So much for the post-race horse race. The exit polls in New Hampshire were accurate for the Republicans and for the second-tier Democrats. The only miscalculation was the amount of support for Obama. That miscalculation is about race. Iowa caucus-goers stood by Barack, in part, because when voting with their bodies, in front of their neighbors, Iowans are held accountable. In the quiet, solitary space of the voting booth, some New Hampshire voters abandoned Barack.
The reasons are not simple. Some media believe that women voters want a woman president. But there is not a substantial gender gap in American politics. Historically, white women voters are as likely to be Democrats as Republicans; as likely to vote for male candidates as for female; and as likely to describe themselves as conservative or liberal. It is not as simple as gender solidarity. Some observers will argue that naked racism explains Tuesday’s result. But that argument ignores the thousands of white women and men who built Obama’s local organization in New Hampshire and worked tirelessly on his behalf for months.
The New Hampshire results are a reminder of why Obama’s strategy is so new and difficult. He is asking voters to believe that although he has a “funny” name and does not look like them, he is nonetheless like them. He is asking voters to peer through the veil of America’s racial history and actually see him. It is a hard thing to do. When Hillary Clinton’s eyes welled up with the strain of the campaign, she evoked immediate recognition from many white women of her generation. “Oh, yes,” they thought, “I remember feeling like that.” Former President Bill Clinton rallied angrily for his wife, as he claimed that the media were picking on her while being soft on Obama. This is a familiar American narrative of race and gender, and it resonated with thousands of New Hampshire voters. Clinton cried about being attacked in the debates, but there are no public tears shed for the strain Obama must feel as a result of death threats, which caused the doubling of his Secret Service detail.
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Melissa Harris-Lacewell – Slate