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Interesting but inconclusive – The New Hampshire Primary
Despite many news outlets - particularly in the UK – presenting the New Hampshire primary result as a ‘win’ for Bernie Sanders and the demise of Joe Biden, things are never that straightforward. More on this shortly but I feel duty bound to revisit (aka defend) my predictions from last week.
Here is what I said:
- Someone will put her or his foot in it and a candidacy threatening media storm will follow…..step forward Michael Bloomberg whose old comments on race and crime have resurfaced to some embarrassment. The president has called Bloomberg a racist, I kid you not. Not candidacy threatening as yet, but, for someone who is moving up in the polls, not his finest week.
- There will be a surprise that no-one predicts; too early to call (but see Amy Klobuchar) so watch this space
- The eventual nominee will be Joe Biden and the general election will be knife edge close. I’m sticking to the latter part of this and I’m not writing Biden off yet. True, he is now behind Sanders in national polls and in California, but he leads in the two remaining February states of Nevada (Feb. 22) and South Carolina (Feb 29).
As with Iowa; New Hampshire matters because it is early in election year, and therefore is talked about in the media and listened to by donors. The state has proved pivotal in many campaigns; it ended the campaign of Lyndon Johnson in 1968 when Senator Eugene McCarthy almost won and certainly did much better than any commentators expected. It propelled Bill Clinton back into contention in 1992, not because he won (he came second) but because he could claim a comeback.
This year, New Hampshire finished off Andrew Yang and Michael Bennet and has, perhaps, delivered knock out blows to Tulsi Gabbard, Deval Patrick and Tom Steyer. The vagaries of the often-revised Democratic Party nomination process might mean that all nine candidates fight on until Super Tuesday on 3rd March, but I think we are really down to the final six contenders. The rules require a 15% showing in any contest to garner delegates, which are then allocated using proportional representation. This means Warren and Biden got no delegates in New Hampshire and the fringe candidates will struggle in the upcoming contests.
So where do the serious contenders stand? I realise I’m a hostage to fortune here, but I define ‘serious’ as having a longer term impact on the fight for the nomination, not excluding a shot at the VP slot. Delegate counts are provisional pending any final reporting issues from the Iowa debacle. For perspective, the nominee requires 1,991 delegates and, hopefully the picture will be clearer after Super Tuesday, when over 30% of delegates are up for grabs.
Pete Buttigieg (23 Delegates): the actual delegate leader and a trender in many polls. May struggle in more diverse states but has raised enough profile and finance to be a factor well into the spring at least.
Bernie Sanders (21): now the national poll leader and boasts both momentum from New Hampshire and a nationwide organisation. Age and health could be issues and the ‘socialist’ tag may put off moderate democrats who crave electability above all.
Elizabeth Warren (8): two states, two finishes outside the top two, so it is hard to see how the Massachusetts senator bounces back. Is now engaged in one of two internal fights, this one with Sanders on the progressive wing and is very unlikely, to withdraw in favour of Bernie. Probably too late in her career to settle for VP on a moderate led ticket, but don’t dismiss the idea entirely.
Amy Klobuchar (7): had a major result in New Hampshire with nearly 20% of the vote. She is probably a serious moderate alternative to Biden and Buttigieg but needs to keep the momentum going through Super Tuesday. Is caught in the middle of the second internal fight in this year’s contest, for the moderate vote, but may profit from disaffection with Biden. Also, a decent bet as a VP candidate, particularly if the head of the ticket is white, male and from an Eastern state.
Joe Biden (6): struck by the curse of the front runner but has still seriously under-performed in the first two contests. No-one has come back from 4th in Iowa and 5th in New Hampshire to win the nomination. Ever. Biden is hanging his hopes on a big win in South Carolina, and a win of any sorts in Nevada. This still might not be enough as expectations have been severely dented, and money is short! One plus is that he is still the party establishment favourite, although his strength viz the electability question has weakened. In January, 44% said he was most likely to beat Trump, this dropped to 27% in a Quinnipiac University poll released before the New Hampshire primary. In contrast Sanders has risen from 19% to 24% in the same timeframe.
Michael Bloomberg (0): unusually for a candidate, Bloomberg has skipped the February contests and his hopes rest on Super Tuesday and a big spending campaign. Are the Democrats ready for a billionaire New Yorker nominee to fight a billionaire New Yorker president? Time will tell, but I will be surprised if it happens.
In summary we are not even at the end of the beginning, but this is shaping up to be the most interesting Democratic Party fight for many years, and a godsend for the seemingly united GOP.
- Someone (else) will put her or his foot in it and a candidacy threatening media storm will follow
- There will be a surprise that no-one predicts
- The eventual nominee will be Joe Biden, but only if he wins South Carolina by a significant margin. 3 (b). The general election will be knife edge close.