The real comeback kid

February 20, 1992

"New Hampshire tonight has made Bill Clinton the comeback kid," the Arkansas governor said Tuesday night. He was referring to the fact that many political commentators had pronounced his candidacy dead or dying after he was accused first of having an affair with singer Gennifer Flowers through most of the 1980s and then of dodging the draft in the 1960s. In his view and that of many others, Governor Clinton's second place finish in the Democratic half of the New Hampshire presidential primary was a stunning comeback.

But former Massachusetts Sen. Paul Tsongas has a better claim to the nickname. He not only came back to politics after winning a battle against a life-threatening form of cancer. He also came back from a deathly low standing in the polls to win in New Hampshire. The accompanying chart shows the change in public opinion in the state in the final five weeks of the campaign.

Governor Clinton enjoyed a 29 percent-17 percent lead over Mr. Tsongas on Jan. 13, 14 and 15, according to a tracking poll conducted by KRC Communications Research of Newton, Mass., for journalistic clients. A one-day poll by KRC on Jan. 27, after Gennifer Flowers had made her accusation and Governor Clinton had denied it, showed him still ahead of Mr. Tsongas, 30 percent-21 percent. The Arkansan's lead had dropped to 28 percent-25 percent for Feb. 6, 7 and 8, the days before and just after the draft story broke. On Feb. 17, KRC's final one-day poll showed a Tsongas lead of 32 percent to 21 percent for Governor Clinton. The actual vote the next day gave Mr. Tsongas 34.7 percent and Governor Clinton, 25.8 percent.

While Governor Clinton was losing about a tenth of his support among New Hampshire Democrats, Mr. Tsongas was doubling his. His campaign message appears to have drawn voters away from the governor, from other candidates and from among undecideds. Why? A pretty large crowd that showed up for a Tsongas speech at Hopkins Place yesterday got a good idea. It was his refreshing honesty -- and good political sense. The Democrats should stay faithful to their traditions on social issues, he said, but become pro-business, pro-growth, pro-jobs, if the nation under their leadership is to be able to pay for the things Democrats have traditionally favored.

Judged by New Hampshire and by his audience here yesterday, we would expect Paul Tsongas to do very well here in the March 3 primary and his remarkable comeback to keep on coming.

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