Swing State Pres

Thursday, February 13, 2020

BTRTN New Hampshire Primary Postmortem: Another 1-1A Showing for Bernie and Pete, But the Only Clear Winner Was Amy


Tom on the New Hampshire primary and the paths…or many paths….forward.

Praise be to New Hampshire!  Their primary was run in an exemplary fashion, the votes were counted on a timely basis, and a winner was declared before midnight.   See, Democrats can run something!

All that was nothing new for The Granite State.  In fact, you can typically count on New Hampshire to:  1) run a fine primary, 2) back a different horse than Iowa and 3) winnow the field.

Well, one out of three ain’t bad.

Not only did New Hampshire not reject the Iowa verdict, the results there completely reinforced the “not really one winner” status of Bernie Sanders and Pete Buttigieg.  The pair again ran so close that you can dub them 1 and 1a, and have trouble, as of now, deciding which was which.  As with Iowa, each can claim a form of victory, Sanders for the popular vote, and Buttigieg for tying Sanders for garnering the most pledged candidates.

And as for winnowing the field, that did not happen either.  Sure, Andrew Yang, Michael Bennet and Deval Patrick dropped out, and it was a terrible night for Joe Biden and Elizabeth Warren, but there remain seven viable nominees, and each of them (except Warren) has an argument, a logic path, on how they will secure the nomination from this point on.  The real field not been winnowed at all.

So, first let’s review the real winners and losers in New Hampshire, and then look at those logic paths.

These are the more or less final results:

New Hampshire
Actual %
Delegates
Sanders
25.8
9
Buttigieg
24.5
9
Klobuchar
19.9
6
Warren
9.2
0
Biden
8.4
0
Steyer
3.6
0
Gabbard
3.3
0
Yang
2.8
0
Other
1.4
0

For Bernie Sanders, a win is a win, but Sanders, the neighboring Senator from Vermont and the undisputed poll leader going into Tuesday’s voting, should have won by more than a point and change.  He led in 28 of the final 29 polls in New Hampshire, and his margin was on average +8 points.  He clobbered Hillary Clinton by +22 percentage points here in 2016 (60/38), and while that was a much smaller field, the inescapable fact is that more than half of his 2016 supporters went elsewhere in 2020.  Sanders, in his own backyard, managed to beat Buttigieg, the mayor of a small city a thousand miles away, by a mere 1.3%, and did not pick up a single delegate more than Pete.  This was a very hollow victory for Sanders.

But as sweet as it was for Pete Buttigieg to essentially share the limelight with Bernie, it was not a perfect night for him either.  On a night when he just might have buried a formidable, weakening rival (Joe Biden) and won the crown of the King of the Moderates, instead a new rival burst forward to challenge that claim, Klobuchar.  So for Pete, he may have essentially won this battle, but now he faces a brand new war. 

New Hampshire is noted for giving second chances to candidates – Bill Clinton in 1992, Hillary Clinton in 2008, Bernie Sanders in 2016, just to name a few – and this year it is Amy Klobuchar’s turn.  After a long, desultory campaign that started, as she is fond of saying, in a blizzard in Minnesota in February 2019, Klobuchar finally started to find her footing (and rising polls numbers) eleven long months later in December in Iowa, when she finally hit 10% for the first time.  But she could not continue that momentum, and even though Iowa is a Midwest state – presumably right in her wheelhouse -- she had a weak showing there, in fifth place.

She was on life support, polling in the single digits in New Hampshire through last Saturday.  But she pulled off an excellent performance in the Friday night debate, which in retrospect marked her shift in momentum.  But even then the post-debate pols were mixed:  two polls had her at 14%; another had her at only 7%.  But the reporting from New Hampshire on Tuesday was unmistakable (though too late for our BTRTN forecast): the crowds were large and enthusiastic, late breaking throngs for Amy.  And her 20% performance, just a few points behind the lead duo, thrust her, for the very first time, in any poll or election, into the top tier.

For Elizabeth Warren, even more than Joe Biden, New Hampshire was a disaster.  This was a home game for her too, as the senior senator from neighboring Massachusetts.  And Sanders, her ideology twin, clobbered her, 26% to 9%.  It does not get much grimmer than that.

If Iowa was a “punch in the gut” for Joe Biden, then New Hampshire was a stunning blow to the head, and he is reeling.  He vacated the state early to build up his crumbling firewall in South Carolina, where he gave a speech that was so lame that at times he was the only one in the room laughing at his own jokes.  It was not a pretty sight.  Joe Biden has been a giant of a public servant, an authentic, unprogrammed human being and, by all accounts, a good person.  But he is finding out the hard way, all over again, exactly why he is not a good presidential candidate, and this performance is stomping all over the legacy he had built as an effective and important U.S. senator and VP to Barack Obama.

