In this edition: The moderates' big problem in New Hampshire, the campaign funding fight, and the former vice president who ran in 1984.

The key voters to watch this week are Massachusetts tourists, traveling journalism students and foreign media, and this is The Trailer.

MANCHESTER, N.H. — Before he strapped on a Mardi Gras mask and tossed beads into the crowd, Democratic strategist James Carville asked a room of moderate voters to imagine an election-night miracle.

“Turn on MSNBC, and you’re gonna see Rachel [Maddow], Brian Williams, Ari whatever,” Carville said. “They’re saying Bernie Sanders and Mayor Pete are locked in first place. Warren’s in third. And then: Hey, somebody recheck this: The Michael Bennet numbers are coming in! He’s really coming on strong at the end!”

Bennet, a senator from Colorado who has not qualified for the party’s televised debates since last summer, is polling between zero and 1 percent in New Hampshire, the state where he has campaigned the most. 

But Joe Biden’s fourth-place showing in Iowa, and an ensuing dip in the polls here, has put many centrist voters back on the market, unsure which Democrat could run strongest in a general election — and which one could push past Sanders, whose age and left-wing politics make them nervous about how he'd perform in a general election.

“There was a movement to Biden, thinking that he was the way to stop the Bernie movement,” said Will Kanteras, 67, who had hosted house parties for Bennet. “Now there are questions about Biden's viability, so we're getting another look.”

Biden, who had struggled here even when seen as the race’s front-runner, has been showing signs of a New Hampshire collapse. While events in the primary’s final days are often clogged with tourists, Biden has drawn smaller crowds than Sanders, Buttigieg, Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts or Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota. Bennet’s buzzy rally with Carville packed more than 100 people into a downtown restaurant; some had moseyed over from a Biden stop that was a few blocks away and only a little bigger.

The former vice president has looked rattled by his changing fortunes, trading his old criticism of Democratic “circular firing squads” for attacks on Sanders and Buttigieg. At the party dinner, Biden walked away from notes that had been placed on a lectern, ditching his usual talk about electability and optimism to describe what he had seen at a bread line that morning. 

“Hundreds and hundreds of people in that bitter cold with nothing, nothing, nothing to look forward to in their mind, just to get a little sustenance,” Biden “You know, one of the guys walked up to me, and it was so cold, he gave me a skullcap. And I thought to myself, why do I have this skullcap? I gave it to one of the kids! Think about it! New Hampshire! The United States of America! A line that lasted and lasted and lasted with no hope in sight for these people!”

Biden brought the crowd to its feet with a new closing line, evoking the deaths of his wife, first daughter and first son in a series of tragedies: “I’ve lost a lot in my life, but I’ll be damned if I’m going to lose an election to this man.” 

But his supporters were outnumbered by supporters of Warren, Sanders, Buttigieg, Klobuchar, and even former Massachusetts governor Deval Patrick, whose campaign had purchased more than 800 tickets — another moderate-lane candidate trying to introduce himself to up-for-grabs voters.

“People here are less decided than they were six weeks ago, than they were six months ago, than they were a year ago,” Bennet said at a news conference before the dinner. “The principal reason for that is they are concerned about whether the leading candidates can actually beat Donald Trump. I share that concern.”

In 2016, when Sanders won the primary in a landslide, just 26 percent of Democratic primary voters said that they were “very liberal,” while 32 percent identified either as moderate or conservative. That second number could jump this year, with the state’s 415,871 “unaffiliated” voters, free to vote in either party’s primary, likelier to choose a dogfight on the Democratic side over a sleepy coronation on the Republican side. And since 2016, Democrats have made gains and conversions among centrist Republicans who worry about their party's direction under President Trump.

Some conservatives are trying to boost that turnout, with an anti-Trump effort affiliated with Bill Kristol making calls to unaffiliated voters, urging them to vote for “a responsible and electable candidate in the Democratic primary.” 

But even this vote, if organized effectively, could scatter. Kristol told The Washington Post that the effort does not specify any Democrat in particular, leaving it to the voters to navigate the moderate candidate muddle. Jennifer Horn, a former New Hampshire GOP chair who works with the anti-Trump Lincoln Project, said that she was not involved in the calls and personally “would like to see the Democrats nominate Amy Klobuchar,” who has polled well behind both Buttigieg and Biden.

Both Buttigieg and Klobuchar tell audiences that they’re concerned about massive new government spending, a way of wooing independent voters.

