Punditry in primaries

The U.S. presidential race has barely begun, but it has already devolved into a dizzying roller-coaster ride of predictions and punditry.

No sooner had Barack Obama emerged victorious in the first Democratic caucus in Iowa Jan. 3—with his opponent, the formerly “inevitable” Hillary Clinton, a distant third—than analysts and media sources across North America and the world trumpeted Obama’s newfound momentum, Clinton’s struggle to regain her foothold in the race and what the prospect of electing the first black president would mean for the U.S.

According to many, Obama’s victory at this caucus signaled the failure of Clinton’s campaign up to that point, and the rejection of any platforms but that of change—a major component of Obama’s platform and his mantra, “Change we can believe in.”

In a matter of hours, “change” became the rallying cry of everyone involved with, or commenting on, the presidential race. All candidates, from Clinton to Republicans Mitt Romney and Mike Huckabee to Obama himself, could talk of little else.

“Talk of change and disenchantment with Washington has in recent days supplanted, or at least supplemented, all the talk of experience, national security and the war in Iraq that has marked the campaign until now,” the New York Times reported Tuesday.

“Voters weighed change versus experience, and change won,” the National Business Review opined that same day.

There’s little doubt this presidential campaign has so far indicated a desire among Americans for the 2009 White House to distance itself from George W. Bush’s administration and, by association, anything related to the status quo.

But the rhetoric surrounding a push for change—coupled with competing predictions from analysts based on everything from Obama’s ethnicity to Clinton’s sex to the celebrities endorsing Mike Huckabee and Rudy Giuliani—makes it almost impossible to evaluate the content of the candidates’ platforms.

No matter what drove the plurality of Iowan Democratic and Republican voters to support Obama and Huckabee, Iowa is only one of 50 states. It has no power to determine the end results of an election unless voters in the 49 other states decide to take their cue from this caucus.

This seemed plausible as headlines trumpeting Obama’s Iowa victory seemed to fulfill their own prophecies, giving him a double-digit lead over Clinton in early New Hampshire polls.

But Clinton squeaked to a victory Tuesday night, leaving Obama in second place. Far from justifying headlines hastily giving a second Clinton the title “Comeback Kid,” the New Hampshire primary proved one constant of political campaigns that all the “desire for change” in the world can’t alter: it ain’t over ’til it’s over.

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