During his first run for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2016, Vermont senator Bernie Sanders won big in New Hampshire. Claiming 60 per cent of the vote, Sanders trounced establishment favourite (and eventual nominee) Hillary Clinton by 22 points. Bernie’s Granite State victory last night wasn’t as large, but it was a victory nonetheless.
By the end of the night, Sanders took 26 per cent, edging out mayor Pete Buttigieg by just over 4,000 votes. You may recall that both candidates also finished at the top of the polls in Iowa last week. But the most significant story of the night was not who won or who exceeded expectations (Minnesota senator Amy Klobuchar raked in a respectable third-place showing), but rather who went to bed angry and upset.
Former vice president Joe Biden, the elder statesman of the Democratic party who has been at the top of the national polls since he jumped into the race last spring, flew out of New Hampshire almost immediately and never looked back. It was a smart move from the veteran politician, who pronounced his chances in the state dead two days before the voting began. But not even the perpetually optimistic Biden could have predicted how low his numbers would be, lingering in the single-digits and lumped with a crowd (like entrepreneur Andrew Yang and Hawaii congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard) who were never considered viable candidates.
Biden addressed his supporters in South Carolina as if New Hampshire was just a small obstacle on the road to the White House. “It an’t over, man,” Biden told the crowd. “We’re just getting started.”
That line was meant to convince his loyal stalwarts the show will keep on going, but it could have easily applied to the vice president as well. If Biden doesn’t deliver in South Carolina, where he is currently leading by double-digits, the veep might as well stop wasting his time and enjoy time with his grandchildren. It increasingly looks like Joe Biden’s moment has past.
The other big loser was Massachusetts senator Elizabeth Warren, who hoped to finish in the top three. Yet Warren couldn’t even break the ten per cent mark, which means she couldn’t even notch a single delegate in her column (a candidate needs at least 15 per cent of the vote to win delegates). Warren’s problem is not necessarily that she lost, but that she lost so badly. As a senator from a neighbouring state, she should have at least been able to capture some townships in southern New Hampshire, where residents are serviced by the Boston media market. Warren, however, didn’t win a single township along the Massachusetts-New Hampshire state line, an embarrassing display of electoral weakness for a candidate who only a month go was admired as the leader of a vigilant, powerful campaign machine. Instead, Warren enters a contest in Nevada next week missing her biggest opportunity to prove to progressive Democrats that she, not Bernie Sanders, is the most electable progressive in the race.
Despite an impressive start to the primary, not all is rosy in the Buttigieg camp either. Iowa and New Hampshire are not exactly states with diverse electorates. As the contest proceeds to Nevada, South Carolina, Texas, and the deep south, Buttigieg’s paltry relationship with African American voters will weigh him down throughout. Unless he manages to find a way to connect with the Democratic party’s most reliable constituency, Buttigieg may find his big-money donors fleeing a sinking ship to another campaign.
New Hampshire is a very small state. There is a long way to go in the Democratic primary before a nominee can be confidently predicted. But even so, last night’s results are beginning to expose to Democrats throughout the country which candidate is riding the momentum, which is weak and hobbled, and which is a waste of space on the ballot.