Obama visit shows N.H. remains No. 1

Do what you will, Howard Dean, New Hampshire remains the presidential king-maker.

The attempt by the Democratic National Committee to undercut the state's influence on presidential politics by inserting Nevada, of all places, between Iowa and the Granite State in the national caucus/primary schedule was a dismal failure if the national media buzz created by the one-day visit by Barack Obama to the state last weekend is any indication.

The visit, covered by virtually every media outlet in the United States, has been the talk of electronic and print political pundits since it happened, and many of them have elevated Obama to the status of co-front-runner, alongside Hillary Rodham Clinton, early in the race for the 2008 Democratic presidential nomination.

New Hampshire welcomed the first-term Illinois senator with open arms and astute questions that, once again, stoked the political furnace and further enhanced the state's reputation as the proving ground for future presidents. Obama, clearly taken aback by the intensity of it all, still welcomed the chance to engage in the particular form of retail politics this state is famous for. He rightly saw it as the best opportunity for vetting both his record and the issue of his electability.

What happened in New Hampshire last Sunday must have top DNC officials wondering what's going on. And remembering that the malaise that has gained a secure foothold in our nation's capital has as much to do with the failures of high-ranking Democrats as the actions of Republicans, that is not at all a bad thing.

The Obama visit also has those Democrats who previously may have considered themselves in the upper tier of potential nominees -- people like Joe Biden, John Edwards and Bill Richardson -- all of whom have made multiple visits to New Hampshire without anywhere near the impact of Obama, trying to regain whatever momentum they previously had. Almost all of them quickly made plans to return here this week in order to solidify whatever political base they still have left.

It's very early in the 2008 presidential season, but the impact of New Hampshire's well-educated and politically savvy electorate is already being felt.

Obama's star was certainly on the rise before last weekend's visit, but it became meteoric as a result of the reaction he received here. There is still much to learn about him and the other potential Democratic and Republican nominees, but our skills as political inquisitors have been honed to razor sharpness.

It will be here in New Hampshire that pretenders to the presidency will be forced to immerse themselves in the crucible of questions and face-to-face debates that will inform voters across the country of who and what they really are. It is from here that the nation will learn who has the real solutions to the problems facing this country and this world, and who will rely on the same old failed strategies of political business as usual to try to get the job done. New Hampshire primary voters may not choose the person who will ultimately become the next president of the United States, but they will expose him or her, and put space between the real candidates and the political hacks for the rest of the nation to see.

Not bad for a state that is not diverse enough for the tastes of the inside-the-Beltway Democratic bigwigs, eh, Mr. Dean?