“I see what’s happening under this president — a $1 trillion deficit — and his allies in Congress do not care,”. Buttigieg said Sunday in Nashua. “So we have to do something about it.”

A defeat in New Hampshire for Sanders would raise questions about his viability going forward, but moderates may be too divided to make that happen. Voters who are deciding between the moderates remain unclear on who could win, or at least come out of their primary with credibility as the anti-Sanders. Some of them said they could support former New York mayor Mike Bloomberg, who will not appear on the ballot here and who looms for whoever does make it to Super Tuesday.

“My idealistic self would like Bernie or Elizabeth, but you've really got to go with somebody who is willing to work with both sides,” said Kent Carlson, 57, as he waited for the New Hampshire Democratic Party’s pre-primary dinner to begin Saturday night. His own decision, he said, had come down to Buttigieg or Bloomberg, but he's a Massachusetts resident who has to wait a few weeks to vote on Super Tuesday. “I was originally more of a Joe [Biden] supporter, but I’d like somebody a little younger than that.”

For now, less than 48 hours before they make a decision, all New Hampshire's moderates know is that Biden is slipping. A tracking poll from CNN and the University of New Hampshire found the percentage of voters here who expect Biden to win the state dropping from 22 percent before the Iowa caucuses to just 9 percent now. 

None of the candidates who voters see as moderates broke out of single digits. To argue that they're on the verge of a breakthrough, they're pointing to atmospherics — the swelling crowds at Buttigieg's rallies, the new crowds and donors for Klobuchar, the tracking polls that appear on nightly news. Klobuchar will tell crowds that she is “surging,” while Buttigieg recalls just how scrappy his campaign was when it began, giving the impression of unstoppable, one-way momentum. 

Polling, which slightly missed the mark in Iowa, has found Buttigieg far ahead of the other moderates here. Some tracking polls have found last-minute movement to Klobuchar. While Sanders opponents have already begun spinning a possible win here as a fluke, likely far below his 2016 numbers, none are clearing out of the way. Bennet, who told The Washington Post last month that he was aiming for a top-three finish in New Hampshire, called Carville's support “incredibility validating,” and argued that there was time left for him to become the latest alternative for Sanders skeptics.

“We're going to surprise a lot of people,” Bennet said, “and it won't take much to surprise them.”

Reading list

“ ‘Tempted to despair’: Trump’s resilience causes Democrats to sound the alarm,” by Robert Costa and Philip Rucker

How one bad week sent Democrats into a tailspin.

“The Democrats finally get around to talking about abortion,” by Sarah Jones

Why a long-ignored debate topic mattered.

“A Democratic race among mostly white men leaves many women, minorities feeling abandoned,” by Dan Balz

How the race got less diverse, even as the electorate changed.

“Joe Biden has a few (actually a lot) of things on his mind,” by Mark Z. Barabak

The former vice president wrestles with the media.

“Iowa caucus 2020: Inside the Iowa Democratic Party's 'boiler room,' where 'hell' preceded the results catastrophe,” by Brianne Pfannenstiel

The ongoing debacle explained.

Dems in disarray

CONCORD, N.H. — The Democrats' big-money truce broke down months ago, after Joe Biden gave the go-ahead to supporters who wanted to help him with a super PAC. That effort, Unite the Country, ended up making most of the final ad buys on Biden's behalf in Iowa, and makes up most of his presence in New Hampshire. But even as Biden struggles, Democrats are pointing fingers at one another, accusing them of opening the “dark money” gusher after they pledged not to.

“Except everyone on this stage, except Amy and me, is either a billionaire or is receiving help from PACs that can do unlimited spending,” Elizabeth Warren said in a head-turning moment at Friday night's debate. “So if you really want to live where you say, then put your money where your mouth is, and say no to the PACs.”

No Democrat followed up on that line, but it left some Democrats confused. Warren's entire career has been supported by the Progressive Change Campaign Committee, a PAC founded in 2009 to move the Democratic Party to the left. (It led a draft effort for Warren's Senate bid in 2012 and was selling merchandise for “the Warren wing of the Democratic Party” before that.) Super PACs can take contributions of unlimited size, and ordinary PACs cannot.

“She meant 'super PAC,' " explained PCCC co-founder Adam Green, pointing to the way Warren phrased the line in a tweet.

