in the game. McCain,the gutty fullback, plunging onward. Huckabee, the phenom out of nowhere, attracting great excitement. Romney and Edwards, who look like All-Americans, but so far appear to be nonfactors when the whistle blows.

So, if we’re going to go with this analogy, who better to talk to than John Gagliardi, the legendary coach at St. John’s University who in 59 years of coaching has won more games than any college coach ever?

“You don’t get as much gratification from the wins as you do pain from the losses,” said Gagliardi.

Politicians can relate to that.

One of the clear comparisons between his profession and politics is the subject of momentum, which is as slippery as a Minnesota sidewalk in January.

When momentum is on your side, the world is wonderful. But you never know how long it’s going to last.

“We had a game this year, and we’ve got the other team third and long, deep in their own territory,” said Gagliardi. “I start talking to my quarterback about what we’re going to do after we get the ball and while I’m talking to him, our cornerback screws up, one of their guys gets open and all of a sudden they have a 93-yard touchdown. Everything changed. Once you give the other side a lot of hope, you’re not going to beat ’em.”

What can a coach do once momentum shifts?

“You try to be a good actor,” Gagliardi said. “You try to make your team believe you’ve got a chance. And maybe you do, because we still have miracles, you know.”

Minnesota’s role may matter after all
The biggest miracle of all is that Minnesota might matter just a little on the national scene come Feb. 5, which has been dubbed Super Duper Tuesday because 24 states will hold primaries and caucuses on that day.

“I don’t think there’s any doubt about it,” said Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak. “Minnesota will matter, and I don’t know that that’s ever happened before.”

Rybak, an early Obama supporter, said he has no idea whether his candidate or any of the other candidates will make the trek to Minnesota, but he’s certain that the Obama campaign will put resources into the state. (To date, only Obama and Hillary Clinton have offices, with paid staffs, in the state.)

“You have to remember that Minnesota was at the core of the ‘Draft Obama’ movement,” Rybak said. “We have volunteers on the ground. We’re ready.”

Everybody seems ready. Iowa and New Hampshire unleashed political chatter across the state.

For example, Keith Carlson is pastor at the Covenant Church of Dassel. Last Sunday, Carlson spoke briefly of presidential politics in his sermon. He told the congregants of how in coming weeks and months they’ll be bombarded with messages of hope from all of the candidates.

“These messages just help prepare the way for a new leader,” he said. He compared that to how John the Baptist’s work was about preparing the way.

We all know how it turned out for John. That’s the figurative fate of most of the presidential candidates.

Pastor intrigued by both Huckabee, Obama
Anyway, in a conversation Tuesday, Carlson said that though his church is conservative, he won’t get involved in politics from the pulpit. He also said he’s “intrigued” by two new voices in this campaign: Mike Huckabee’s and Barack Obama’s.

Huckabee, following his victory in Iowa, has put some doubt in the minds of some Republicans who thought they’d made up their minds.

For example, Steve Dille, a Republican state senator from Dassel, listed himself as a McCain supporter a few months ago. Dille, who served in Vietnam as a civilian veterinarian as part of the U.S. effort to win over hearts and minds, always has appreciated McCain’s sacrifice. He also likes the fact that McCain kept plugging away for the nomination after it appeared his campaign was finished a few months ago.

“I guess we shouldn’t be surprised,” said Dille of McCain’s doggedness. “Here’s a guy who survived 5½ years in a prisoner-of-war camp. That should tell you he’s got staying power.”

He likes the fact that McCain has strongly disapproved of torture, including waterboarding. He likes McCain’s willingness to work both sides of the aisle. But he’s really taken a fancy to Huckabee.

“He’s my kind of conservative,” said Dille. “He looks like the kind of guy you could hunt with and he wouldn’t shoot his companion.”

While McCain supporters celebrated a “must win” and Huckabee supporters still bask in the glow of Iowa, Minnesota supporters of candidate Giuliani worked to keep their anxiety levels in check.

“Waiting for Florida has been the plan all along,” said Rob Hewitt, who heads the all-volunteer Giuliani campaign in Minnesota. “Rudy could be in the best position on Super Tuesday, but we’re taking some bumps waiting for Florida.”

Florida’s primary doesn’t occur until Jan. 29, and the wait creates considerable stress among the faithful. If Giuliani doesn’t win in Florida, Hewitt says, his game will be over before Minnesotans gather to caucus. Meantime, he continues to have weekly conference calls with the Giuliani campaign plotting strategy for an event that may never happen.

Anxiety, highs, lows, cheers and tears.

It’s better than football.

Doug Grow, a former metro columnist for the Star Tribune, writes about public affairs, state politics and other topics. He can be reached at dgrow [at] minnpost [dot] com.

Comments (1)

  1. Submitted by Barbara Miller on 01/09/2008 - 11:35 am.

    So here’s a question. Have we always been this shallow? “We” being “we, the people.” Or is this a product of our all media, all the time society? Sometimes, I truly despair for us because just when substance should trump all else, so many are so easily distracted by bright, shiny objects.

    If the answer is yes, where, really, is the now overused concept of hope? Just askin’.

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