Obama: What Happened?

From CBS News' National Correspondent Dean Reynolds, who's covering the Obama campaign:

NASHUA, N.H. -- Fired up? Not really.

The glum look on the faces of those who packed Nashua South High School told the story. They hung on every vote tabulation until the bitter end, hoping against hope that those precincts populated heavily by young students might carry their man across the finish line at the very end of the night. It didn't happen.

So what did Barack Obama do? He basically grafted a concession onto the top of what otherwise was a victory statement. To the cheers of 1,700 partisans, Obama went through his call for change, his demand that people stand up, that they grasp the moment. And he ended his remarks with a new refrain, "Yes we can!"

But instead of an affirmation of a result his campaign fully expected, it was now more of a pep talk to Obama supporters that they not lose faith.

What happened? For one thing, the polls were apparently hogwash. And the enormous crowds that packed his rallies did not translate into the comfortable lead those pollsters were tracking.

Was it Sen. Clinton's rare show of emotion Monday that turned the tide? It happened too late in the day to poll on it apparently. Did Obama make a mistake? I didn't see one, other than to put his campaign on cruise control. He is not one who makes himself available McCain-style to reporters. But in the last couple of days he also did away with questions from his audiences. Unusually cautious.

When it's a ball control offense against an opponent who is throwing long bombs, ball control usually wins. But there are the rare occasions when it doesn't. Tuesday was one of them.

Nor was it welcome news for Obama that John Edwards, a distant third in the primary, intends to fight on. Both Obama and Edwards draw from the same pool of voters who find Hillary Clinton unacceptable. Each would like the other out because as long as they are both in, they split the anti-Hillary vote.

Obama appeared to win independent voters though not by the margins he ran up in Iowa. And he and his campaign will surely ponder one of the findings in the exit poll: When asked who was more likely to win the November election against a Republican nominee, Obama was chosen 46 per cent to 36 percent over Clinton.

Go figure.

  • Dean Reynolds

    Dean Reynolds is a CBS News National Correspondent based in Chicago.