Last night, Amy Klobuchar surged into a third place New Hampshire result with about 20% of the vote. I feel roughly 100% responsible.
Before we get to that, let’s first unpack the results of the New Hampshire Primary. With 98% of precincts reporting, I’ll go in reverse order of finish.
11. Michael Bennet — 0.3% of the vote
10. Deval Patrick — 0.4%
9. Write-ins (read: Bloomberg) — 1.4%
8. Andrew Yang — 2.8%
It was a good run, but last night it ended. RIP, #YangGang (until its inevitable resurrection in 2024 or 2028).
7. Tulsi Gabbard — 3.3%
She’s staying in the race, I guess? I had no idea how long Fox News auditions took.
6. Tom Steyer — 3.6%
There was brief confusion last night over whether Steyer was dropping out. I was surprised, as I thought his strong Nevada and South Carolina polls would keep him in the race despite two disappointing showings in Iowa and New Hampshire. It turns out the report was wrong. He’s staying in. As usual, he’s staring straight ahead and for a little too long.
All right, we knew those were the non-contenders. How about the top five?
5. Joe Biden — 8.4%
I’m happy with my fifth place prediction for him, but I must admit… dipping down to 8% is a surprise. Only one word best describes the state of the Biden Campaign right now, and that word is: Yikes!
The national front-runner heading into Iowa, he has now finished in fourth and fifth in the first two contests. In fact, brace yourselves for this trivia. Biden has run for president three times (1988, 2008, and 2016). How many state victories does he have in total? The answer: still zero. Joe Biden is really, really bad at running for president.
How humiliated he must feel. Though he executed the necessary pivot last night in South Carolina (“99.9%: that’s the percentage of African American voters that have not had a chance to vote in America . . . 99.8% of Latino voters haven’t had a chance to vote), one has to wonder if, after his long career and this fatiguing and demoralizing campaign, he might pack it in before another embarrassment.
Nevada polls will be huge. (We haven’t had one in over a month!) Just how badly will Iowa and New Hampshire cost him in the next state?
4. Elizabeth Warren — 9.2%
I don’t think Elizabeth Warren had a plan for this.
Biden’s humbling New Hampshire result has absorbed some of the heat Warren deserves. New Hampshirites usually look kindly upon neighboring statewide officials in their primary. Warren, a high-profile Massachusetts Senator — one who led national polls four month ago and New Hampshire polls even more recently — couldn’t even break double digits. She didn’t come close to the 15% threshold and received zero delegates. What a fall from grace. I’m worried she might press charges.
Her campaign says there’s a path forward. The main part of this plan seems to be that all the other candidates have major weaknesses. She might be right, but, short of a deadlocked convention, I don’t see why anyone should think she’s in a stronger position than Biden, and most people seem to think Biden is cooked.
3. Amy Klobuchar — 19.8%
I thought the results of 3-4-5 would be close. I was wrong. Consider just how unpredictable this scenario was: if we combine the New Hampshire totals of a big time next-door Senator (Warren) with that of a once-popular former Vice President (Biden), they still don’t add up to what Amy Klobuchar earned last night.
What a Klobucharge.
For her to get to 20% — eight points higher than her New Hampshire polling average and six points higher than her best single New Hampshire poll — we can reason that she resoundingly won late deciders (much in thanks to her debate, for which PPFA gave her top marks), stealing a lot of moderates from the fading Biden, a lot of college educated women from Warren (Klobuchar won the category), and even a couple points from second place Pete Buttigieg, who shares a lot of crossover support with her (white, moderate, affluent, college-educated, anti-septuagenarian).
Of course, what people now wonder is whether she can convert this surprising strong third in one tiny state into success elsewhere. Indeed, at last check, she’s at 4.6% nationally, 3% in Nevada, and 2% in South Carolina. Just ask Presidents Huntsmann and Kasich how their New Hampshire surge got them the nomination. Spoiler alert: it didn’t.
Still, keep in mind that as January closed out, she was a distant fifth in Iowa and New Hampshire. Then, on February 1, PPFA weighed in with an endorsement, one that’s been facebook-shared and re-tweeted hundreds of times. Since then, Klobuchar’s turnaround has been evident. She slowly climbed up in Iowa and then beat her polling by a few points. She then had a week to campaign in New Hampshire. Her polling again slowly climbed and then surged in the end. Could her strong debating have something to do with it? I mean, sure, maybe. But you and I know what’s really going on here. It’s the PPFA bump.
It seems that voters like Klobuchar more and more as they get to know her — a notable contrast with Biden and Warren, who haven’t closed as well. We now have ten days until the February 22 Nevada caucuses, and that includes a Las Vegas debate a week from tonight. That’s a lot of time to receive a fundraising boost and positive coverage, which can turn into a self-reinforcing cycle of better polls, more fundraising, and more positive coverage. She has the lowest name recognition of the six strongest candidates (just 60% of those surveyed in Morning Consult’s last national poll had an opinion on her, compared to the mid-90s for Biden and Sanders, the mid-80s for Bloomberg and Warren, and 74% for Buttigieg). There’s room to grow as people get to know her. (PPFA is starting to see more google searches for her, including one that says “Klobuhann.” Get it together, America.)
Her ideal scenario moving forward is that Biden gives up before South Carolina. There was a moment last night when Biden was giving his ra-ra speech, and MSNBC cut way from the speech to show Klobuchar’s empty podium as she got ready to take the stage. I couldn’t help but notice some symbolism.
As for the top two, I think both top candidates, despite their top-two finish and late night spin, came away a little annoyed.
