Sanders was projected as the winner, but the margin of his victory was modest (less than 2 percent). As in Iowa, he did not juice the turnout with an influx of new voters as he promised. The youngest voters made up 12 percent on Tuesday compared with 19 percent in 2016. The Democratic establishment has panicked at the prospect of a Sanders win, but he now looks like a vulnerable front-runner, with well over half of his support coming from voters 18 to 29 and more than half coming from “very liberal” voters. If he was looking to expand beyond his traditional base, he did not do it. He actually got a larger share of repeat voters than first-time voters.
With the electorate heavily skewed in favor of electability (60 percent) rather than agreement on the issues, and about half the voters finding Sanders too liberal, there is reason to believe voters have become wary of Sanders as the standard bearer in a must-win election. His base of support seems not to have grown significantly from the start of the race.
Buttigieg, who won the most delegates in Iowa, finished strong in New Hampshire as well, overcoming questions about his experience. Buttigieg did almost as well with younger voters as with older ones, a sign of expanding appeal. His support was rather evenly spread among all education levels. He also won among voters who decided on Election Day and in the past few days, a sign his debate performance did nothing to slow his rise. He has yet to make inroads with African American candidates in other states, but he has grown beyond his initial base (mostly college-educated and older voters).
The shocker was Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), who charged past her opponents so quickly the polls never fully accounted for her surge. A week ago, no one would have foreseen she would get to almost 20 percent of the vote and a third-place finish. She won voters who wanted to continue President Barack Obama’s policies (Obama’s own vice president came in third in that segment of the electorate), older voters, religious voters and voters for whom the debate was an important factor.
Speaking to an ecstatic crowd on Tuesday, she stressed her “grit” and told the crowd “America needs a president as resilient and strong." She contrasts her sense of responsibility with the president, who she says should have a sign on his desk that reads, “The buck stops anywhere but here.”
She was clearly elated when I spoke to her after her speech. She told me the debate certainly helped, but “I think it was the hard work we put in. I’ve been to the state 23 times. I had three of the top [state] house leaders, every major newspaper.” Without that, she says there would not have been the foundation to make a run at the end.
She didn’t focus her campaign on being a female candidate, but rather on being a moderate, a problem-solver and a Midwestern winner. She says, “That’s how I’ve always won. . . . When you are feeling left out, it is not enough [to run on gender].”
She concedes she lost time while tied to her desk during the impeachment trial, noting “I like to talk to people on the ground.” But she used some of that time thinking about the race and solidifying her message. Despite the punditry, she never bought into the idea the party had moved far left. “People thought there were these litmus tests,” she observes. She says, “I’ve got progressive ideas” but she did not subscribe to the view there was only one way to achieve those ends.
The stunning collapse of former vice president Joe Biden, who finished fifth and will get no New Hampshire delegates, cannot be underestimated. If moderate voters and African Americans (many of whom are moderate) get the sense he is no longer viable, the floor may drop out from him in Nevada and South Carolina, bringing an end to any hope for victory.
If not for Biden, Warren, who finished under 10 percent and failed to get delegates in her own backyard, would have been the big loser. A campaign that once seemed so promising now will be hard pressed to stay alive until South Carolina. Her refusal to go after Sanders and her effort to adhere to him on Medicare-for-all only to back away may have been her undoing. In a speech to supporters, she seemed to swipe at Sanders when she criticized candidates’ who boo rivals and seem to want to “burn the party down.” Her stress on unifying the party may be overshadowed by both Buttigieg and Klobuchar, who have made this a centerpiece of their message.
The field did narrow, with two candidates dropping out: Sen. Michael Bennet (D-Colo.), who never came on the radar screen for primary voters, and Andrew Yang, the champion of the universal basic income. Despite all his media attention, Yang never broke out of low single digits. Whether other candidates who failed to get lift off — such as Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-Hawaii) and Tom Steyer — will follow soon is an open question. (Steyer, who has spent heavily in South Carolina, is not likely to leave before then.)
Among the most striking aspects of the contest, the vote-share of the moderate candidates’ (Biden, Buttigieg, Klobuchar) came in at more than 50 percent, swamping that of progressives Sanders and Warren, who together accounted for less than 40 percent of the vote. Here is yet another sign that Democrats are giving careful consideration to winning an election, not merely making a statement. That might be the best news of all for Americans angst-ridden about a possible second Trump term.
Finally, in a race in which female candidates were beset by questions of electability, two of the four top contenders are women. They have different ideologies and messages. They appeal to different parts of the electorate. In other words, there is no longer a single image of “the” woman candidate. They, as men have always done, have the chance to be individuals, rising or falling on their merits. That is progress.