David Schiefelbein: Primary colors painted by Homer Simpson

David Schiefelbein

A review of Wednesday's front pages produced an overwhelming impression – the print media in the United States doesn't think the presidential primaries are a foregone conclusion.

No, seriously.

Apparently, many of them were oblivious to the fact the New Hampshire primary was the first one – or they just totally ignored it altogether.

"Never let the facts get in the way of a good headline," a former boss of mine used to admonish. His philosophy was evident Tuesday night.

I swear I kept hearing Homer Simpson uttering his catchphrase "Doh!" while I reviewed the front pages of dozens of newspapers at on the Wednesday following the New Hampshire primary.

What kept smacking my forehead was the implication that anyone thought it was over after the Iowa caucuses, even if it was based on one poll. You'd have thought no one in the country had ever heard of U.S. Sens. John McCain and Hillary Clinton.

While many papers led Wednesday's news with variations of the straightforward "McCain, Clinton win," The Arizona Republic led with the more enthusiastic "McCain, Clinton revel in N.H. wins." Others verbed with led pack, give nod to, takes, on top, etc.

North Carolina's Winston-Salem Journal kept to the point: "Clinton, McCain win nation's first primary." But The Denver Post had "Northeasterly win lift Clinton, McCain." Drats, wished I'd thought of that one …

Sadly, many echoed the Arizona Daily Star's "McCain, Clinton comebacks in N.H" and The Washington Post's "Clinton and McCain rebound to take N.H." The Bakersfield Californian declared in thick, bold type "The night of comebacks," while the Fresno Bee printed "A tale of two comebacks: Clinton, McCain rebound." The Washington Times led with "'Comeback Kids' score big wins" and the subhead "Hillary, McCain revive campaigns."


After one caucus?

It was the first primary. They should have called down to North Carolina.

The Los Angeles Times was more optimistic, declaring "Fresh starts on a long road" with the subhead "Clinton beats expectations and Obama in N.H.; McCain trumps Romney" while the Los Angeles Daily News declared the two winners  "The Comeback Kids."

The Oakland Tribune took it a step further with a lead story on Clinton's win: "The new 'Comeback Kid' takes New Hampshire." McCain received a brief mention in a shorter story. The Connecticut Post in Bridgeport had "the new Comeback Kids," and the Hartford Courant "Comeback kids: Clinton, McCain."

The California papers in Riverside, San Bernadino and Ontario echoed the comeback theme and the San Jose Mercury News led with "Back in the race," as if they were o-u-t after the first event.

Florida was no better with comeback the theme in Jacksonville "A pair of comeback kids," Ft. Lauderdale "the Comeback Kids," but the Miami Herald had "Double rebound."  The Sarasota Herald-Tribune was at least original, if not subjective, when it led with "For McCain, Clinton, it's a jolt of redemption."

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution combined them with "Comeback kids" and "McCain, Clinton rebound." The Citizens' Voice of Wilkes-Barre, Penn., read "What a COMEBACK."

Perhaps the cold winter on the northern Great Plains had headline writers a little combative. Fargo, N.D., readers found the aggressive headline "Clinton, McCain conquer bumpy N.H. battlefield" on their paper.

Down in Texas, the Austin American-Statesman told readers "Clinton, McCain grab victories, momentum." Readers of the Dallas Morning News only got "Clinton, McCain stage comebacks in N.H." Apparently they didn't have the inside scoop like they did in Austin.

Back out west, readers of the Seattle Times were told "Clinton, McCain come roaring back," and the Post-Intelligencer led with "Back in it" and two subheads over stories "N.Y. senator rebounds from defeat in Iowa" and Arizona senator makes it at least a three-way GOP race."

The Chicago Tribune declared it knew better than anyone: "Clinton, McCain rebound, reshape primary picture," but crosstown rival Sun-Times countered with "Not so fast" and the subhead "Obama's camp thought he had it wrapped up – but Hillary scores stunning comeback victory."

Clinton's homestate papers were supportive and apparently enjoyed referencing Hillary's well-documented "emotional breakdown" Tuesday. Newsday and  the New York Daily News both had "Who's crying now," while the New York Post declared Hillary to be "Back from the dead." Nearby, the Philadelphia Daily News admonished "Don't cry for Hillary."

The old, gray lady of liberal journalism was much more subdued. The New York Times led simply with with "Clinton is victor, defeating Obama; McCain also wins" next to a photo that featured both Hillary and former president Bill clapping.

The papers in the primary's host state were evenly divided, the best of which was the Concord Monitor's "So much for Iowa, pollsters; N.H. picks Clinton, McCain." Dover and Nashua papers led with "McCain, Clinton win" and "Clinton, McCain reign" while the Manchester Union Leader added "Comeback kids" to the win headline and the Portsmouth Herald led with "Comeback Kids 2008."

The San Francisco Chronicle asked "WHAT'S NEXT" in bold, all capitol letters and the The Press Democrat of Santa Rosa asked "Who's No. 1 now?" above a photo of an arms-spread Clinton and the subhead "Stunning comebacks by Clinton, McCain."


Even though I accidentally closed out the Web page at this point, I wasn't done. I went back.

The Boston Herald also ran with a question: "Is it over?" in very large red type over a photo of forlorn-looking Mitt Romney. The Standard-Times of New Bedford, Mass., led with "New Hampshire shocker" in all caps while The Patriot Ledger of Quincy, Mass., ran "The survivors" with the subhead "Clinton, McCain try to parlay N.H. victories as they head west."

Denver's Rocky Mountain News declared "It's a horserace" and the Star-Tribune of Minneapolis, Minn., declared "Two campaigns revived." And finally, The Detroit News boldly pushed the limits of both common sense and good taste when it declared "Resurrection" in thick, bold letters all the way across the top of the page with the subhead "Clinton, McCain win N.H." underneath.

They weren't all bad, fortunately. My favorite headline was on the Manchester, Conn., Journal Inquirer: "Nothing carved in Cranite." For those of you who don't recall third-grade geography class, New Hampshire is, of course, the Granite State. The headline ran above a large photo of an open-mouthed Clinton pointing in the direction of the camera and the subhead "Despite polls that predicted otherwise, Clinton escapes to fight another day."

There is a reason we visit the voting booth - polls are not votes. Polls are a sampling, votes are counted.

And finally, for those of you who don't remember, like many of the papers across the U.S., we led with an all local front page Wednesday morning, including a story on that day being the last to register to vote in Missouri's Feb. 5 primary, when 21 other states will also vote.

That day may well decide things, but not the first day.

We did run photos of the two winners in the skybox on the front with a referral to page 5, where we ran the headline "New Hampshire picks Clinton, McCain."

Simple and to the point.

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