The revolution is being televised.
Bernie Sanders has scored a win in the first-in-the-nation New Hampshire primary. It wasn’t a blowout, but the Vermont senator bested a rugby scrum of more-moderate contenders, including Pete Buttigieg, Amy Klobuchar, and former vice president Joe Biden, who posted another dismal early-state showing. Sanders also soundly defeated Sen. Elizabeth Warren, his progressive and regional rival.
Sanders was called the victor by NBC at roughly 11 p.m. Eastern Time and other outlets shortly after. From incomplete returns, the margin of victory looks significantly tighter than pre-election polling, which had given Sanders a nearly seven percent edge.
The New Hampshire results ended the race for Andrew Yang, the populist insurgent who ran on a pledge to give every adult American $1,000 a month. Sen. Michael Bennet (D-Colo.) also officially ended his campaign.
With Sanders now having won the popular vote in both Iowa and New Hampshire, this much is clear: The front-runner for the Democratic nomination is a Democratic Socialist. And unless there’s a quick winnowing of the crowded moderate lane, Sanders has significant running room heading into the February 22nd Nevada caucus and the Super Tuesday states, particularly the diverse and delegate-rich prize of California, where polls show him surging.
“We’re going to Nevada and South Carolina. We’re going to win those states as well,” Sanders told an ebullient crowd as he offered his congratulations to other Democrats in the race. Sanders also said he and his rivals would unite behind the eventual nominee in a bid to defeat President Trump.
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Early-state victory isn’t destiny. Sanders also took the New Hampshire primary in 2016, before losing the nomination to Hillary Clinton. But in the four years since that defeat, his agenda for universal health care, free college tuition, and high taxes on the wealthiest Americans has shifted from the edges to the center of the Democratic debate. Nearly 60 percent of New Hampshire primary participants said they backed Medicare for All in exit polling, and nearly two-thirds supported free public college. All the same, Sanders remains distrusted by the party establishment, which remains eager to trip him up in favor of a more-center-than-left candidate.
There are warning signs for Sanders. His theory of the election hinges on turning out masses of new voters. Instead he’s turning out only enough to eke out victory. Sanders also has work to do in consolidating the Democratic base. The Vermonter is showing resonance with Hispanic voters in the West, but has yet to prove that he can inspire large numbers of African American voters, particularly in the South. If he cannot stage a decent showing in South Carolina’s end-of-February primary, and Joe Biden’s current polling support from black voters holds, Sanders’ electability could come into question. Virginia, North Carolina, Georgia, and Florida are all likely swing states in the 2020 general election, and black turnout will be a key to victory.
If South Carolina does not break decisively in Biden’s favor, the former vice president is likely to fade, and Sanders would then have the bank account of Michael Bloomberg to deal with. Bloomberg has already spent more than $300 million on his campaign — which is skipping over the early contests and surging in the polls, nationally. While Bloomberg’s bankroll is a problem, Sanders doubtless relishes the contrast of running against an actual billionaire with his campaign to strip power from the billionaire class.
Beyond the Sanders victory, New Hampshire gives a window into the health of the campaigns of the competition.
Iowa was an abject disaster for the Democratic Party, but one thing the still-unsettled caucus results made clear is that Pete Buttigieg may be a more formidable candidate than many expected. But New Hampshire, like Iowa, is overwhelmingly white, and it’s difficult to imagine someone polling at a hearty four percent among African Americans has any real chance of winning the Democratic nomination. Buttigieg could be in for a reality check later this month when the primary makes its way to Nevada, where he’s not even polling at 10 percent, and South Carolina, where his prospects are even more grim: He’s polling average sits just north of 5 percent, lagging behind Biden and Sanders as they poll in the high teens and into the twenties.
