Handicapping the 2008 presidential race got much harder last week following the results of New Hampshire's first in the nation primary. Barrack Obama swept into the Granite State with tremendous momentum following a big win in the Iowa Caucuses. His campaign ran into a solid wall when Hillary Clinton won a significant victory.

If it seems a little early for the field to be narrowing in a presidential contest, it is. The accelerated primary process means that both parties' nominees will likely be chosen before the nation has thawed from winter. In the event of a spirited campaign in which two principled leaders carried the mantle for two divergent philosophies of how our democracy is best advanced, the jousting would be entertaining. My guess at this early stage is that the contest will be depressing at best.

When the media circus folded its tent in Iowa to head east, we seemed all but ready to anoint Obama the Democratic nominee. His sweeping win in Iowa was followed by days of polling data that showed Hillary Clinton in free-fall. Everyone bought it. I bought it. On the night of the New Hampshire primary I was at the Obama party in the gymnasium at Nashua South High School.

During the day there was an air of confidence. Staffers were riding high; they had just won a convincing victory. Volunteers and supporters felt as good as you feel when you've hitched your wagon to the standard-bearer. In the media we felt sure that we would be filing stories about an Obama victory party. Shortly after the first returns were posted the air went out of the balloon. Almost everyone was caught flat-footed by the Clinton win.

Moving forward from the New Hampshire vote the media seems consumed with head-shaking. How can it be that the pundits and pollsters were so far off-base? It might be that New Hampshire's voters are truly so independent that they can't be accurately read without actually voting. It might be that sampling a race between two potential history-making candidates is too tall of an order for even the best handicappers.

Whatever the reason, I would suggest that Obama-Clinton contest over the next few weeks will be the most entertaining and spirited part of this presidential campaign. The Clintons are about the toughest, coldest, smartest duo on the planet. They have never suffered defeat or humiliation lightly, and they won't start now.

On the other hand the Obama campaign seems buoyed by the type of youthful hope that probably hasn't swept this country since Robert Kennedy was shot to death in Los Angeles. If they have the opportunity to actually bring the 18-25 population into the political fold with their message of generic change, then even the tactically amazing Clinton people may be at a loss to stop them.

Every campaign seems to have a hollow ring in its message. The "we need change" mantra looks good on the surface. Media headlines are screaming about fuel prices, housing crunches, and an allegedly looming recession. On the other hand the average American is eating longer, living better, surfing faster, and getting fatter. Life doesn't really seem that bad when you go beyond the headlines.

The Republican campaign seems to have three viable combatants left in the ring. McCain may have cemented his status as the leader. In case you didn't hear, "the Mac attack is back." Mitt Romney's plan to appeal to the religious sect of the party seems to be a tremendous blunder. Not only did it not work in Iowa, it cost him the one state that should have been a lock. A big win in Michigan has pulled him back from the precipice of complete irrelevance.

Without even knowing who the Republican nominee is, I'm willing to bet at this point that they will win the White House. Clinton and Obama both have too many qualities that make them generally unelectable. More than half of the country doesn't like Hillary; and while most of the country likes Barrack, they won't trust his inexperience. Enjoy the dog fight now, because unless the landscape changes dramatically the dogs will be sleeping into the fall.

ABOUT THE WRITER Barry Gadbois has been employed behind the scenes with several news organizations, and is a former employee of the National Training Center, Fort Irwin. He is presently employed by a Boston-based news network, and resides part time in Barstow. He can be contacted at talkback@gadbois.us.