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The New Hampshire primary has come and gone and left many wondering what happened. Poll data has not been this far off the mark in recent memory. Hillary won.

Chris Matthews has decided the issue happens to be racism. The respondents lied. (It’s a little out there, but I am sure the tin-foil-helmet crowd will concoct some conspiracy theory that will make that opinion seem mainstream.)

I’m attributing it to Hillary’s crying jag and to some of the snotty remarks directed her way shortly thereafter. John Edwards had one of the dumbest, most sexist statements of the bunch when he couldn’t resist the easy cheap shot by suggesting the public wants a strong commander in chief. If all the boys ganged up on a girl in grade school and teased her until she cried, the others would rally ’round her and tell the boys to knock it off — even if, deep down, they might have agreed with us.

All flippancy aside, this will go down as a moment as defining as Ronald Reagan grabbing the microphone in Nashua and angrily snarling, “I paid for this microphone, Mr. Green (sic),” while then-frontrunner George H.W. Bush sat next to him looking like a deer staring at a Peterbilt.

I was in the audience at that time as a low-level staffer on that Bush campaign and later had a small hand in it, being dispatched to the Concord, N.H., headquarters to field press calls and play dumb as to the top staff’s whereabouts while they tried to figure out how to spin it.

I find the parallels eerie. Bush beat Reagan in Iowa, causing the press to question whether or not Reagan was toast. Reagan, reportedly at Nancy’s urging, reorganized his top staff. And then came the debate, the angry snarl, and Reagan was back in business.

Why?

That brief moment of spontaneity put to rest a big reservation the electorate had with Reagan at that time. He was viewed as an affable dunce who was content to simply read off the cue cards written up for him by his handlers. People questioned whether he was that engaged, or really cared about what was going on.

By seizing the microphone, Reagan proved he was his own man and would not be pushed around. I distinctly remember the look on his face. It was a look not often seen on his face but when it was there, watch out. I distinctly remember seeing that same look as he got into a limousine to storm away from the arms talks in Reykjavik.

Hillary had a different issue nagging at the electorate. Without offering commentary as to the accuracy of the claims, people have criticized her for being shrill and nasty. She’s viewed as power hungry and feeling as though she is entitled to the presidency and allegedly being very annoyed at the upstart Obama for not “waiting his turn.”

By choking up she managed to show the public that she is, indeed, human. She showed the public that she actually does care about the American people and that buried beneath that chilly exterior is actually an ounce of compassion.

Reagan set the stage for his moment by setting Bush up, inviting the other candidates in the field to arrive on the stage for what was supposed to be a two-man debate. Speculation has been running rampant as to whether or not Hillary fought back the tears or whether she had learned to cry on cue like her lip-biting husband. It doesn’t matter. It worked.

The Nashua debate happened on the Saturday before the Tuesday primary, so there was sufficient time for polling information to catch wind of the shift in the public’s sentiment. Hillary got her case of the sniffles less than 24 hours before the polls closed, such that it was not going to be picked up by the polling data. Exit polls show Hillary did far better with women in New Hampshire than in Iowa.

Whether by accident or by design, the old girl truly pulled off a miracle. She showed the nation that she was, indeed, human, and that she did care about solving problems. She wasn’t an establishment obstructionist; she was in there fighting in the trenches and working for change and getting something done while Obama just talks a good game.

Hillaryites must be dancing in the streets. Others have a different outlook, seeing this as a missed opportunity to put a wooden stake through her heart and close the chapter on Bush/Clinton mud-tossing, once and for all.

Regardless of how you view it, Hillary’s Trail of Tears was four-star political theater that snuck up on us like an indie film not backed by a major movie production company. It doesn’t happen often, but when it does, the surprise on the mainstream media’s face is as delicious as the event itself.

Mr. Woollacott is president and founder of Renaissance Group International Inc. Contact him directly at gwoollacott@cs.com.

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