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And the Winner Is…

A Commentary by Susan Estrich


Hillary? Hillary? The woman who was declared dead, the staff that was declared fired, the campaign that was pronounced over and done and broke?

This is what makes politics fun.

When pundits speak and pollsters predict, and then people vote, and the pundits are wrong, and the polls are backward, and the people prove it.

When you're counted out and put down, and you get up and come back.

Hillary Clinton was supposed to lose. She was supposed to lose badly. This was supposed to be a wave. It looked like a wave. It felt like a wave. It wasn't.

It's a horse race.

Women did not turn on Hillary. They did not decide that electing the first woman president didn't matter. They didn't punish Hillary for crying, punish Bill for complaining or dance on the grave of the Clinton years. They went to the polls and voted for the woman many people love to hate, but who many women, in the end, were not willing to see go down.

This is what happens when obituaries are written for people who are still out there fighting.

Hillary Clinton is no longer inevitable. That was gone with Iowa.

But Barack Obama isn't inevitable either. Hillary Clinton is not dead, not beaten, not history.

I said a long time ago -- and it may be the only thing I've said that I'll stand by throughout this campaign -- that the fight between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama would make whoever wins it a better candidate to take on the Republicans in the fall.

I think New Hampshire proves the truth of that.

Hillary Clinton is already a better candidate. If she learns the real lesson of Iowa and New Hampshire, the lesson that she is not inevitable, that people want change, that she has to fight for what she believes in and not be afraid to show who she is, she will be a more likeable, more electable, more genuine candidate than the woman who began this race.

Barack Obama is a better candidate, and he will be a better nominee, if that is what he ultimately is, for having to beat Hillary in a real race, and not one limited to a few early states. It took Obama until December of this year to come up with the second date, to sharpen his edge, focus his message, show his toughness. But that isn't enough. He has to give substance to the "change" he is promising, give credence to the claim of experience he has offered, and move to the third date, to the real relationship with voters. Had he won New Hampshire, it would have been easy for him to sink back, pull back, rely on his vision, fill in the blanks with platitudes. Now he'll have to do more than that, and more than that is what it will take to win.

As Barack Obama left the stage, the music played Stevie Wonder singing "Signed, Sealed, Delivered." Nothing is signed, sealed and delivered in this one. This is the music of freedom. It's noisy and unpredictable, but it's also joyous and energizing.

Hillary has found her voice. Obama has found his base. The country has a contest worth watching and two candidates deserving of our attention.

Susan Estrich is currently the Robert Kingsley Professor of Law and Political Science at the University of Southern California and a member of the Board of Contributors of USA Today. She was the first woman to head a national presidential campaign (Dukakis ‘88).

To view all political commentary published by Rasmussen Reports visit our Political Commentary Page .

Views expressed in this column are those of the author, not those of Rasmussen Reports.


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