Indeed, Warren does not have a super PAC, and neither does Klobuchar. But outside money has been shaping the race, and to many voters, “super PAC” is simply shorthand for describing a mysterious source of campaign spending. The five other candidates who made that stage were either wealthy, like Steyer, or are now benefiting, like Biden, from help that doesn't follow a campaign's normal restrictions.

For Biden, it's Unite the Country. For Andrew Yang it's MATH PAC, which has been a much less visible presence. But it's Pete Buttigieg and Bernie Sanders who have fought the most about outside spending, and Sanders's allies who were most irritated by the debate swipe. Sanders has repeatedly criticized Buttigieg for holding traditional fundraisers and taking money from billionaires; the accusation that everyone is taking help from PAC-world is meant to blur that line.

Sanders does technically get help from a super PAC, affiliated with National Nurses United, a powerful California-based union that has endorsed him in both his presidential races and has spent far less money for him than it did in 2016. (Its Fund for A Healthy America has spent less than $50,000.) Sanders has gotten more help from a coalition of left-wing groups that have made traditional PAC investments, which, unlike super PACs, have donation limits. 

He has also gotten an organizing boost from Our Revolution, a group he directed his 2016 campaign manager Jeff Weaver to start as that year's primary ended. As a 501(c) 4, Our Revolution does not need to disclose its biggest donors, and it has worked with many other candidates; in a cheeky tweet, it reminisced about a rally it organized where Warren starred as a speaker.

Buttigieg's campaign has repeatedly gone after Sanders for this loosely organized outside support. But Buttigieg has benefited from the support of VoteVets Action Fund, an affiliate of VoteVets PAC that can take donations of unlimited size. Last week, Buttigieg — who was in the Navy Reserve — organized a town hall for veterans that was promoted by VoteVets, and featured an introduction from Will Goodwin, the group's director of government relations, at the same time that the Action Fund was buying TV time to promote the Buttigieg campaign.

“VoteVets PAC maintains a firewall internally, so that any person working with Pete’s campaign is not involved in its independent advertising and activities in any way,” Goodwin told the campaign money watchdog site Sludge.

Ad watch

Pete Buttigieg, “Unity.” A new digital buy for swing states (Wisconsin, Minnesota, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Maine, North Carolina, Virginia) portrays the former mayor as the leader of a growing movement, who will “build an American future defined by unity in the face of our greatest challenges.” Just four of the states (Minnesota, Maine, North Carolina, Virginia) targeted here vote on Super Tuesday.

Poll watch

New Hampshire primary (CNN/UNH, 384 voters)

Bernie Sanders: 28% (-)
Pete Buttigieg: 21% (-)
Joe Biden: 12% ( 1) 
Elizabeth Warren: 9% (-) 
Amy Klobuchar: 6% ( 1)
Tulsi Gabbard: 5% (-1) 
Andrew Yang: 4% ( 1) 
Tom Steyer: 2% (-1)

There's not much movement in this tracking poll, though there might be tomorrow; Klobuchar had a good round of calls, and Warren had a bad one. But despite a small tick up, Biden is doing worse than ever with voters thinking about his viability in the primary and electability in November. Just 9 percent of voters think he can win the election Tuesday, and just 23 percent say he has the best chance of defeating Trump, his lowest number on that question yet.

New Hampshire primary (Suffolk, 500 voters)

Bernie Sanders: 24% (-)
Pete Buttigieg: 22% (-3)  
Elizabeth Warren: 13% (-1) 
Joe Biden: 10% (-1) 
Amy Klobuchar: 9% ( 3)
Andrew Yang: 3% (-) 
Tom Steyer: 2% (-)
Tulsi Gabbard: 2% (-) 

Suffolk's polling has picked up movement for Klobuchar quicker than any other pollster and suggests a story line that could dominate by Tuesday morning: a race for third place. Biden has shown no signs of recovery, Warren and Sanders have remained fairly stable since Iowa, and Klobuchar has gained at the expense of other “moderate lane” candidates. A close finish behind the top two candidates might involve just a few thousand votes, and one or no delegates to the national convention. But for Biden, falling further behind could be devastating; locking in third place, which would have been seen as a debacle just a few weeks ago, could be covered as the start of a comeback.

