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Bernie Sanders Leads a Jumbled New Hampshire Primary


The Democratic consultant James Carville spent much of the past week on television, warning, with a Baptist intensity, of what would come if the Democratic Party nominated Bernie Sanders. “It’ll be the end of days,” Carville said. “I am scared to death. I really am.” But in the final rallies and political meetings across New Hampshire, Sanders’s rivals barely spoke his name. In Exeter on Monday, Pete Buttigieg talked of hope; in a church basement in Gilford, Joe Biden told a story about comforting a man who had lost his job. Curious Democrats arrived at Amy Klobuchar’s last events, suddenly debating between themselves the merits of Buttigieg, Klobuchar, and Elizabeth Warren. They didn’t settle on one. The results this evening broadly echoed those in Iowa: Sanders won about twenty-six per cent of the vote, with Buttigieg following close behind him, at nearly twenty-five per cent, and Klobuchar, with twenty, surprisingly still in the race. Sanders captured New Hampshire. Had he also captured the base of the Party?

Not just yet. By the end of the evening, the race remained as unsettled as it was before. In 2016, Sanders won sixty per cent of the vote in New Hampshire; this time, his totals were less than half that. Sanders is running a slightly different campaign this time: more focussed in its messaging and more conventional in its preoccupations. “Bernie Beats Trump” is the slogan now, a declaration of electability. There’s a slightly different coalition, too. In 2016, he swept the outlying areas of Iowa and New Hampshire. This time, he lost many of those, to Buttigieg and Klobuchar, but held the six largest cities in the state. His margins among young voters are vast. The Democratic Party is, more than ever, an urban one, and Sanders’s victories in the midsize cities of Iowa and New Hampshire are a good sign for how he might perform in the country’s biggest cities.

If the Party looked like it was headed toward Sanders on Tuesday night, it was also heading away from Barack Obama, whose Secretary of State lost the last Presidential election to Donald Trump and whose Vice-President is in danger of losing this one far earlier. Biden’s weakness has been clear since the first contest of the year, if not much longer. Even so, Obama’s longtime spokesman Robert Gibbs said on MSNBC tonight that it’s “stunning to see him in fifth.” It was maybe not so stunning to Biden, who flew out of New Hampshire early tonight, landing in Columbia, South Carolina. His hopes hinge now on the enthusiasm of the Southern African-American voters who supported Obama and seemed inclined to support him. But even in South Carolina the polls have been narrowing, with some of Biden’s support abandoning him for the billionaires Michael Bloomberg and Tom Steyer, who together have spent more than three hundred million dollars on television ads, whereas Biden has spent ten million dollars. Biden is asking a lot of loyalty. Suddenly, the primary in South Carolina, on the last day of this month, and the contests in the Southern states, in general, seem much less certain—and more interesting.

In Iowa, the story turned out to be the undemocratic disarray of the caucuses. In New Hampshire, it was the roving, often frantic, eye of its voters, who stopped reporters outside rallies to ask what they were seeing on the trail, who switched from Biden to Warren to Buttigieg based on poll and rumor and feel—the idea being to beat Trump, whatever would do the trick. The surprise, in the past few days, was how many voters turned toward Klobuchar, who has neither a signature policy idea nor a novel way of describing the problems facing the country. However, she did adeptly point out, in Friday’s debate, that the progressive plans for remaking the health-care economy might not be realistic and that centrists might be naïve to invest their hopes in the inexperienced Buttigieg. On the stump this week, she emphasized that she had won in red districts all over Minnesota (“including Michele Bachmann’s district three times”) and, suddenly, she rose from fifth place to third. On Monday night, Sanders filled an arena in Durham with seventy-five hundred people for a rally headlined by Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and the Strokes (all three of them New Yorkers). Klobuchar drew some two hundred people to an American Legion hall in Rochester, where, outside, there were a dozen small signs saying “Amy for America” and one huge one saying “Play Keno.” It seemed a little strange, given the formidable operations of Warren, Buttigieg, and Sanders, that Klobuchar could surge to a full fifth of the vote in the last couple of days. Maybe that is just New Hampshire. Or maybe the race is that unstable.

The mainstream Democratic candidates collectively have earned about two-thirds of the votes in New Hampshire and Iowa, and the progressives have earned a third. One plausible theory is that the anti-Sanders faction simply has a coördination problem, and that, once they decide which candidate should speak for the moderate majority, that candidate will sweep. But is there really an anti-Sanders faction? This week in New Hampshire, Buttigieg, Klobuchar, and Biden didn’t sound like they had all that much in common. You could drive from a Buttigieg rally, where the vision was of a society spinning eagerly out into the future, to a Biden or Klobuchar one, where the stories were about miners and salesmen and the ethos was of an entrenchment in the past. In any case, the time for the moderate Democrats to unite may be ending. Bloomberg, with his hundreds of millions to spend, is already up to third place in some national polls, so the coming contest for the soul of the Democratic Party may be between two figures who, until very recently, were not Democrats at all.

Warren, who long seemed the pivotal figure in the race, the link between the Sanders faction and the rest, conceded early tonight, with vote totals around ten per cent. Earlier in the afternoon, her campaign had circulated a memo insisting that she had a clear path to national victory, even as she was cancelling television ads in South Carolina. There have been some valedictory notes to Warren’s campaign this past week—a crowd stood to applaud her offstage at a rally on Monday afternoon, and then she appeared on the press bus and talked about how far she had come in the past ten years. Onstage this evening, she sounded more defiant, insisting that she would go on and decrying the divisive tone that she detected in the Buttigieg and Sanders camps. “Our campaign is best positioned to beat Donald Trump because we can unite our Party,” she said. Then she quoted Jesse Jackson: “It takes two wings to fly.” That image suggested how much of the Party she’d already granted Sanders. All of the candidates to her right got one wing. Sanders got the other.


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