In this edition: Bernie Sanders possibly on the verge of another New Hampshire win, nine rivals and their careful expectations-setting, and still, somehow, more to say about Iowa.

The polling average is your friend, and this is The Trailer.

RINDGE, N.H. — Bernie Sanders has been running for president a very long time. Long enough to get nostalgic.

“Four years ago, I came to New Hampshire and I had a series of proposals that the political establishment said was very radical, too extreme,” Sanders told a crowd at Franklin Pierce University on Monday. 

Many in the crowd hadn’t lived in the state back then. Many more had been too young to vote. They cheered along, applauding at the end of every sentence, as Sanders told them how he would overthrow the political order. The senator from Vermont was possibly on the verge of doing something moderate Democrats had been unable to prevent: winning the New Hampshire primary.

In the contest’s final hours, Sanders has minimized his own criticism of the party, pitching his campaign as a chance for the state to get things right and pick an electable candidate who will supercharge voter enthusiasm.

His Monday evening concert in Durham, Sanders said, would probably bring out the “largest turnout in the Democratic primary process.” His volunteers had knocked on one-fifth of all the doors in New Hampshire, sometimes putting a golf ball in a gloved hand, to make sure that people at home were listening.

But Sanders had already won New Hampshire once, by a 21-point landslide. Unlikely to beat him here, rival candidates and skeptical voters are still asking whether Sanders and his movement could be trusted to win a general election.

“He’s probably too progressive for me,” said Jacob Kirk, 59, who said had voted for Sanders in the 2016 primary and then cast another “anybody-but-Hillary” vote for Donald Trump. 

“He’s so negative,” said Kirk’s wife, Kim, also 59. “He comes off like an angry old man.” In the final days before the primary, they took time to check out former South Bend, Ind., mayor Pete Buttigieg, who now criticizes Sanders’s “revolutionary” approach to politics in his stump speech.

Like the other nine candidates still competing here, Sanders took advantage of the president’s party-crashing visit to Manchester, contrasting his agenda — Medicare-for-all, free college tuition, a $15 minimum wage — with the Republicans. In Rindge, he didn’t even bother attacking rivals such as Buttigieg or Biden, who he'd warned would be weaker general-election candidates.

“Trump’s presence in New Hampshire is an opportunity to contrast Senator Sanders’s agenda against Trump’s record of division and betraying working families,” explained Jeff Weaver, a senior Sanders adviser. “It’s also an opportunity to highlight Senator Sanders’s unique strengths in a general-election matchup.”

Sanders's stump speech hardly differed from the one that he used on the way to winning the primary four years ago. In Rindge, it did not even go after the White House's new budget, which went back on a number of campaign promises by proposing cuts to Social Security and reduced spending on Medicaid. 

 

The nine other candidates fighting for New Hampshire have done only a little to raise expectations for Sanders. Biden has repeatedly pointed to Sanders's win number from 2016 as a standard, but only to argue that losing to him here would not affect his own battle plan for later states. Buttigieg reminds audiences that he started his own campaign with “no personal fortune and no national name recognition and no big email list,” to portray whatever he does in New Hampshire as an upset. Still, the Sanders campaign is ready for post-election spin and chatter about how running behind his 61 percent landslide from last time will be a show of weakness.

“The expectations are out of control,” Sanders campaign manager Faiz Shakir said after Friday night's debate. “It’s a very different situation. It helps that we have some benchmarks to work on — how many people have supported this campaign, how many people could come back to this campaign. But the fact that there’s eight, nine other candidates out there who are splitting up the vote makes it a different race.”

If there's any stop-Sanders plan, it is likely to target the senator's supporters and question whether they could unify the Democrats in time to win an election. Sanders's campaign largely opted not to organize “visibilities” (the jargon for people showing up to wave signs and chant) at party events through most of 2019, making note of how his volunteers were too busy knocking on doors to waste time at a party event.

But Sanders forces were out at this past Saturday's party dinner and became the only Democratic faction to protest another candidate. When Buttigieg delivered his stock line, rejecting the idea “that you must either be for a revolution or you must be for the status quo,” a section of Sanders supporters with light-up signs chanted “Wall Street Pete! Wall Street Pete!” When Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) took the stage, some in the crowd booed; she turned to them and offered a cheery, “Hi, Bernie people!”

Sanders's surrogates have also taken whacks at rival candidates when Sanders has pulled back. Former Ohio state senator Nina Turner, a campaign co-chair, has used some of her introductions of Sanders to attack Buttigieg's “wine cave” fundraisers with “Swarovski crystals,” an attack the campaign began using more than two months ago. 

