(Bloomberg) — Bernie Sanders’ narrow win in New Hampshire makes him the undisputed leader of the Democratic Party’s left flank, with a second powerful showing that puts him in position to stake a claim to the Democratic presidential nomination as the race turns west and south.
A surprisingly strong third-place showing from Amy Klobuchar in New Hampshire further scrambles the race and the efforts by moderate Democrats to unite behind a candidate to stop Sanders, only strengthening the hand of the 78-year-old democratic socialist.
Klobuchar’s rise shows that moderate Democratic voters weren’t completely sold on their other choice, Pete Buttigieg, who had hoped that his Iowa win would crown him the candidate to beat Sanders. Buttigieg lost New Hampshire by about 4,000 votes.
With 85% of precincts reporting, Sanders had won 25.8% of the vote, to Buttigieg’s 24.4%. Klobuchar was third with 19.8% and Elizabeth Warren and Joe Biden trailed in single digits.
Centrist voters could further splinter as yet a third moderate formally joins the race: former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who didn’t compete in New Hampshire but will be on the ballot for the March 3 Super Tuesday contests.The clarity on the left contrasts with confusion among moderates and seems sure to reinvigorate efforts by the Democratic Party establishment to find a way to derail Sanders before it’s too late. Sanders replicated his 2016 win in New Hampshire over Hillary Clinton by tapping into younger voters and expanding the pool of Democrats – which he says would allow him to beat President Donald Trump.
“It’s on to Nevada, it’s on to South Carolina, it’s on to win the Democratic nomination, and together I have no doubt that we will defeat Donald Trump,” Sanders told cheering supporters in Manchester, New Hampshire, as he claimed victory late Tuesday.
But his rise worries Democratic Party establishment leaders, who thinks Sanders’ positions are too extreme in a general election against Trump. In the final days of the New Hampshire campaign, Buttigieg and Biden each took shots at Sanders’ electability.
Sanders’ insistence on ideological purity will turn off moderates and independents, Buttigieg argued. And Trump will use Sanders’ democratic socialist label to paint Democrats up and down the ballot as extremists, Biden said.
Both attacks missed their mark.
The biggest loser of the night was Biden, who had an embarrassing fifth-place showing in single-digits. He and fourth-place finisher Warren — a senator from neighboring Massachusetts – failed to reach the 15% vote threshold that would allow them to earn delegates.Biden’s campaign is in freefall, as he abandoned New Hampshire on Primary Night to go on to South Carolina — where he leads the polls. A defeat there on Feb. 29 would effectively knock him from the race, a shocking turnaround in a campaign where he led national polls for much of 2019.The Biden fade has been to a boon to Bloomberg, who’s coming in third in some national polls and has seen his support among African-American voters increase — at the expense of Biden, who was Barack Obama’s vice president.Bloomberg got into the race in November because no clear front-runner was emerging. He’s been the biggest beneficiary of Biden’s continued slide, but Biden and Sanders still beat him in the national polls despite Bloomberg’s $345 million in ad buys.
Bloomberg also needs just one more national poll ranking of at least 10% to qualify for a Las Vegas debate Feb. 19, which would be his national introduction to many voters.Bloomberg has felt the sting of being a surging candidate as a variety of anti-Bloomberg opposition research emerged on Primary Day, including an audiotape where he praised his stop-and-frisk program and other information that suggested he likened Russian President Vladimir Putin’s attack on Ukraine to the U.S. annexing California.(Bloomberg is the founder and majority owner of Bloomberg LP, the parent company of Bloomberg News.)
Iowa and New Hampshire amount to just 1.6% of all Democratic delegates. The primary now turns to two more racially diverse states, Nevada on Feb. 22 and South Carolina on Feb. 29 before 14 Super Tuesday contests on March 3. The biggest Super Tuesday prize is California, and Sanders is leading there.
Buttigieg still leads in the delegate race, with 22 from Iowa and New Hampshire combined. Sanders has 21, Warren has eight, Klobuchar has seven and Biden have six.
The field is likely to remain muddled at least through Super Tuesday. There’s little incentive for any top-tier candidate to drop out, though at least two second-tier candidates did exit the race Tuesday — Andrew Yang and Michael Bennet.
Buttigieg and Sanders are close in the delegate race, but the primary calendar is no friend to Buttigieg, who has yet to compete in more diverse states where he has failed to earn crucial black and Latino support.
Many New Hampshire voters, an independent-minded lot who often disregard Iowa’s preferences, shifted from Buttigieg to Klobuchar, who turned in her strongest debate performance of the cycle in New Hampshire last week. She’ll face questions of whether she has the money and organization to take her campaign to the next big states, but she raised $3 million in the days after Friday’s debate and plans to expand her staff.Primary campaigns tend to have a bandwagon effect. Success breeds success, and a win in one state can have a domino effect down the calendar — a big benefit for Sanders, as voters like to support a winner.After winning the popular vote — if not the majority of delegates — in the first two states, Sanders seems to be winning the electability argument. A Quinnipiac University Poll this week shows he’s doing about as well as any other Democrat in a head-to-head matchup with Trump, leading the incumbent 51% to 43%.
Sanders is a long way from uniting the party, however. He won New Hampshire by 22 percentage points in 2016 against Clinton. On Tuesday, faced with a much larger field, Sanders won with a much narrower margin but will still take away the lion’s share of delegates.In New Hampshire, the top issues for Democrats were health care, 37%, and climate change, 28%, according to CNN.On health care, New Hampshire Democrats leaned more toward the Medicare-for-All health care plan favored by Sanders and Warren, in which private health insurance would be eliminated and replaced with a government-run plan. Almost 6 in 10 primary voters support that plan, while 4 in 10 were opposed, CNN said.
New Hampshire voters are known for deciding late, and the CNN exit polls bear that out: 48% decided within the last few days, and the same number said Friday night’s debate was an important factor. That could have helped Buttigieg, who won the Iowa caucuses, and Klobuchar, who had a breakout debate performance.
Democrats also prioritized electability over issues in their votes: 62% said it was more important to find a candidate who can defeat Trump while 34% said it was more important to find someone who they agreed with, according to CNN.
For Democrats, New Hampshire in February is a particularly poor predictor of national victory in November. The last Democrat to win a contested New Hampshire primary and go on to win the presidency was Jimmy Carter in 1976.
Like Iowa, losing candidates can win New Hampshire by exceeding expectations — even self-created ones. Bill Clinton dubbed himself the “Comeback Kid” in 1992 after finishing second — a parallel that surely won’t be lost on Klobuchar’s campaign.
But the contentious 2016 campaign between Sanders and Clinton showed that primary campaign grudges can spill over into the general election.
Sanders is counting on unity to come through victory. “It’s both,” he told NBC News before the polls closed Tuesday. “Virtually all Democrats and a heck of a lot of independents understand that it is absolutely imperative we defeat the most dangerous president in the modern history of this country.”
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To contact the editors responsible for this story: Wendy Benjaminson at email@example.com, Michael Shepard
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