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For all the hoopla over Barack Obama's post-Iowa bounce, in the end the Democratic primary in New Hampshire turned out to be surprisingly close. This is good news, and not just for Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, N.Y. It's good news for the voters in all the other states who haven't yet had a chance to express a preference. The situation is much the same on the other side: John McCain's decisive victory in the Republican primary suggests that the scrambled GOP race will remain scrambled for some time to come.
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We'll start with the Republican race, because the result in New Hampshire strengthens our hope that voters in November will have two credible, thoughtful nominees from whom to choose.
McCain's unexpected rise from an apparent campaign implosion last summer, along with Mike Huckabee's victory in Iowa last week, illustrates that money can't buy everything in American politics, at least not always.
The substantive positions that McCain brings to the Republican debate also represent a welcome departure from the usual partisan playbook. In a campaign that has reflected some of the uglier aspects of American politics, especially when it comes to immigration, McCain offers a voice of reason tempered by the knowledge that many voters are furious over illegal immigration.
His deep knowledge of foreign affairs, clearheaded approach to the threat of Islamic extremism and unwillingness to abandon his support for the war in Iraq even when it threatened to cost him his bid for the presidency are admirable, as is his unswerving opposition to the use of torture techniques by U.S. personnel. Although we disagree with the Arizona senator on a host of domestic issues, including tax policy, abortion rights and gay rights, his willingness to take on such issues as climate change and campaign finance reform - neither of which were particularly popular with his party - reflects well on his character and judgment. The Republican race remains far from settled, but having McCain in the fray as a credible candidate is a development to be cheered.
The Democratic contest had been threatening to unfold with unsettling velocity. But New Hampshire applied a useful brake, giving more voters a chance to weigh in. The senator from Illinois is an impressive man whose rhetoric of inclusive post-partisanship helped inspire high turnout in Iowa and New Hampshire. He has tapped into a deep vein of dissatisfaction among voters with the status quo under President Bush, and his success also reflects unease among many over the perceived divisiveness of Clinton and the restoration of a Clinton presidency.
Yet Obama has a worthy opponent in Clinton, who would bring to the presidency valuable experience, both in the White House and the Senate, that has given her a sophisticated understanding of the dangers and opportunities the United States faces in the world. Her policy positions overlap with Obama's more than they differ, but the differences aren't inconsequential, especially in foreign affairs, where Clinton has had the more sophisticated approach to how to deal with Iraq and other danger zones. The contrast between her experience and his inspiration opens a legitimate and important debate. It's good that more voters will have a chance to weigh in.