Turner did not say that in Rindge, and the campaign brought out actress Cynthia Nixon, a new endorser who had backed Hillary Clinton in 2016, to tell her own conversion story without attacking any particular rival. It was a mistake, she said, to back away from a candidate you could get excited about and go for a candidate you could imagine someone else, someone who disagreed with you, voting for.

“That's a mirage in the desert,” Nixon said. “You found somebody who 'everybody' is going to go for, and what you're putting forward is somebody who nobody's going to bother to turn out for.”

Some in the room saw Sanders as the true unity candidate. Conor Hannon, a 23-year-old political science student, said he would vote for Sanders in the primary, then probably vote for the Green Party if another candidate won the nomination. 

“He's not loyal to the party, but when has the party ever been loyal to us?” Hannon said. “There's a basic reciprocity here.”

Reading list

“Biden, Warren battle for third place in New Hampshire,” by Cleve R. Wootson Jr., Matt Viser and Felicia Sonmez

The race for the consolation prize.

“How the Iowa caucuses became an epic fiasco for Democrats,” by Reid J. Epstein, Sydney Ember, Trip Gabriel and Mike Baker

The deepest dive so far into a party debacle.

“Klobuchar tries to turn a debate moment into momentum in New Hampshire,” by Cleve R. Wootson Jr.

Is Klomentum real?

Iowa Democrats: Buttigieg edges Sanders for delegates,” by Zach Montellaro and Holly Otterbein

The not-quite-final count.

“Top Democrats turn on each other after Iowa, threatening the party’s chances against Trump,” by Michael Scherer and Sean Sullivan

Democrats again in disarray.

“Joe Biden is preparing for the worst in New Hampshire,” by Henry J. Gomez and Nidhi Prakash

A hard few final days in the first primary.

On the trail

SALEM, N.H. — In the waning hours before the New Hampshire primary ends, one candidate is predicting victory. The others prefer euphemisms. 

“It looks like it is going to be a long battle to the nomination,” Sen. Elizabeth Warren told reporters here Sunday, when asked for the umpteenth time whether she could go on after a loss in a neighboring state. 

The next morning, Joe Biden told CBS's “This Morning” the same thing, in a few more words.

“The idea that this is a, you know, if you come in third or fourth in the first two primaries, or a caucus and a primary, that that knocks you out of the box?” Biden said skeptically. “We're just getting going!”

With voters, betting markets and rivals largely convinced that Sen. Bernie Sanders will win this state's primary, much of the punditry about New Hampshire is about a race for third place. 

Sen. Amy Klobuchar tells audiences that she is “surging” and reports to them on polls that have her in third place. Pete Buttigieg tells them that if New Hampshire votes the right way, it “will make me the nominee,” but stops short of predicting victory. Tom Steyer, the only candidate actively competing in New Hampshire who was not in the state all weekend, is already talking about South Carolina, where he has polled in double digits.

“I think I'm saying something different to black people,” he told reporters at a Bloomberg News roundtable in Manchester.

Tulsi Gabbard, who has previously talked about taking the campaign to the convention, does not talk about New Hampshire as a final stop. Andrew Yang has been a bit more fatalistic, telling supporters that he needs a strong finish to stay in the race. But a strong finish does not mean a win.

“We have to push now to have a chance to finish in the top four in New Hampshire and give our campaign the boost it needs,” Yang's campaign wrote in an email to donors over the weekend.

The field of active candidates right now is the largest it has ever been at this point in a Democratic primary, and it's possible that it won't shrink much this week. Only Sen. Michael F. Bennet of Colorado has suggested that he needs a particular finish to continue in the race.

“I think I've got to do well here,” Bennet said on MSNBC on Monday. “I think I need to come in the top three or four to go on.”

Turnout watch

The 2016 Iowa caucuses are over. The 2016 Iowa caucuses are not over. Honestly, it depends on whom you ask.

On Sunday, the Iowa Democratic Party released its final calculations for state delegate equivalents, the representatives elected for each candidate in each of the state's more than 1,700 precincts. By their math, Pete Buttigieg won the caucuses by the second-smallest margin in its history, bested by only Hillary Clinton's razor-thin 2016 win. Buttigieg ended up with 564.3 SDEs to 561.5 SDEs for Bernie Sanders

“It was an embarrassment,” Sanders said in a Sunday interview with CNN. “It was a disgrace to the good people of Iowa.”

Sanders and Buttigieg have both declared victory in Iowa, Sanders doing so on the basis of the popular vote, which he undeniably won. But that vote has no bearing on delegate selection, and Sanders's campaign is asking for a partial recanvass to determine whether the results might change. One reason: Buttigieg's narrow win netted him two delegates more than Sanders, 14 to 12, out of the 41 delegates up for grabs.

