Barack Obama pronounced himself “still fired up and ready to go” after a second-place finish in New Hampshire’s Democratic primary.
“You know, a few weeks ago no one imagined that we’d have accomplished what we did here tonight in New Hampshire,” he told supporters. “For most of this campaign, we were far behind. We always knew our climb would be steep.
“But, in record numbers, you came out and you spoke up for change. And with your voices and your votes you made it clear that at this moment in this election there is something happening in America.”
He congratulated Hillary Rodham Clinton on a hard-fought victory and asked the crowd to give her a round of applause.
“All the candidates in this race have good ideas and all are patriots who serve this country honorably,” Obama said.
From unknown to rival
Four years ago, when ballots were cast in New Hampshire’s presidential primary, hardly anyone in the United States knew the name Barack Obama. This time, bidding to become the first black president, he was in the thick of the fight with the most famous name in Democratic politics.
Obama had hoped that a victory in Iowa would create a bandwagon that would take him through the nomination. But Tuesday night’s results caught his campaign off guard.
It was hard to tell that from the cheers that went up when he and his wife, Michelle, walked into the room to loud chants of “Obama, Obama.”
They approached the platform holding hands. Both applauded and waved to the crowd, then hugged and kissed briefly.
“We know the battle ahead may be long. But always remember that no matter what obstacles stand in our way, nothing can stand in the way of the power of millions of voices calling for change,” Obama said.
“I am still fired up and ready to go,” he said.
Building on Iowa’s momentum, Obama had the feel of a winner in the days leading up to New Hampshire’s primary. People lined up for blocks in towns across the state to hear him speak. Those who attended often talked about the chance to see history being made.
“I want to tell my grandkids about how I saw this campaign,” said 22-year-old Emily Webster, among those at a rally at Dartmouth College on Thursday.
The excitement couldn’t overcome Clinton’s organization, and she revived talk of another Clinton presidency with her victory on Tuesday night. The New York senator and her husband worked to keep Obama’s train from rolling to the nomination; she got choked up talking about the choice facing voters, and former President Clinton sniffed that his campaign was a “fairy tale.”
Sizing up the odds
Obama’s life could be described that way. It was not without hardships — his father left the family when he was 2 years old to return to his native Kenya, and Obama struggled as a fatherless black child growing up in Hawaii.
“If you think about it, the odds of me being here standing before you as a presidential candidate are very slim,” Obama often tells voters. “I was raised by a single mom and my grandparents, and we weren’t born into money or privilege. What they gave me was love and an education and hope.”
He got an Ivy League education and eventually a career in politics — but he never had a serious Republican opponent.
Obama stopped by a polling site in Manchester on Tuesday, shaking hands with his supporters and those holding signs for other candidates. Three burly supporters of John Edwards were beaming as they shook the front-runner’s hand and wished him luck. Obama correctly calculated they were from the Steelworkers union that endorsed Edwards four months ago.
“See you in the general,” Obama said, hoping they would eventually be with him.