About Last Night: Leaving New Hampshire Edition
We have the first primary votes of the 2020 Presidential Campaign in, and unlike Iowa we have them on the night it actually happened. Senator Bernie Sanders won as expected, but much closer than he probably liked. Pete Buttigieg surged to a close second, Senator Amy Klobuchar surprised in third, Joe Biden’s free-fall continues, and Senator Elizabeth Warren looks to be almost as done as Andrew Yang and Michael Bennett, who both bowed out before the votes were even counted. Let’s dig through it.
Senator Bernie Sanders:
There will be plenty of “Bernie on track for nomination” headlines this morning but there is still reason to be cautious. There are plenty of signs that the Democratic Party isn’t feeling the Bern as much as advertised. The good news here is after flat turnout in Iowa, New Hampshire’s turnout was strong, besting 2016 and creeping close to 2008 level. The problem for Sanders is that, despite him talking about how increase turnout is good for him, it doesn’t seem to have helped him any:
Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) is the consensus declared winner of the New Hampshire primary, but his roughly 26 percent of the vote is a sharp falloff from his 2016 win, when he beat Hillary Clinton 60 percent to 38 percent. Brownstein says that’s the lowest winning Democratic vote share in New Hampshire since 1952.
Sanders had “asked supporters to engineer the ‘highest turnout in the history of the New Hampshire primary,'” David Weigel reports at The Washington Post, but high turnout “may not necessarily help him: The absence of a real Republican contest has freed up the state’s 400,000-plus ‘non-affiliated’ voters, and in the past few days, it was easy to find them poking around at events for Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) and former South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg.”
“If I had to sum up the night (and the Democratic race to date),” FiveThirtyEight’s Dan Hopkins wrote Tuesday night, “I’d say this: ‘All Your Candidates Belong to Factions.'”
If you are a Sanders supporter you are feeling great: someone has to win and right now Sanders and his revolution is leading the field and in as good a position as he could hope for. But Bernie, for all his success this year, still hasn’t won anything that he hasn’t won before, and frankly anything he wasn’t supposed to win yet. Nevada is up next, and while polls indicate that race should be very competitive, it is another caucus, and already there is worry about a repeat of the Iowa debacle. Then comes South Carolina and the newly souped-up Super Tuesday. Between now and then, the party will have their come to Jesus meeting about whether or not the 78 year old Democratic Socialist who will be 79 on election day is going to be the face of the party. Bernie may well win over a splintered field, but as of yet there is little evidence the revolution is bringing in more converts. A cynic would wonder at the inability to put away the mayor of South Bend, Indiana in elections Sanders has previously won. If Bernie Sanders is to be the nominee, he still has plenty to prove.
The former Mayor Pete continues to surprise, and another strong second place has him well above expectations. Bernie unloaded a direct attack at Pete with his “funded by billionaires” quip, and Buttigieg had some uneven moments in the latest debate, but it didn’t seem to hurt him here. Like Sanders though, the question is what now? As the race moves into more diverse electorates, the glaring issue of Pete’s horrid minority polling is going to get brighter. Pete might have worked his way into a difficult spot here: not as moderate as he plays on TV, not progressive enough to appease Sanders supporters, and the divergent factions of the parties demographics still wary and unconvinced. He has over-performed, but is there a path for him to continue to do so? That depends on his ability to get support as the fractious field narrows down, or more to the point get it for those stubbornly not leaving the race despite no hope of winning. Then there is his biggest problem: two seconds don’t make a win, and South Carolina looks to be posed to hang a decidedly not close second on him, but a third place or worst. As good as it was in the Granite State, it sort of feels like a missed opportunity for Pete to get a W, like his almost-did-it in Iowa. Two seconds, a second or third in Nevada, and getting crushed in South Carolina is not a compelling narrative for Super Tuesday voters. We will see. At some point, you have to win something, and the calendar between now and the end of March doesn’t look like it has a bunch of Pete wins on it.
Senator Klobuchar was patient, and got rewarded with a nice moment last night:
Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar finishing third with 20% of the vote was the biggest surprise of the night. She appears to have found a lane for a hopeful message between Sanders and the rest of the pack.
“We cannot win big by out-dividing the divider-in-chief,” Klobuchar said. “We have to bring people with us instead of shutting them out. Donald Trump’s worst nightmare is the people in the middle, tired of the name-calling and the mudslinging, have someone to vote for in November.”
Klobuchar had been trending upward since her surprise fifth-place finish on the heels of former Vice President Biden in Iowa, and her debate performance appears to have put her over the top. About half of voters said they decided in the last few days, and half of voters also said the debate was important to their choice, according to the exit polls.
We are going to hear a bunch about finding the “moderate alternative” to Sanders, so that narrative will float its way over to Team Amy. She has seen a modest bump in fundraising, but polling in the single digits in Nevada, South Carolina, and most of the Super Tuesday states means precious little time for her to turn it around in places she has no infrastructure and still lags in funding. More likely this is her high-water mark, but she will be able to hold her head up with a respectable showing and having stuck it out while bigger names with far more resources floundered as she raised her profile.