How did that happen? Get used to this: Iowa, like most states, assigns a chunk of pledged delegates to the winners of the statewide vote, and its other chunks according to the margins in each congressional district. Winning statewide by a narrow margin gave Buttigieg five of 14 delegates assigned that way, to four for Sanders, three for Elizabeth Warren and two for Joe Biden. Winning the state's most conservative area, the 4th Congressional District, also gave Buttigieg a delegate boost: It had five delegates on offer, and he picked up two of them, to one each for Sanders, Biden and Amy Klobuchar.

According to the current count, Buttigieg picked up those delegates with careful overperformances across rural districts. There were 418 SDEs on offer in the 4th Congressional District, and Buttigieg edged out Sanders by seven SDEs.

Ad watch

Amy Klobuchar, “Empathy.” Who won the debate, after all that? Probably the one candidate using a debate clip in an ad. Klobuchar's closing message to New Hampshire is the one she delivered on that stage three days ago, which has since been adapted into her stump speech. “There is a complete lack of empathy in this guy in the White House right now, and I will bring that to you,” Klobuchar says. “If you have trouble stretching your paycheck to pay for that rent, I know you, and I will fight for you.”

Poll watch

New Hampshire primary (Suffolk, 500 voters)

Bernie Sanders: 27% ( 3)
Pete Buttigieg: 19% (-3) 
Amy Klobuchar: 14% ( 5) 
Joe Biden: 12% ( 2) 
Elizabeth Warren: 12% (-1) 
Andrew Yang: 3% (-) 
Tulsi Gabbard: 3% ( 1) 
Tom Steyer: 2% (-)
Deval Patrick: 1% ( 1)

The “Klomentum” story, as we in this newsletter will insist on calling it, is based on three data inputs: crowd sizes, the Emerson poll and the more widely accepted Suffolk poll. A result like this would have surprising repercussions, because by the DNC's rules, candidates who do not crack 15 percent of the vote statewide or in a congressional district would get no delegates. The race for third place isn't just about bragging rights; a poor showing for Warren, Biden and Klobuchar would leave them bereft while Sanders and Buttigieg split all the delegates.

New Hampshire primary (Boston Herald/FPU, 585 voters)

Bernie Sanders: 23% (-8)
Pete Buttigieg: 20% ( 12) 
Elizabeth Warren: 16% (-1)
Joe Biden: 14% (-10)
Amy Klobuchar: 6% (-2)
Andrew Yang: 3% ( 2) 
Tom Steyer: 2% ( 2)
Michael Bennet: 1% ( 1)

This isn't a tracking poll; it was the last in the field before Iowa. So it's useful largely for showing what changed since then, in case anyone had forgotten the dramatic collapse of Biden's support, or the surge of interest in Buttigieg. The possible outlier here is a drop of interest in Klobuchar, but that has been fluid, too; she was steady or down after her fifth-place finish in Iowa, and jumped only after the pre-primary debate. Her lag is most obvious in the favorable ratings, where she is behind, only because the largest number of voters do not know who she is; her favorable number is 48 percent, while the four higher-polling candidates all hit the 70s.

New Hampshire primary (CNN/UNH, 365 likely voters)

Bernie Sanders: 29% ( 1)
Pete Buttigieg: 22% ( 1) 
Joe Biden: 11% (-1)
Elizabeth Warren: 10% ( 1)
Amy Klobuchar: 7% ( 1)
Tulsi Gabbard: 5% (-) 
Andrew Yang: 4% (-) 
Tom Steyer: 1% (-1)

This poll has generally found higher scatter for anti-establishment candidates such as Yang and Gabbard, and it's also shown a collapse in voter expectations for Biden. Just 6 percent of voters now think he will win tomorrow, the same as the number who think Warren will win. Just 22 percent of Democrats say that Biden has the best chance of winning the general election; that is down 19 points from the number before Iowa. It's very worth remembering that there have been no reliable polls of Nevada and South Carolina, the states that vote next, since the Iowa results blew a leak in Biden's electability argument.

Candidate tracker

There will be little in-person campaigning until after voting ends tomorrow. The big events are over, for now, replaced by some diner visits, interviews and canvass launches to get candidates on the news.

Bernie Sanders. He'll hold a victory part at Southern New Hampshire University in Manchester.

Pete Buttigieg. He'll rally supporters at Nashua Community College.

Joe Biden. He'll hold his election night event at the Radisson in Nashua.

Elizabeth Warren. She'll hold an election night event at a sports complex in Manchester.

Amy Klobuchar. She'll hold one of the final rallies of the campaign tonight, in Manchester, before an election night party tomorrow.