2. Pete Buttigieg — 24.5%
Considering Buttigieg’s considerable IQ, I’ve long entertained that he’s been a sort of chessmaster who found a way to game this system. Just a small-city Mayor, he somehow found a way to compete with the biggest names in the Democratic Party, come away with the most Iowa delegates, claim victory early, attract a ton of attention, and then went into New Hampshire, where, I think we can say with relative certainty, he would have won had Klobuchar not surged in the last couple days. He would then have been off to the races, probably as a small favorite over Sanders, who just lost his best non-home state. I think that’s what was supposed to happen. Amy Klobuchar, of course, had other plans.
So, whereas he could have spun it as Iowa and New Hampshire victories charging into Nevada with a ton of momentum and cash, we can now just as reasonably call them both Bernie Sanders victories, if measured by the popular vote. It must feel deflating when you think you see checkmate just as a queen takes you by surprise.
1. Bernie Sanders — 25.8%
That’s a surprisingly close margin. Buttigieg finished just 1.3% behind Sanders in a race Sanders was supposed to win comfortably.
Nonetheless, I don’t think the media is giving Sanders enough attention. Two popular vote wins in Iowa and New Hampshire has always led to a nomination in the past. He’s the clear favorite, a status that was cemented last night. Yet, the media, as usual, leans more into the Expectations Game. They prefer a good story over an as-expected result. Always have, always will.
It’s still worth considering the relevance of why Sanders only barely squeaked it out. We can forgive him for only winning 26% of the vote after winning 60% in 2016; after all, there were only two major candidates then but eleven last night. However, like in Iowa, Sanders was a bad “closer” in the days leading up to the primary. His RCP New Hampshire polling average was 28.7, which means he clocked in at nearly three percentage points lower. That’s in stark contrast to the second and third place finishers:
In Iowa, remember, he only barely climbed from his average to his first-choice performance, whereas Buttigieg and Klobuchar had the best result:polling ratio of the top five, just like they did again last night.
What gives? Well, we’re learning from exit polling data that people who are undecided are almost never undecided between Sanders and anyone else. I mean, did any of us imagine Warren would so thoroughly collapse in New Hampshire and yet Sanders wouldn’t gain from it? No, it seems late deciders are torn only over non-Sanders candidates. Sanders’s supporters made up their minds weeks or even months ago. According to one exit poll, only 38% of New Hampshirites decided for whom they were voting before this month, but two-thirds of Bernie Sanders supporters already had. Of those who decided in the last few days, 53% went to Buttigieg (29%) and Klobuchar (24%), but just 16% to Sanders, a remarkably disproportional distribution when compared to the final result. All of this should call into question his ability to run up the kind of margins a front-runner usually does after the primary goes national. (Did somebody say contested convention??)
Though Sanders is unquestionably the favorite, the inability of his campaign to persuade new voters — so far — should be concerning. Much has been made about how Iowa and New Hampshire were tailor-made for Buttigieg — and they are — but they were long seen as two of Sanders’s best states, too. Still, he’s doing much better with minority voters this time around. With Biden fading, he could fill that vacuum, but it’s no certainty.
Moving forward, a couple major question marks loom.
One is what minority voters, particularly African Americans (who make up a quarter of Democratic voters and much higher fractions across the south) plan to do now that Biden looks on the verge of collapse. Will South Carolinians, for example, stick to Biden out of loyalty? If they don’t, what did they see in him that they’ll like in another candidate? Scenarios:
- Did they like Biden out of name recognition? If so, that explains why Sanders was their #2 despite the ideological difference, and he’s set to inherit their support.
- But if it’s something other than name recognition — say, ideology — then it doesn’t make sense that they’ll go to Sanders. If they prefer moderation and a pragmatic desire for a strong, aesthetically traditional general election candidate, then they go to Buttigieg.
- Did they like Biden’s pragmatism and experience? If so, Klobuchar’s their candidate.
- Bloomberg’s not on the South Carolina ballot, but could his millions of dollars of spending reshape his stop-and-frisk reputation in the states beyond?
This analysis probably does the African American community a disservice, insinuating they’re a monolithic voting bloc, but even if close to half of black Biden supporters support one other candidate, that’ll make that candidate considerably more viable as a potential nominee.
The other big question mark going forward is: will the clear moderate alternative to Sanders emerge? That seemed to be the theme of the night on the networks. Many framed it as Klobuchar getting in Buttigieg’s way, though one could reasonably see it the other way around. It’s probably going to get ugly between the two over the next ten days. Now that she’s a contender, how long until someone brings up that she used to be a tough, easily-angered boss? That seems right up the calm Mayor Pete’s alley.
Each of the moderate candidates has a decent claim to being the torchbearer for the cause:
- Biden still tops them nationally and in the next two states.
- Buttigieg has the most delegates.
- Klobuchar has the most momentum.
- Bloomberg has the most golden stables and diamond toilets.
All think they’re the one to beat Trump, so we probably shouldn’t expect any to step aside in favor of the others. They’ll have to duke it out amongst themselves and hope that Sanders doesn’t open too much of a lead in the meantime, like Donald Trump in 2016. I think I’ll have more thoughts on this with my next post.
Finally, here are the updated Democratic Primary Standings.
Name: Total delegates (Iowa delegates + New Hampshire delegates)
- Buttigieg: 22 (13+9)
- Sanders: 21 (12+9)
- Warren: 8 (8+0)
- Klobuchar: 7 (1+6)
- Biden: 6 (6+0)
- Undecided (Iowa): 1
- All others: 0