The Democratic race was recast yesterday in New Hampshire. It is now a field of four: two frontrunners, Senator Bernie Sanders and former Mayor Pete Buttigieg; Senator Amy Klobuchar, who now has new competitive momentum; and Michael Bloomberg, who is aiming to shape the arc of Super Tuesday into unprecedented territory for the Democratic Party. It was a very bad night for Senator Elizabeth Warren, who was on top of the early state contests throughout 2019 and especially for former Vice President Joe Biden. Biden struck out completely in these first two contests and simply must have a win in Nevada or South Carolina, where he will make his last stand in the state where the Civil War started.
The Sanders win in New Hampshire shows he has kept a grip on his hardcore followers, notwithstanding his heart attack in October and after weathering heavy artillery from centrists over his socialist agenda, especially Buttigieg and Klobuchar. Sanders’ policies are sure to kill the Democrats in the House and Senate races in November and would be un-passable even if the Democrats control Congress in 2021.
The real secret to Sanders staying on his feet is that there was always going to be only one prime candidate from the left facing one prime candidate from the centre – and Elizabeth Warren never took Bernie on directly. Warren was unable to take him down because Bernie has more staying power with his message – class war and revolution – than she has with her encyclopedia of policy reforms for every issue from health care to Big Tech. The fight she might have won was never waged. Warren’s speech to her supporters showed she is now wrestling with whether to go forward and signaled the possible endorsement of another competitor – Klobuchar, the sole remaining viable woman candidate – sooner rather than later.
In 1980, George H. W. Bush claimed the “Big Mo” (Big Momentum) coming out of his Iowa victory over Ronald Reagan, but if there is a “Big Mo” out of New Hampshire this year it's from Klobuchar, notwithstanding her third-place finish. It is by far her best result yet and was earned at Buttigieg’s expense after hammering him on his relative lack of experience. She used her post-results address to introduce herself anew to those watching across the country: where she comes from, what moves her, what she wants for the country. Klobuchar is the “Comeback Kid” of this primary – just as Bill Clinton was after finishing second in New Hampshire 1992.
With a fresh generational appeal entwined with a gravitas beyond his years, Buttigieg is still the major surprise of 2020. Audibly echoing JFK and Obama, his hand is outstretched to seize the torch for a new generation. Just as Jimmy Carter, a small state governor, moralistic, farmer and engineer, was the antithesis of Nixon and Watergate, Buttigieg – young, veteran, Midwesterner, small-town mayor, gay – is the anti-Trump this year.
Buttigieg has done very well in these first two small, overwhelmingly white states. In New Hampshire, he also won in many areas that Trump carried in 2016 – a promising harbinger for November. But these states do not reflect the Democratic Party (or the country) as a whole; to keep his momentum, Buttigieg will have to pick off either Nevada and South Carolina. Given his lack of traction with unions and Hispanics (Nevada) and African Americans (South Carolina), Buttigieg has tough terrain to traverse before reaching Super Tuesday. It’s a miracle for Buttigieg to be where he is – but he needs more of them.
Joe Biden is hurting. His campaign appearances have been lackluster. Many in Iowa and New Hampshire went into his rallies expectant and exited disheartened. If not Nevada, Biden simply must win South Carolina with its 60 per cent African American electorate, if he is to make it to Super Tuesday. His money quest just got much harder, and it was already lagging. In this marathon, Biden is hitting the wall.
In recent days, especially after Trump’s acquittal in the impeachment trial, many Democrats are frankly depressed about their prospects. It is a field in disarray. There is no soaring, transcendent candidate yet, while at the same time the divisions among them and the limited appeal they project are larger than the unity they can command. This is the opening Bloomberg saw – provided that Joe Biden would falter in leading the party to defeat Trump. This is what makes his Super Tuesday play – which could amount to over $US500 million by March 3– so breathtakingly mercurial; but all we have seen so far is the wizard’s smoke – not his fire. It is the idea of Bloomberg, utterly unintimidated by Trump, that, in the vacuum of a field without a dominant nominee, is capturing the imagination of many Democrats. Bloomberg’s ad buys are driving his polls up – but in an undisturbed dream. Next week’s debate in Nevada will be the television event of the campaign to date.
The good news for Democrats in New Hampshire was that, after a dismal decline in turnout in Iowa last week compared to 2016, there was much higher turnout: more Democrats voted in New Hampshire yesterday – over 280,000 – well in excess than even in the legendary 2008 primary between Obama, Hillary, and John Edwards. This shows the enthusiasm for the field, which Democrats desperately need to win in November, appears intact after the Iowa debacle.
A note on the Republican primary in New Hampshire:
Trump captured over 120,000 votes – up from the 100,000 he won in 2016 in a field of six candidates. Although Trump claims 95 per cent approval in the Republican Party, in the swing state of New Hampshire he won 85 per cent of the Republican vote, with challenger Bill Weld claiming over 9 per cent. Overall Republican turnout fell by over 100,000 and Trump will need those Republicans who stayed home to come back out if he is to win a state he lost by 3000 votes (0.4 per cent) four years ago. His re-election still needs every Electoral College vote he can get.