MANCHESTER, N.H. — The presidential nomination battle between Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and former secretary of state Hillary Clinton moved decisively Wednesday to a fight for African Americans’ votes, as the two candidates touted dueling endorsements to bolster their standing within the community.
The flurry of activity underscored how the massive wins by Sanders and Republican billionaire Donald Trump in New Hampshire have reshuffled the presidential race yet again. Even as Trump and Sanders worked to build momentum for their campaigns, some other contenders were left reassessing their strategies.
Meanwhile, some of the underperformers in the Granite state looked inward.
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who placed sixth in the GOP primary, is dropping out of the race, two Republicans close to him said. They said he held a meeting with campaign staff Wednesday afternoon and called friends to inform them of his plans. Former Hewlett-Packard chief executive Carly Fiorina also announced Wednesday that she was suspending her campaign.
Clinton sought to bounce back in the upcoming contest in South Carolina, where she will likely find friendlier turf.
As Trump made the rounds on television, Sanders was welcomed in Harlem by the Rev. Al Sharpton, whose backing could potentially boost the Vermont senator’s standing in the Democratic Party’s base. Sharpton embraced Sanders before they headed to a soul food restaurant for breakfast, but afterward he said he would not make an immediate endorsement in the presidential race.
Candidates now are retooling their pitches for the contests ahead for the GOP: the Feb. 20 primary in South Carolina, a state dominated by staunch conservatives. Then come the party’s Nevada caucuses on Feb. 23.
The Democrats’ calendar is reversed — the Nevada caucuses are on Feb. 20, followed by the Feb. 27 primary in South Carolina, with its strong African American voter base.
After Sanders defeated Clinton by the widest margin in the history of New Hampshire primaries — garnering 60.3 percent compared to her 38 percent, with 97.7 percent of precincts reporting — he wasted no time in capitalizing on his New Hampshire surge. The senator flew to New York with his wife, Jane, to court Sharpton with former NAACP leader Benjamin Jealous, who recently endorsed him.
Speaking to reporters afterward, Jealous took on Clinton over criminal justice reform, saying it was Sanders who had demonstrated a lifelong commitment to issues of racial inequality.
“My generation was the first generation raised in the era of mass incarceration. My children are now 3 and 10, and I do not intend for my children to be food for our prisons the way that my brothers and sisters have been,” he said. “There is no candidate in this race who is fiercer in standing up for those who need allies in the struggle than Bernie Sanders.”
Jealous, who noted the majority of African Americans would be casting their ballots in the primary race over the next 30 days, said Sanders is the only candidate of either party with “a racial justice platform. . . . And he’s the best candidate we have.”
Sharpton, having said he would not make an endorsement Wednesday, plans to meet next week with Clinton.
“But our issues cannot be marginalized,” Sharpton said. “In January of next year, for the first time in American history, an African American family will be moving out of the White House. I do not want black concerns to be moved out with them.”
Sanders has built a massive movement with rousing attacks on the power of Wall Street, and a promise of a “political revolution” that would provide universal, government-run health insurance and free public-college tuition.
These policy positions, along with his no-frills, authentic style, have allowed him to connect with young voters across racial boundaries. In addition to Jealous, prominent African American intellectual Ta-Nehisi Coates said in an interview Wednesday with Amy Goodman, host of the “Democracy Now!” news program, that he plans to vote for the Vermont senator.
“I have tried to avoid this question, but, yes, I will be voting for Senator Sanders,” Coates said, adding, “My son influenced me.”
Coates said that while he had some disagreements with Sanders, including on the senator’s opposition to paying African Americans reparations for the enslavement of their ancestors, he is “very, very concerned about where [Clinton’s] positions were in the 1990s” on federal sentencing guidelines and her ties to corporate interests.
“I get really, really concerned when I see somebody taking $600,000 in speaking fees from Goldman Sachs, will not release what they’re actually saying,” he said.
Clinton’s campaign, for its part, made it clear it would fight aggressively for the black vote. While she did not hold any public events Wednesday, her campaign announced that Todd Rutherford, the Democratic leader of the South Carolina House of Representatives and a friend of slain state senator Clementa Pinckney, is backing her candidacy.
