So What Happened in New Hampshire?
The vote in New Hampshire is largely counted – reminding us once again how badly Iowa Democrats gummed up the works.
In fact, thanks to the Iowa foul-up, the Granite State was forced to take the winnowing role: Andrew Yang and Michael Bennett left the race last night, with rumors that Deval Patrick was soon to follow.
As for the results themselves, we got the closest Democratic primary ever in New Hampshire, and the closest major-party primary in that state since 1996. For what it’s worth, here are my takeaways.
Bernie Sanders won this state by 22 points in 2016. He won it by less than two points last night. That was a surprise, which is why he isn’t the main story despite winning. Sanders supporters are already in high dudgeon about it, but this is a thing with NH.
LBJ won by six points in 1968, but that was far closer than it was supposed to be, and he was out of the race in lass than two months. George Bush the Elder won by 16 points in 1992, but that was also closer than it should have been, so runner-up Pat Buchanan got the headlines. Paul Tsongas, who won the Democratic primary in 1992, suffered a similar eclipse by surprise second-place finisher Bill Clinton.
Early states are about gaining momentum, and Sanders didn’t do that in new Hampshire. His 2016 blowout hurt him this time.
Meanwhile, Joe Biden’s collapse (and that’s what it is) is either a triumph of Trump’s impeachable behavior or a sign of his own problems as a candidate (probably both). Either way, there could be a major opportunity for someone in South Carolina. The assumption is that no one has Biden’s strength among African-American voters, particular among the strongest New Hampshire finishers (Sanders, Buttigieg, and Klobuchar). That will be tested on Feb. 29.
Before we get there, though, those three candidates have one more chance to build momentum: Nevada.
It’s never been more important. A Sanders win can give him what a bigger New Hampshire victory would have: status as a strong front-runner (at present, he’s a weak one). By contrast, Buttigieg can establish himself as the front-runner with a win, or Klobuchar can show she isn’t a two-state wonder.
Nevada is a caucus. That could be a problem for everyone not named Michael Bloomberg (see Iowa). Assuming the count goes without incident, the Culinary Union endorsement will be critical. They sat out 2016, but they’re already whacking Sanders. They could pick the caucus winner – if they choose. They have 60,000 members, which is more than 4 times the entire 2016 Democratic caucus turnout (and Nevada Democrats arrange their caucuses specifically so union members can participate).
If there are foul-ups in the count, then the race could freeze again until South Carolina.
I happened to see some of Elizabeth Warren’s speech last night. I don’t think she can last much longer, but her warm words for Amy Klobuchar could be telegraphing a future endorsement. That would hurt Sanders – a lot. Conventional wisdom is that her voters would go to Sanders when she leaves. If she endorses Klobuchar, she’ll bring much (but not all) of her vote with her.
Finally, I would note that over 10 percent of Republican voters chose someone other than Donald Trump. Don’t read too much into that; Bill Weld was Governor of Massachusetts, just next door. But if that repeats in other swing states, it would be a sign that there really are enough Republicans annoyed with Trump to make a difference all by themselves. Hillary Clinton won New Hampshire, but her margin was smaller than Weld’s vote.
With ten days until Nevada, we have some time to catch our breath and see how they (and others) react to New Hampshire – and all those Mike Bloomberg ads.