For the Billionaire Boys, it was more good news.  Nothing helps Mike Bloomberg and Tom Steyer more than murkiness at the top, and Klobuchar’s emergence piled on the uncertainty. 

Andrew Yang’s quest was not a winning one, but he made his mark through his off-beat, authentic debate performances, one big progressive idea (“universal basic income”) and a small – too small, as it turns out – but incredibly energized supporter base.  Yang, Michael Bennet and Deval Patrick had the good sense to drop out after the results were known; let’s see if Tulsi Gabbard got the memo. 


WHERE DOES THIS LEAVE US?

As stated, six of the seven remaining viable candidates still have a logic path to victory that they can tout to donors and their faithful.  Let’s go through them:

Sanders has won the first two races, and can claim, with Buttigieg, frontrunner status.  He will await Warren’s exit to consolidate the progressive wing of the party, hope the centrists do not similarly coalesce, then court the minority group vote assiduously to build a winning coalition.  He has money and a victor’s aura, even if New Hampshire was not as decisive as he would have liked. 

Buttigieg will need to bury Biden for good, and that means surpassing him in Nevada and South Carolina.  He has a tougher row to hoe because of his infamously low levels of minority support.  But he can certainly make the case that he has attracted voters wherever he has gone on the strength of his intelligence, charisma and vision for America, and that he will reach those segments as well.  And he has the money to move masses via the ground game and the air waves.

Klobuchar now has the big momentum (or “Klomentum,” as we have heard), and is, quite suddenly, the “cool newcomer” – to borrow a phrase she pinned, with venom, on Buttigieg.  She’s not exactly new, but she is new to the spotlight, and will revel with the sudden attention (and money) while dealing with the knives that will come out for her.  She herself has developed a charming and disarming attack style – jab with a smile – and it will be fascinating to see how her competitors attempt to do the same with her.  She has no obvious warts.  What she does have is a solid case to use her experience against Pete to win over the centrist wing of the party.

As for Biden, he can hang his hopes, with some legitimacy, on South Carolina.  It will be interesting to see how he manages his time over the next ten days between Nevada, which comes first and where he was doing well in older polls (there have been no new ones) or putting all his chips in South Carolina, his strongest state, and his true firewall if he has one.  

Tom Steyer put effort into both Iowa and New Hampshire, but to no effect.  But the few January polls in Nevada and South Carolina showed him doing very well, essentially 10% in the former and just under 20% in the latter.  His path is through them, and he needs to put in a top three or even top two showing in one of them to finally make a mark and set him up for Super Tuesday.  His money can sustain him, of course – he can match Bloomberg and build on some successes at the polls.

Bloomberg has been running a Super Tuesday strategy, patiently saturating the air waves and building a ground game while the others battle in the four initial contests.  Biden’s weakness helps him in particular, as Bloomberg is the centrist with the most stripes and gravitas.

Which leaves Elizabeth Warren with…what?  Trounced by her progressive competitor in both Iowa and New Hampshire, she has little room to maneuver around Sanders.  It is hard to develop a credible path to victory for her at this point.  In her New Hampshire comments, she gamely pointed to Klobuchar, of all people, for “showing just how wrong the pundits can be when they count a women out.”  But Klobuchar had been rising for two months in the polls; Warren has been in decline in that same time frame.  And Warren’s other post-New Hampshire speech gambit was to play the role of the unifier.  My, we’ve come a long way from “Big Structural Change.” 


BTRTN

We had a much better night in New Hampshire than in Iowa, getting it right with Sanders and Buttigieg running one/two and the percentages were quite close.  The margin was tighter than we had forecasted, though.

But the main miss was Klobuchar.  In primaries, people make up their minds later than in a general election.  The candidates are less well known and, more importantly, are of the same party, so it is not much of a leap to switch, even between moderates and progressives.  Klobuchar’s late charge was an equal opportunity vote stealer, taking from Sanders, Warren and Biden (though not Buttigieg).  Some polls tracked her weekend surge, but others didn’t, as we mentioned, and thus the general trend was flattish, not up.  And then she clearly was flying on Tuesday, after we had made our predictions.

We will have to do a better job at recognizing those last minute surges…an art, not a science! 

New Hampshire
Final Polls % (Momentum)
BTRTN Prediction %
Actual %
Sanders
27 =
29
26
Buttigieg
22 ++
24
25
Klobuchar
9 +
10
20
Warren
12 -
14
9
Biden
11 --
13
8
Steyer
2 -
2
4
Gabbard
4 =
5
3
Yang
3 =
3
3
Other
0
0
1



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