Meanwhile, top Democrats allied with Clinton have quietly formed a $25 million nonprofit organization aimed at boosting the turnout of African American and Latino voters, two constituencies key to her presidential bid.
The group, called Every Citizen Counts, is being advised by Guy Cecil, who also serves as chief strategist for the pro-Clinton super PAC, Priorities USA Action.
Cecil said the organization, whose existence was first reported by the Associated Press, has no connection to the super PAC and will not get involved in the Democratic primary. “ECC is a nonpartisan effort focused on voter protection, access and registration,” he said. “It will not be engaged in any primary activity and will be involved in this work long after 2016.”
On the Republican side, the two candidates who found their footing in New Hampshire — Ohio Gov. John Kasich, who came in second, and former Florida governor Jeb Bush, who placed fourth — took steps to try to translate those results into a new setting. Both of them argued Wednesday that they had defied the pundits and would fight to regain their party’s political center.
In Bluffton, S.C., Bush told reporters that the rush to declare Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) the leading establishment candidate was upended in New Hampshire, which “pushed the pause button.” Referring to Rubio’s showing in the Iowa caucuses, Bush added: “The coronation after a third-place finish — looks like they canceled it. So, everybody’s going to have to make their case.”
Speaking to a group of roughly 400 retirees Wednesday, Bush started to make the case to them by saying, “South Carolina has always been good to the Bushes in the past, and I’m hoping and praying it will be again.”
He also questioned Trump’s temperament and judgment. His rival has described the process of going through bankruptcy four times as “a victory because he used the laws to advantage,” Bush said. “Not so hot for the workers of those businesses who got laid off. We didn’t need a president who thinks it’s a victory to go bankrupt.”
Kasich told the hosts of NBC’s “Today” show that he “finally broke through” in New Hampshire because he provided an upbeat assessment about how the two parties could work together.
“I was the only one with a really positive message,” he said.
Trump, however, appeared confident that his popularity could carry him through.
While he would not identify his main rival — “I don’t want to talk about favorites. I think I’m doing well,” he said — Trump told NBC’s Matt Lauer and Savannah Guthrie that the crowds he had attracted in Iowa and New Hampshire would translate into votes across the country.
“There’s something going on,” he said. “There’s a movement.”
Trump had 35.3 percent of the New Hampshire vote, according to the most recent count, to Kasich’s 15.8 percent.
Texas Sen. Ted Cruz — the winner in last week’s Iowa caucuses — was third, followed closely by Bush. Rubio came in fifth and Christie was sixth. Two other Republicans, retired pediatric neurosurgeon Ben Carson and Fiorina, trailed further behind.
The results also seemed likely to help Trump in the contests ahead, since a number of rivals would probably continue to compete and possibly divide the vote.
A humbled Rubio fielded questions from reporters for 45 minutes Wednesday morning on a flight from New Hampshire to South Carolina, comparing his widely mocked debate performance Saturday night to getting beaten on a key play in a football game.
“I think the lesson is, look, when you’re asked a question like that, no matter how much you want to avoid an intra-party fight, you’re going to have to deal with it frontally,” Rubio said. He added later that Trump will be the one facing newfound scrutiny because he “doesn’t have any policy positions.”
“Once this race narrows, the pressure will be on him to say, okay, here’s how I’m going to deal with ISIS. This is what we’re going to do about bringing jobs back,” he said.
Among Republicans, Trump is likely to be tested further in the upcoming contests in the South, starting with South Carolina’s primary and turning a week later to a group of “Super Tuesday” states.
Kasich, a pragmatic Midwesterner whose candidacy had been an afterthought nationally but who established himself as a major contender in New Hampshire, said he will not “be a marshmallow” and allow his rivals to attack him.
But the race now moves south, where Kasich faces immediate hurdles to prove he is more than a one-state wonder and where Trump has found deep and enthusiastic support for his incendiary nationalistic platform. Cruz is well positioned to contend with Trump for the top spot in those states because of his broad coalition of movement conservatives and evangelicals.
Eilperin and Fahrenthold reported from Washington. Robert Costa in Manchester, N.H., Matea Gold in Washington, John Wagner in New York, Abby Phillip in Baltimore, Ed O’Keefe in Bluffton, S.C., and Sean Sullivan in Spartanburg, S.C., contributed to this report.