The emergence of both spelled disaster for former vice president Joe Biden, who was pushed into fifth place and single digits. His ability to beat Trump was once his calling card. In New Hampshire, according Edison Media exit polling, he won fewer than 1 in 8 of the voters who said this was their priority.
All of which allowed the young, left-of-center, issue-oriented movement that Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) has painstakingly organized to propel him to a narrow victory, with 26 percent of the total — less than half his share from four years ago. The combined Buttigieg-Klobuchar vote outpaced the Sanders vote by better than 3-to-2. The exit poll found that Sanders voters were far more likely than supporters of other candidates to say that issues, not electability, mattered most to them.
They were also far less likely to say they wanted a return to the policies of President Barack Obama — they wanted more liberal policies — and enthusiastically supported Sanders’s core promises of single-payer health care and free tuition at public colleges.
Sanders now commands the overwhelming share of the Democratic left as Sen. Elizabeth Warren (Mass.) faded badly in New Hampshire.
Warren’s voters stood somewhere between Sanders’s progressive constituency and the moderates who rallied to Buttigieg, Klobuchar and Biden. Warren had hoped her position would make her a natural as a party unifier. Instead, it may have muddled her appeal, and it appears that many who might once have supported her joined the Klobuchar upswell.
The upshot from both New Hampshire and Iowa: If the rest of the Democratic Party remains divided, Sanders could win primary after primary with just a third of the vote. The first two primaries did little to settle who would be Sanders’s main rival.
On the contrary, Buttigieg’s two strong showings have increased the plausibility of his claim to leadership while Klobuchar demonstrated campaign and debating skills — along with a sharp sense of humor — that will force Democrats in future states to pay attention to her.
It gets more complicated still: Biden wants to stay in the contest until at least South Carolina’s primary on Feb. 29, since his strongest appeal has been to African American voters, who make up the core of the Democratic electorate there. They made up just a tiny fraction of the vote in Iowa and New Hampshire.
And then there is former New York mayor Mike Bloomberg, whose strategy was effectively premised on the assumption that Biden would falter, as he has.
Bloomberg’s hundreds of millions of dollars in spending have lifted him in the national polls and also leave him in a strong position for the Super Tuesday primaries three days after South Carolina. None of the remaining candidates can dream of coming remotely close to Bloomberg’s outlays in those 14 states. But both Buttigieg and Klobuchar can be counted on to ask Democrats if a billionaire purchasing viability is the best leader for a party in which Sanders’s loyalists are destined to play a large role.
The good news for Democrats is that turnout was up in New Hampshire over 2016, a great relief after desultory participation in Iowa. The party’s hunger for victory over Trump and the GOP has not dissipated.
But Democrats find themselves in a challenging place at a moment when the urgency of defeating Trump was underscored by the blatant politicization of the Justice Department demonstrated by Attorney General William P. Barr’s unseemly and dangerous intervention in the Roger Stone case.
How can Democrats create the solidarity they need to build a majority? The Sanders wing of the party is too small to control it but too big to ignore. This is not a matter of “the Establishment” against its critics but of a division that runs through the rank and file.
In a buoyant speech Tuesday night, Klobuchar spoke of giving “the people in the middle . . . someone to vote for in November.” That’s absolutely necessary. But so is the need to give the party’s left the motivation to mobilize. Democrats are still looking for a leader who can rise above the factional warfare in the face of the emergency Trump represents. They have yet to find that person.