World and Nation

Clinton Primary Upset Defies Predictions of Pollsters, Pundits

New Hampshire kept Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton alive.

Averting the blowout loss that many polls had predicted allowed Clinton’s campaign to portray the result in the Democratic primary here on Tuesday night as a stunning turnabout. Given how dire her situation had appeared just hours earlier, the spin was at least plausible.

In the end, she survived because registered Democrats preferred her to Sen. Barack Obama, though independents went for him, according to exit polls. And she benefited from strong support among women, a constituency that she worked hard to appeal to in the campaign’s final days here.

Clinton is now likely to find it easier to raise money than she would have if she had been drubbed by Obama, as he had done in the Iowa caucuses. The internal squabbling about her campaign’s management and strategy is likely to be quieted. And she will no doubt go forth making the obvious comparison: that just like her husband 16 years ago, she is now well positioned to battle her way to the Democratic presidential nomination.

In Obama, Clinton is facing an opponent who has seemed over the last week or two to embody a movement rather than to be a mere political candidate. He has at times been an elusive target, lifted on the wind of nationwide anti-Washington climate change. She has often appeared to be frustrated in seeking to challenge his level of experience, his consistency, his positions or his electability against a Republican party certain to fight hard to hold the White House.

“Obama is almost Teflon in terms of criticism,” said Bob Graham, the former Florida senator and a Democratic presidential candidate in 2004, as he considered the challenge Clinton faces. “He doesn’t have much of a record you can dissect,” adding that his advantages included “his freshness, newness, star status.”

The next two contests — the Nevada caucuses and the South Carolina primary — are being fought on what is not particularly welcome terrain for Clinton. In Nevada, the power union of culinary workers has said it will put its muscle behind Obama. The South Carolina electorate is expected to be about 50 percent black.

The fast-paced calendar leading up to the 22 state contests on Feb. 5 gives Clinton a limited amount of time to turn around the story line, to force the examination of Obama that her husband, former President Bill Clinton, said her rival has been spared.