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Nation

History suggests all’s not lost for caucus losers

PORTSMOUTH, N.H. - Barack Obama, the junior senator from Illinois, had pulled an upset in Iowa, and Hillary Rodham Clinton, the junior senator from New York, sought to regain momentum for her faltering campaign.

New Hampshire provided that tonic for her, and set the course for one of the longest nomination fights in recent history. Her victory here underscored how unreliable Iowa can be in predicting the outcome of a presidential race.

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Iowans might have the first say in choosing the country’s president, but they don’t always get it right.

In 2008, Senator John McCain of Arizona, the eventual GOP nominee, won the support of 14 percent of caucusgoers, trailing two former governors, Mike Huckabee of Arkansas and Mitt Romney of Massachusetts.

In 1992, Senator Tom Harkin got 76 percent of the vote from his fellow Iowans, while the eventual Democratic nominee, Bill Clinton, a former Arkansas governor, got a paltry 3 percent, after the field all but abandoned the state during the caucuses.

“They pick corn in Iowa and pick presidents here in New Hampshire,’’ joked GOP presidential hopeful Jon Huntsman in an interview with CBS last week, borrowing an oft-used line in these parts to explain his decision to focus his efforts on next week’s Granite State primary.

“It’s a line often used in political battles to derail the political momentum of the winner in Iowa,’’ said Andrew Smith, an associate professor of political science at the University of New Hampshire. “I don’t think either state has a lock on political prognostication.’’

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Not surprisingly, Huntsman is barely registering a blip in Iowa, where Romney leads the pack, according to recent polls.

Romney is also leading polls in New Hampshire. Two released yesterday showed Romney in command, with 41 percent saying they plan to vote for him in the Jan. 10 primary.

Romney could pull off a rarity. “It’s very seldom that a Republican can win in Iowa and New Hampshire,’’ said Smith.

Hillary Clinton’s rebound from a defeat in Iowa included a memorable moment in New Hampshire primary history. She entered the Iowa primary as the establishment Democrat but finished third behind Obama and John Edwards. Questions swirled about her ability to organize a winning campaign.

Then, on Jan. 8, 2008, while meeting with a group of women at the Espresso Cafe, a Portsmouth diner, a freelance photographer wanted to ask a personal question. “How do you do it?’’ the woman asked. “How do you keep upbeat and so wonderful?’’

Clinton answered that she gets help to put herself together. Then her voice cracked, her eyes welled.

“You know, this is very personal for me. It’s not just political, it’s not just public. I see what’s happening, and we have to reverse it’’ she replied.

“Some people think elections are a game, lots of who’s up or who’s down. . . . It’s about our country, it’s about our kids’ futures, and it’s really about all of us together,’’ she said in the diner.

“You know, some of us put ourselves out there and do this against some pretty difficult odds, and we do it, each one of us, because we care about our country.’’

One waitress at the restaurant whispered to a co-worker: “There’s the money shot.’’

Indeed, the interview was replayed on television countless times, and some pundits credit the exchange for helping Clinton win New Hampshire.

In some eyes, the intimate moment revealed a candidate who could connect with real people, particularly women.

The woman who asked the question, Marianne Pernold-Young, now 67, said she tired of all the questions about policy, politics, and strategy.

“I wanted to talk to her like a girlfriend, woman to woman. She was getting hammered by all these tough questions - and as a woman, I just wanted to know who did her hair,’’ said Pernold-Young. “I wanted to get some personal insight into her. I had no agenda. What made her tick?’’

Pernold-Young, who voted for Obama four years ago, is tantalized by the rumors floating in the blogosphere: Joe Biden bowing off the ticket to allow Obama to pick Clinton to be his vice presidential running mate.

“That would be fabulous,’’ Pernold-Young said, “although vice presidents tend to disappear.’’

Until they run for president.

Bobby Caina Calvan can be reached at bobby.calvan@globe.com. Follow him on twitter @GlobeCalvan.

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