The frontrunner for most of the last year has fallen off a cliff. There is one glimmer of hope for the former VP: He still polls respectably in Nevada and is still leading in South Carolina. The latter has taken a hit, however, from the looming figure of Michael Bloomberg who has been carpet bombing every screen in the country with advertising. Biden’s fate no longer rests in his own hands here. Like a team that needs someone else to lose to get into the playoffs, Biden’s best chance to make a comeback here rests on someone else screwing up. If Bloomberg makes the Nevada debate, that will be the first time most of the country will pay attention to him other than the quarter of a billion dollars worth of ads that are inescapable. With a full ten days for other candidates to start highlighting Bloomberg’s problematic record, and the probability of focused fire on the debate stage, a Bloomberg blow up or stumble might mean some Bernie adverse folks run home to Biden. That might work in South Carolina, where the former Mayor has been eating into Joe’s lead with minorities, but might not be enough in the Super Tuesday states. But regardless, it’s panic time for Team Joe if they are going to prove that the once-promising campaign for the former Senator and Vice President isn’t just a lying dog-faced pony soldier windmill tilting for old times sake.
As bad as it looks for Biden, he is still better off than the hapless Elizabeth Warren campaign. Warren is done. She doesn’t poll in the top two in any poll going forward outside of her home state, and her dismal showing in the first two contests completes a fall from media favorite (remember the four rounds of Warren is Surging!!!) to also ran. When the post mortem on this campaign season is written, the top of the underperformer list will start with Elizabeth Warren.
Thank God we are done with this. Bye, Yang Gang, thanks for playing along.
Everyone else still technically running for president not named Michael Bloomberg:
They don’t matter.
Meanwhile, not in New Hampshire:
As the other candidates for the Democratic presidential nomination trudged through Iowa and New Hampshire in the early weeks of this year, Bloomberg, the former mayor of New York, has doubled his planned spending on television ads, expanded his staff several times over and started aggressively courting key party influencers — including many who have endorsed top rivals like former Vice President Joe Biden.
Bloomberg could escalate his efforts even more directly after the results of Tuesday’s New Hampshire primary are in and as candidates, party insiders and voters begin to reassess the state of the race.
On Friday, in a townhouse across from the Capitol complex in Washington, top Bloomberg campaign advisers huddled with about 20 House members to deliver a briefing on their strategy to win the nomination and defeat President Donald Trump.
The cross section of lawmakers, representing the Blue Dog Coalition, the Congressional Hispanic Caucus and the Congressional Black Caucus, included both members who have endorsed other candidates and members who remain undecided, according to a person familiar with Bloomberg’s operation.
The strategy is to keep potential allies informed of Bloomberg’s plans in case they decide to sign on later, the person said.
The former mayor is seeing polling bounces in places like South Carolina, but is this really going to work? If it is, it’s because of one main thing. Money. Lots of it. Bloomberg is single-handedly expanding the revenue spreadsheets of every media platform in the country with his advertising blitz. That sort of money buys the options to try his novel approach to winning the nomination, and with a very divided result to this point, so far so good for the plan.
But now comes the tricky part, since at some point some votes are going to have to be cast for the former Mayor of NYC. He won’t be on the ballot of the Nevada caucuses, so South Carolina will be his first appearance. Interest groups and rivals will have 10 days before NV, and 17 between now and South Carolina, to counterattack. There is also going to be a testing of the theory of how much advertising one can do before you become so annoying it’s counterproductive. Wherever that line may lay, Bloomberg seems intent on finding and blowing a hole in it with a money bomb. How much of his polling bounce is the “idea” of Bloomberg from folks that don’t know much about him and never heard him speak will be flushed out in the next few days, especially if he makes the Nevada debates to replace Sanders Stan Steyer as the Billionaire on stage. It’s a great unknown, but will be brief unknown: one way or the other we will know in the next 45 days if Bloomberg’s Billions can equal a nominating run.
So on to Nevada. We have ten days before more votes are cast — and that is an eternity in political/news cycle time — so there will be plenty of movement as campaigns recalibrate away from the first two states after a year plus of focusing on them. Nevada will be the last few clicks on the nomination roller coaster as it crests the first hill: South Carolina the following Saturday, then the beefed up Super Tuesday immediately thereafter. For all the chaos the race appears to be in, by the end of March we should have something resembling a winner coming forth. Can Bernie and Pete expand their support in more diverse regions? Is there going to be a Joe comeback? And will billionaire Michael Bloomberg buy a nomination and re-write how campaigns are done in the process?
The time for talking is nearly done, and an incumbent President awaits. A president who, by the way, turned out 121K voters last night in a mostly symbolic vote, a stark reminder that this election will not be won by default.