Clinton’s New Jersey team fights on

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It looked like the second coming of Edmund Muskie in New Hampshire as an emotionally glistening-eyed Sen. Hillary Clinton experienced what John Graham said was a "minor meltdown" Monday on her way into the New Hampshire primary.

But in what a redeemed and jubilant Graham a day later called "the greatest comeback in American primary history," Clinton beat Sen. Barack Obama by two percentage points.

"She was down by double digits and written off," said the New Jersey Clinton fund-raising co-chair who stormed New Hampshire over the weekend with a contingent of New Jerseyans that included U.S. representatives Frank Pallone and Bill Pascrell Jr.

At the end of his efforts, Graham was for 48 hours left exhausted and morose over Clinton’s prospects for victory only to rebound in euphoria with the presidential candidate on Tuesday night.

"She’s the ‘Comeback gal,’" Graham said of Clinton. "She can’t deliver a speech the way he can. I watched him (Obama) tonight. He was Martin Luther King Jr., tonight, but she persevered and she won, yes, because of women who voted for her and also because Sen. John McCain drew independent voters who otherwise might have voted for Barack."

Hosting what most Obama supporters believed would be a victory party for their candidate in the campaign’s West Orange office, Mark Alexander, New Jersey state director for the Obama campaign, took the loss. He said the message doesn’t change, and neither does the strategy.

"What I’m looking at is a rally tomorrow in Jersey City," Alexander said after hearing Obama’s New Hampshire concession speech. "We’re holding rallies and opening offices, and moving on to a lot of organizing. We’re committed to it. We’re doing great, and we’re moving forward."

"We thought this was going to be the knockout punch," Councilman Ron Rice Jr., admitted.

So did Graham, and so did Clinton’s chief spokesman, Assemblyman Joseph Cryan.

"I don’t really care if she pulls it out, five hours ago she was dead," Cryan said in the closing hours of Tuesday when the race was still too close to call. "Now (Sen. John) Edwards is going to drop out and it’s going to be a one-on-one campaign."

At a Hillsborough house party, fewer than ten Obama supporters watched and felt what they were certain would be a balloons cascading from the rafters night for their candidate stagnate into their toughest loss since John Kerry in Ohio.

"I had the bottle of champagne ready to open the night that Kerry lost," said Christian R. Mastondrea, an attorney and Obama supporter. "I couldn’t open it for months. I couldn’t even look it."

As the polls remained dead-locked with Clinton leading Obama, Mastondrea turned to his wife, Amanda, and said, "I guess I’m bad luck."

"I feel like I’m watching the slowest horse race of all time," said NJ for Obama State Chair Keith Hovey, and the only thing on Tuesday night more torturous for them was when Clinton crossed the finish line first.

Clinton’s New Jersey team fights on