The 2020 primary has gone off the rails. Joe Biden, the semi-anointed front-runner, placed fourth in Iowa and is poised to post another disappointing finish in New Hampshire. Pete Buttigieg, the former mayor of South Bend, Ind., has outlasted more experienced, promising upstarts such as Kamala D. Harris, Beto O’Rourke and Cory Booker. Bernie Sanders, a legitimate democratic socialist, is surging at a time when voters claim to care about electability more than anything else. The Iowa Democrats, who were supposed to run the first contest and winnow the field, took days to count the votes and forced precisely zero candidates out of the race. And don’t even get me started on Mike Bloomberg.

But, despite all this upheaval, voters in New Hampshire are treating their primary like a normal race: They’ve put Sanders, a good fit for the state, and Buttigieg, who surged in Iowa, ahead of the rest of the pack. Sanders and Buttigieg are far and away in the best position to win this primary, and a victory for either would count as a highly conventional result even amid all this chaos.

Opinion
Play the Post Opinions Simulator to see what might happen in the Democratic primary.

In the aftermath of Iowa, the New Hampshire polls evolved in a predictable way.

Granite State Democrats, maybe more than their Republican counterparts, are prone to bandwagon-jumping, and many joined Buttigieg after he declared victory in the Iowa caucuses. Buttigieg isn’t a perfect fit for the state: He’s not a full-throated progressive, and he’s from the Midwest rather than the Northeast. But New Hampshire is a disproportionately white state that tends to reward Iowa winners, so it’s a decent match for Buttigieg, who tends to perform well with white voters.

Many New Hampshire Democrats are also staying loyal to Sanders, who still leads in major polling aggregates. Sanders makes more sense for New Hampshire voters than his young rival does: He’s about as progressive as you can get and still be part of electoral politics, pitching him to the citizens of a state where a solid chunk of Democratic voters self-describe as very liberal. He’s also from the region and can claim to be a winner in Iowa — he’s ahead in some of the vote totals produced by the state.

And neither Biden nor Warren saw gains in New Hampshire after their Iowa showings. Warren finished third in Iowa, which is not so bad that it caused her to collapse but not good enough to radically increase her support in New Hampshire. And Biden actually saw his numbers dip significantly after his distant fourth-place finish in the Hawkeye State.

And at this point, it appears as if both Sanders and Buttigieg have a solid shot at winning the state. The internal calculations of the Post Opinions New Hampshire Primary simulator (run Sunday afternoon) show this clearly.

This graphic shows an estimated range of likely final vote shares for both Sanders and Buttigieg using height: If the purple curve is high over 25 percent but low over 40 percent on the horizontal axis, it means that 25 percent is a likely final vote share for Buttigieg but 40 percent is much less likely. This range is just an estimate: The polls could fail massively and either candidate could end up with a vote count outside this estimated likely range. And in a race this volatile, voters might change their minds at the last minute. But the key feature is that the purple section (Buttigieg) and the green section (Sanders) overlap heavily, suggesting that either candidate could boom and finish ahead of the other.

You can play with the simulator and even come up with a few outside scenarios where Biden or Warren ekes out a win. But even though this primary and this political era are highly unusual, the story New Hampshire voters are telling so far is conventional: The state is poised to crown either Sanders, a good demographic and political fit for its voters, or Buttigieg, the candidate with momentum, as the winner of its primary.

But in this topsy-turvy year, a conventional result could prove to be an aberration rather than a return to normalcy. As soon as New Hampshire votes, all eyes will move to Nevada and South Carolina, where nonwhite voters have a greater say and Biden has posted stronger polls. These states will be an especially significant challenge for Buttigieg, who, unlike Sanders, has shown little ability to attract nonwhite support. And even if Buttigieg or Sanders manages to dispatch their rivals in those more diverse states, they may still have to navigate around Bloomberg and party bigwigs who are skittish about their chances against Trump. So while New Hampshire may be set to deliver an enormously conventional winner, don’t count on voters elsewhere or this primary in general to fall in line.

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