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The Democratic Race After New Hampshire

OtherThe Democratic Race After New Hampshire

On Tuesday night, Bernie Sanders won New Hampshire’s primary, leading Pete Buttigieg by one and a half percentage points. The biggest surprise of the night was Amy Klobuchar’s showing: she finished several points behind Buttigieg, but with more than twice the support of Joe Biden or Elizabeth Warren. The next contest will be the Nevada caucuses, on February 22nd, followed, a week later, by the South Carolina primary. And then comes Super Tuesday, March 3rd, when Michael Bloomberg is hoping that his astonishing spending advantage will catapult him into contention. As it stands now, however, Sanders has the clearest path to the Democratic Presidential nomination.

To talk through the New Hampshire results and where the race is headed, I spoke by phone with Dave Wasserman, the U.S. House editor for the Cook Political Report and a contributor to NBC News. During our conversation, which has been edited for length and clarity, we discussed how Sanders’s coalition has changed since 2016, why Warren’s campaign has faltered, and whether Bloomberg is likely to succeed in his attempts to woo black Democrats.

What was, demographically speaking, the biggest difference in the New Hampshire results, compared with the results in Iowa?

The movement of college-educated, suburban voters to Klobuchar. There is evidence she gained a lot of ground from Warren supporters. The irony is that Warren finished ahead of Klobuchar in Iowa, and Warren [a Massachusetts senator] is next door to New Hampshire and Klobuchar [a Minnesota senator] is next door to Iowa. So this is not what we would have guessed several months ago. But Klobuchar’s debate performance propelled her into a good showing in New Hampshire. The question is where she goes from here. What we know is that the two most critical groups in Democratic primaries nationally are African-Americans and suburban women, and, of course, those overlap slightly. But Klobuchar’s route to the nomination is clearly suburban women, and that’s not to say it necessarily exists, but she has to hope it does.

Warren and Klobuchar are not typically seen as competing for the same voters, with Warren in the more left lane and Klobuchar in the more centrist lane. Are we looking at this too often through the prism of ideology?

It’s also about format. Caucuses tend to draw out a more liberal set of attendees than primaries, and Warren was seen recently as a viable alternative on the left to Sanders. But Sanders’s performance in Iowa likely demoralized some support on the left for Warren, and Klobuchar benefitted from a primary format in New Hampshire where Republican and independent voters can more readily participate.

Sanders continues to perform very solidly, despite doing less well in total percentage than he did against Hillary Clinton four years ago—although, admittedly, he only had one major opponent in that race. Where is his campaign shining, and where is he losing support from 2016?

His strong showing in 2016 was always half due to the popularity of his own message and half due to skepticism of the Democratic establishment and Hillary Clinton herself. We are seeing Bernie retain the diehards, but there are more concerns about his electability than there were in 2016, because, for much of 2016, people didn’t take the notion of a Bernie Sanders nomination seriously to begin with, and had no idea that Donald Trump could win. Well, now Democrats’ emphasis on electability is costing Sanders some of the support he had in 2016. The upside for Sanders is that his opposition is much more divided this time, and the irony is that he has a much better shot at winning the nomination with these showings, in the high twenties, than he did with showings in the forties, in 2016.

If this race gets down to Sanders and one or two opponents, how easily do you think he could increase his support? He has high favorability within the Party, and is the second choice of a lot of Democrats, so there is reason to think he could.

Well, look, this is the way I feel about the field right now. The moderate wing of Democrats is earning a majority of votes in these two contests and is likely to earn an even larger majority in future contests, but the progressive, Democratic-socialist wing of the Party, which you could argue are two different things, are more coalesced behind Bernie Sanders than the pragmatic wing is united. And, at the same time, it’s tempting to think that if all voters just stay in their lanes and unite around a pragmatist, then it will be easy to stop Bernie. The problem is that none of the candidates in the pragmatic lane are sure bets to stop Bernie by coalescing that support.

One paradox is that Bloomberg has the most resources to stop Bernie Sanders, but he also has the weakest net favorability among the Democrats standing. And he is an excellent foil for Bernie Sanders. Sanders can call him a Wall Street billionaire who was an heir to Rudy Giuliani, even though he is portraying himself as an heir to Barack Obama. That is a contrast that Sanders can uniquely highlight, or one that he has the unique ability to draw.

One major talking point of the Sanders campaign has been its belief that Sanders could boost turnout. In Iowa, turnout was barely up from 2016. What was turnout on Tuesday, and what do you think it portends?

The turnout was modestly up over 2016 in New Hampshire, but it wasn’t the kind of surge that some Democrats had hoped for. After all, there were likely tens of thousands of voters who cast ballots in the Republican primary in 2016 who voted in this year’s Democratic primary. Democrats might highlight that as evidence that some suburban voters are moving their way. In reality, many of those Kasich and Rubio voters went on to cast a ballot for Hillary Clinton in 2016, so those aren’t necessarily gains. And there is not much evidence that Democrats are way more fired up this year with Trump in the White House than they were in 2016, when he was not even the nominee.

They are expressing to pollsters that they are more fired up, correct?

Well, unfortunately, a more enthusiastic vote doesn’t count more than a mildly enthusiastic vote.

Do either Nevada or South Carolina, in your view, offer a real opportunity for Buttigieg or Klobuchar to have continued success?

The best news for Bernie Sanders is that the moderates who placed strongly in New Hampshire are uniquely ill-suited to parlay that success in South Carolina and Super Tuesday states, with the exception of Klobuchar’s home state of Minnesota. The reality is that neither Buttigieg nor Klobuchar has made much progress with nonwhite voters or lower-income voters. There is some evidence that Buttigieg is over-performing expectations in rural areas. I think Klobuchar is a bit more dependent on suburban voters. The other factor is resources. New Hampshire and Iowa reward retail. Super Tuesday rewards broad name recognition and familiarity and resources.

Amy Klobuchar finished a distant fifth in Iowa and then shot to third in New Hampshire because of one debate. It seems like the race is so unsettled that you can rise without a ton of money. Or is that only true in a small state like New Hampshire?

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