Tulsi Gabbard. She'll hold an election night party in Penuche’s Music Hall, the venue where Klobuchar will rally tonight.

Andrew Yang. He'll end the primary with a party at the Puritan Backroom in Manchester.

Tom Steyer. He'll hold an election party in a Manchester banquet hall.

Michael Bennet. He'll hold a party at the Barley House, a bar in Concord.

Wait, what?

Democrats are on permanent high alert about Tulsi Gabbard, fearful that the Hawaii congresswoman, who is retiring this year, will jump to a third party if she loses. They got another jolt Sunday, when a voter in a town hall on the seacoast asked whether she could support a new political party focused on veterans' issues.

“Of course, of course,” Gabbard said. “I think that in our democracy there should be an openness and a viability for those seeking to form a party.”

Was that it? Was that the sign? No. Gabbard quickly clarified that she did not support a third-party run in 2020 and told Sirius XM's Michelangelo Signorile that she was obviously ready to support the Democratic nominee. 

“Of course, absolutely,” Gabbard said. “We stand united with the shared objective of turning over a new leaf.”

New Hampshire history

The surprise return of James Carville as a 2020 campaign pundit is a reminder of how much 1992 still looms for Democrats in New Hampshire. It was not the first year that the primary's winner failed to get the same bounce as the runner-up; Democrats watched that happen in 1952, 1968 and 1972. But it was the first when a staggering candidate pulled back into the race because analysts wrote him off. 

That candidate was Bill Clinton, and he was in a better position in New Hampshire than usually gets remembered. Clinton had been a buzzed-about future presidential candidate for much of his career, testing the waters in 1988 before deciding against a run. By October 1991, when he officially announced his candidacy, he was fairly well known among high-information Democrats. In November, he came in at 5 percent in New Hampshire's WMUR poll; in January, after some campaigning and a series of strong TV ads, he had hit 23 percent

In a fairly weak field, that was enough to compete for the lead. Like Jimmy Carter a generation before him, Clinton had lucked out on his competitors, becoming the only current governor and outsider in a field of senators. Doug Wilder, the first and still only black governor of Virginia, made a short run and then dropped out. New York's Mario Cuomo hesitated and opted not to run. And former California governor Jerry Brown, who had jumped into the right after Clinton, was seen at first as a has-been running a quixotic campaign; he had lost a Senate race 10 years earlier.

“We need to reconnect the office of the presidency to the problems of America,” Clinton said on his maiden trip as a candidate, in Concord. He would never deviate from that message: He was a small state's governor, his competitors were Washington insiders

Iowa was neutralized; its Democratic senator, Tom Harkin, jumped into the race and made the caucuses noncompetitive. Former Massachusetts senator Paul Tsongas came out of retirement to run, making him a favorite in New Hampshire. Sen. Bob Kerrey was mostly impressive on paper. Clinton was in command of the race until the Star, a supermarket tabloid, ran the first printed accusation against Clinton of marital infidelity: “My 12-Year Affair With Clinton,” an interview with Gennifer Flowers.

Clinton's polling began to drop, but he controlled the damage. Democrats had fresh memories of the scandal that took out Gary Hart four years earlier, and there was some fatigue about probes into candidates' personal behavior. As Clinton, for the first time, waged war against an accuser's credibility, polling found that 80 percent of Democrats could consider voting for him even if the accusation was true. And his challengers remained weak. Speculation didn't so much focus on which New Hampshire competitor could be the nominee as on which fantasy candidate could be drafted in to replace Clinton if he faltered.

There was damage, but no implosion. Clinton spent the final weeks before the primary facing questions about how he evaded the draft, whether he had slurred Italian Americans and whether he could win. He brushed them aside as distractions from a “Republican attack machine” that feared him in November and could not defend what was then a staggering economy. Eight days before the primary a Boston Globe poll found a tie, with Tsongas and Clinton both at 26 percent. In the end, Clinton would do worse than that — the final result was Tsongas with 33 percent, Clinton with 25 percent, and the other senators barely cracking double digits. 

This is remembered as a comeback for Clinton, but the result actually helped Tsongas surge in national polling. Five days later, Clinton would lose to Tsongas in Maine; two days after that, he would lose to Kerrey in South Dakota. On March 7, the cycle's first Super Tuesday, Clinton won just one state (Georgia) out of seven. New Hampshire did not rescue his campaign. It kept him alive, enough to rescue it much later.

Countdown

... one day until the New Hampshire primary 
... nine days until the ninth Democratic debate
... 12 days until the Nevada caucuses 
... 19 days until the South Carolina primary 
... 22 days until Super Tuesday