You had our curiosity, Amy Klobuchar; now you have our attention. The Minnesota senator was able to turn heads and cement her status as a quasi-contender with an impressive third-place finish in New Hampshire. Just as surprising as her Granite State surge is that it may have come at the expense of Warren, who failed to pick up any delegates in a state next to her home of Massachusetts. What does this mean for the Klobuchar — and her status as a sensible-moderate alternative? It’s hard to say. She’s polling at one percent in Nevada, and not doing much better in South Carolina. But it doesn’t look like she’s going to be exiting the race anytime soon.
Warren’s loss in New Hampshire stings. The state knows the Massachusetts senator well. And New Hampshire has a high share of college-educated voters who comprise her base. While her candidacy remains compelling, with the most thoughtful and complete suite of progressive policy proposals of any candidate in memory, Warren appears to be caught in the same dreaded straddle that doomed Kamala Harris. The party’s most liberal voters are consolidating around Sanders, while the party’s more moderate voters are looking for restoration of the Obama era, rather than “big, structural change.” Exit polls showed 57 percent of turnout in New Hampshire was women, who broke strongly for Klobuchar.
Despite holding a commanding lead in the polls for the majority of the past year, the former vice president tanked in Iowa and wasn’t able to do much better in New Hampshire, failing to claim any delegates from a state he confidently predicted he’d win just a few months ago. Biden seemed to sense he was in for some bad news Tuesday morning. He decided to take off for South Carolina, where his campaign could hinge on a decisive victory, ahead of schedule. “We’re still mildly hopeful here in New Hampshire,” he told reporters at a Dunkin’ Donuts before departing the state. “We’ll see what happens.”
What happened was a beat down, leaving the onetime front-runner with a lot of work to do if he’s going to recapture the momentum necessary to win the nomination.
Mike Bloomberg has not participated in any debates and until recently hadn’t had much of a national media presence. But he’s been soaring in the polls due to the fact that he has billions and billions of dollars, hundreds of millions of which he has spent on targeted advertising. He wasn’t on the ballot in Iowa or New Hampshire, but is currently running in third nationally, according to the RealClearPolitics polling average. Bloomberg has made clear he’s playing the long game (he said in January he’s open to spending $1 billion on the race) and could ultimately pose the greatest threat to Sanders. If Biden, Warren, and Buttigieg can’t make up ground on the front-runner, the former New York mayor is well-equipped to position himself as the last viable alternative and rack up delegates in the later states — that is, if his past doesn’t come back to haunt him.
Andrew Yang’s quixotic, endlessly bizarre campaign for president came to an end on Tuesday after he failed to follow up his poor showing in Iowa with an encouraging result in New Hampshire. But as Rolling Stone reported, this isn’t the last we’ll see from the former entrepreneur and universal basic income proponent. The #YangGang’s leader is already looking to parlay his base of support into another run in 2024. “For Andrew to light that spark is such a special thing,” Nick Ryan, Yang’s campaign chief, told us. “It’s the furthest thing from partisan politics. It’s a movement.”
Tulsi Gabbard, who received little support in Iowa and was most recently in the news for defending President Trump’s decision to have Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman escorted out of the White House, looked to come away with less than four percent of the vote in New Hampshire. Not good. Michael Bennet, who staked his entire campaign on performing well in New Hampshire, brought in barely 1,000 votes before announcing his withdrawal from the race. Happy trails. Former Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick? Let’s move on.
The only other candidate who may have some room to maneuver is Tom Steyer, who like Bloomberg has spent his way into something resembling contention. He didn’t receive any delegates in Iowa and registered in Tulsi territory in New Hampshire. But Steyer is currently polling third in South Carolina, where he’s invested heavily. The only chance the billionaire has to remain in the race is to somehow win the state, which remains highly unlikely.
So who does have a legitimate chance to win South Carolina? Sanders, who has been chipping away at Biden’s once-thought-to-be-insurmountable lead in the state. If Sanders were to follow-up his win in New Hampshire with a victory in Nevada, and then take South Carolina a week later, the race will be his to lose.