Here’s a fascinating nugget from the New Hampshire exit polls that sheds some light on how Hillary Clinton’s campaign is likely to proceed in the big, diverse primary battles to come in late February and March (click to enlarge):
Among New Hampshire Dems, only 40 percent want to generally continue Barack Obama’s policies, while 56 percent want to change direction — 42 percent want to change to more liberal policies, while 14 percent want to change to less liberal policies. Among those who want more liberal policies, Sanders crushed Clinton by 81-18. But among those who want to continue Obama’s policies, Clinton defeated Sanders handily by 62-37.
While one hesitates to place too much stock in exit polls, if this is anywhere close to accurate, it may have real bearing on the contests to come, and may explain why the Clinton camp intends to proceed as it does against Sanders. It suggests another way in which the New Hampshire electorate may have been particularly hospitable territory for Sanders, who is not running as the candidate who would build incrementally on Obama’s achievements, as Clinton is doing.
It’s reasonable to speculate that the electorates in some of the contests to come — which will have more nonwhite and less liberal Dem voters — might have higher percentages of voters who want to continue Obama’s policies or who are not looking for more ambitious change than Obama delivered. As former Howard Dean adviser Joe Trippi puts it, once you leave New Hampshire, suddenly the Democratic Party has a much higher percentage of nonwhite voters, and of the white ones, a lot more of them are moderate and conservative Dems.
It is not yet clear how well Sanders will fare with moderate and conservative white Democrats. As Steve Kornacki points out, Sanders did remarkably well among blue collar white voters in New Hampshire, suggesting his appeal may reach well beyond just younger and more liberal voters. But it remains to be seen whether that will hold nationally.
Meanwhile, Karen Tumulty reports today that the Clinton campaign is now looking to Nevada (with its large Latino population) and South Carolina (with its large African American population), as the starting points for a broad effort to defeat Sanders by lopsided numbers among nonwhites. With an eye towards a string of March contests across the south, she will focus on the Flint lead poisoning, hammer Sanders’s record on guns, and argue that we should build upon Obamacare as a big boon to low income and minority Americans, rather than getting distracted by Sanders’s single payer dreams. The Clinton campaign will enlist nonwhite Democratic politicians to make the case that Sanders (who is from an overwhelmingly white state) has been missing in action on issues important to nonwhites.
The Sanders campaign argues that Sanders is not well known to nonwhite voters yet, and that his relentless focus on inequality and economic injustice — and his civil rights activism early in his life — will allow him to make a powerful case to them. But as Politico notes, baked into Sanders’s long term strategy is a big bet on a number of caucus states that are whiter and less diverse, and Sanders will have to show that he understands what it means to represent the Democratic Party in all its demographic and ideological diversity.
Beyond this, the big picture here is that Sanders has gotten as far as he has by offering up a serious, if partial, indictment of the Obama years. He is arguing that Obama era reforms — Dodd-Frank, Obamacare, his climate agenda — ended up being woefully inadequate to the scale of our challenges, because he failed to sufficiently rally the grassroots against the power of the oligarchy and because the Democratic establishment still remains in thrall to oligarchic money. Clinton full-throatedly defends Obama’s accomplishments as very much worth preserving, rejects the Sanders-promulgated notion that Obama could have gotten a whole lot more than he did, and vows to build on those achievements.
The bigger, more diverse, more moderate electorates in the contests to come might be more receptive to Clinton’s arguments along these lines. And one thing to watch will be whether Sanders tries to find a way to temper the criticism of the Obama years that is laced through the story he is telling.