Waitress moms to the rescue for Hillary Clinton


Last updated at 23:36 09 January 2008

Hillary Clinton's flailing presidential campaign roared back to life yesterday thanks to the "waitress moms", older, married women with low-wage jobs who propelled her to victory in New Hampshire's Democratic primary.

By portraying herself as a down-trodden woman, just trying to do the right thing for her country, Mrs Clinton defied the polls and pundits who had predicted a heavy defeat.

On the eve of voting, even her staff had descended into despair and recrimination. Many were plotting to jump ship to the surging campaign of Senator Barack Obama, who won last week's Iowa caucus.

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Clinton and Obama

Her campaign funds were rumoured to have run dry, and her husband, former President Bill Clinton, had been reduced to rants about the unfairness of the media's coverage of his wife.

But then came the vote. Mrs Clinton dominated among the traditional hard left of American politics - people earning less than £25,000 a year, union members and their families, anyone who said they felt they were falling behind economically and voters without university degrees. As in Iowa, she won disproportionately among women over 40.

Obama's support was the mirror image of Hillary Clinton's. He won among independent voters, the well-to- do and university educated, and especially among those in their 20s and 30s.

While Stevie Wonder's Signed Sealed Delivered boomed out incongruously after Obama's concession speech, Hillary could easily have played Gloria Gaynor's I Will Survive, the dance-aroundthe-handbag anthem of spurned, yet defiant, women everywhere.

"I come tonight with a very, very full heart," she said after the results came in.

"Over the last week, I listened to you and in the process I found my own voice. I felt like we all spoke from our hearts and I am so gratified you responded."

The clinching moment for Mrs Clinton's political resurrection may have been her near-sob at a coffee shop on Monday, when a woman asked her how she coped with the strains of a campaign.

"I just don't want to see us fall backwards," she said as her eyes watered up.

The moment was endlessly replayed and debated on television as evidence either of Mrs Clinton's humanity or her cynical stagecraft.

The New York Times columnist, Maureen Dowd, wrote yesterday: "There was a poignancy about the moment, seeing Hillary crack with exhaustion from decades of yearning to be the principal rather than the plus-one.

"But there was a whiff of Nixonian self-pity about her choking up. It was grimly typical of her that what finally made her break down was the prospect of losing.

"As Spencer Tracy said to Katharine Hepburn in the film Adam's Rib: 'Here we go again, the old juice. Guaranteed heart melter. A few female tears. Stronger than any acid'."

Mrs Clinton later appeared on Access Hollywood, a gossipy television show, to further shed her stern image.

Giggling with a woman reporter, she admitted to struggling with her weight and being "hopeless at doing my own hair".

Bill Clinton picked up the theme, saying: "I can't make her younger, taller or change her gender."

Exit polls indicated that, despite her last-minute adoption of the role of beaten-down woman, Mrs Clinton may have established a good foundation of support in voters who made their minds up more than a month ago.

Obama was the choice of those who made their minds up in the final days, the polls indicated.

As the race heads west to Nevada and then south to South Carolina, Mrs Clinton has shown that, for all Obama's style and eloquence, she remains the candidate of her party's historic base.

Her daughter works for a hedge fund, her husband advises a private equity firm and she divides her time between multi-million dollar homes in Washington and New York, but she has proved in New Hampshire that she speaks to the Democratic working class.

The cost of her victory, however, may be that she used her sex before Obama used his colour. While Obama continues to speak of the unification of America, and lets the fact he is black speak for itself, Mrs Clinton has now played her hand as a woman trying to make history rather than as a candidate like any other.

So who is likely to be the Democrat candidate? The polls suggest that Obama would do far better in the eventual presidential campaign against any Republican nominee, trouncing them easily, while Mrs Clinton faces a far tougher fight.

Outside her natural voters, Mrs Clinton is regarded with scepticism - polls last year showed more than 50 per cent of Americans had a negative view of her, a record for any presidential candidate.

Karl Rove, the strategist behind President Bush's election wins, says she is "fatally flawed" and many Republicans see her as their best chance of another victory - although disenchantment with Bush now runs so deep it should be possible even for a Democrat as unpopular as Hillary Clinton to win the White House.

Comeback Kid on the Republican side is 71-yearold Senator John McCain, who defeated the former front-runner Mitt Romney by 37 per cent to 31 per cent. Mike Huckabee, the victor in Iowa last week, won just 11 per cent.

McCain is a war hero, who spent five years in a North Vietnamese prison camp, and ploughs his own furrow even among Republicans. He describes himself as "older than dirt and with more scars than Frankenstein".

If elected, he would be three years older than Ronald Reagan when he entered the White House. Nonetheless, his supporters like to say he is "too tough to die" and appreciate his feisty spirit.

Whether he is tough enough for the long haul ahead remains to be seen. With the results of just two primaries in so far - and 48 still to go - the race for the White House has only just begun.