New Hampshire primary (CBS News/YouGov, 848 Democrats)

Bernie Sanders: 29% ( 2)
Pete Buttigieg: 25% ( 12)
Elizabeth Warren: 17% (-1) 
Joe Biden: 12% (-13) 
Amy Klobuchar: 10% ( 3)
Tulsi Gabbard: 2% ( 1) 
Andrew Yang: 1% (-1) 
Tom Steyer: 1% (-2)
Deval Patrick: 1% (-)

CBS had not been in the field since mid-January, before Cory Booker's exit from the race. Since then, fewer voters have named Warren as their top second choice, and voters from all camps have galloped away from Biden. In January, 25 percent of independents and Democrats picked him as their first choice. After Iowa, he's winning just 14 percent of Democrats and 10 percent of independents, actually running fifth in the latter group behind Klobuchar.

Candidate tracker

Bernie Sanders. He'll rally voters in the Massachusetts exurbs and college towns: town halls in Rindge and Nashua and a mega-rally with a Strokes concert in Durham.

Pete Buttigieg. He'll finish out his town hall schedule in Plymouth, Milford and Exeter.

Joe Biden. He'll hold events in Gilford and Manchester.

Elizabeth Warren. She'll hold two last town halls in Rochester and Portsmouth.

Amy Klobuchar. She'll campaign in a line from the Connecticut River Valley to the Maine border: Keene, Nashua, Exeter and Rochester.

Andrew Yang. He'll cross the state with the most ambitious final day schedule of any candidate: Rochester, Concord, Portsmouth, Derry, Keene

Tulsi Gabbard. She'll hold a final town hall in Manchester.

Michael Bennet. He'll hold final town halls in New London and Manchester, capping it with a town hall in Hanover.

Deval Patrick. He'll hold events in Concord, Henniker and Manchester.

Tom Steyer. He'll meet voters in Chester, S.C., on another day where he has the state basically to himself.

New Hampshire history

In 1984, for the first time, New Hampshire voters threw off a front-runner the old-fashioned way: They gave somebody else more votes.

The primary that year resembled the state of things 12 years earlier, with a front-runner who had been on the party's last losing ticket starting out as the heavy favorite; Sen. Ed Muskie of Maine before, former vice president Walter Mondale this time. Muskie had nonetheless been able to win his neighboring state, while Mondale had no geographic advantage, but plenty of support from labor unions.

Rival candidates correctly saw Mondale's lead as flimsy. On Feb. 5, three weeks before the primary, the Boston Globe's poll found Mondale ahead with 37 percent, Ohio Sen. John Glenn behind with 18 percent, a surging Jesse Jackson at 16 percent, and Sen. Gary Hart of Colorado in the back of the first tier, with 12 percent. But the pattern was unmistakable: Mondale, who'd led all year, had slipped from 46 percent to a place where someone might be able to overtake him.

As in Iowa, the smart money was initially on Glenn. As in Iowa, Hart outworked him and built broader appeal — a candidate of generational change against a more conservative Democrat who did not offer many clear distinctions with Mondale. The former vice president leaned on his experience, while Glenn leaned on his compelling biography.

“One of the joys of running for office, not having been there, is that problems always seem more simple on the outside than on the inside,” Mondale said in the final pre-primary debate.

Mondale's strength set up the primary as a semifinal, a race to determine Mondale's strongest challenger. Hart made that explicit, asking New Hampshire voters not to “ratify” the Mondale lead and end the primary before the party had a real debate about its future. “This party will not gain responsibility as long as leaders of the past debate whose policies of the past are worst,” Hart said in the New Hampshire debate.

The Democrats had just eight days between Iowa and New Hampshire to sort this out. Hart, the second-place finisher in Iowa, gained every single day and wound up beating Mondale by nine points. The Mondale-Hart contest would dominate the next few months, with Glenn imploding and Jackson hanging around to win delegates, but Hart's limitations were clear even as he triumphed. In the exit poll, even as he lost, Mondale tied Hart with voters who worried that their economic situation was growing worse.

Mr. Mondale's best voter groups were under-represented in New Hampshire,” Hedrick Smith wrote in the New York Times. “In the nationwide survey, blacks constituted 21 percent of the likely Democratic primary electorate and Mr. Mondale outpolled Senator Hart in that group by 67 percent to 0. But blacks make up only about 2 percent of the New Hampshire Democratic electorate.”

Mondale's campaign argued that he would recover and win the nomination once the race moved to more diverse states. Within a month, that was exactly what happened.

Countdown

... two days until the New Hampshire primary 
... 10 days until the ninth Democratic debate
... 13 days until the Nevada caucuses 
... 20 days until the South Carolina primary 
... 23 days until Super Tuesday