Steve Duprey: A Republican’s view of the New Hampshire primary and beyond

  • Sen. Bernie Sanders leaves the Senate chamber during a break in the impeachment trial of President Donald Trump in Washington on Wednesday. AP

For the Monitor
Published: 2/2/2020 6:50:18 AM

A Republican activist commenting on the state of the New Hampshire Democratic presidential primary admittedly has some bias and inherent flaws. However, it is impossible not to be fascinated with the current state of the race and what it may well portend for the fall elections. Here is how I see it as of Feb. 1:

As the former chairman of the debates committee from 2016, when the Republican National Committee took over management of the debates during the presidential primary, I believe this year’s Democratic Party debates have been fatally flawed.

In 2016 Republicans were criticized because we divided our candidates into two tiers by polling, but all 16 candidates were allowed to participate in all debates until the first votes were cast. Theoretically learning from us, the Democratic National Committee set up a debate structure where candidates are eliminated based on polling numbers (of dubious value in this age) and money raising thresholds that seem to be moving targets and set by the Democratic national party chair.

The net effect has been that the party that touts diversity has effectively cut the field before any votes have been cast, and with the exception of Andrew Yang, all of their candidates are Caucasians. Back to the drawing board for 2024!

As of Feb. 1, it looks like Sen. Bernie Sanders will not only win New Hampshire but fairly decisively, followed by former vice president Joe Biden, Sen. Elizabeth Warren, former South Bend, Ind., mayor Pete Buttigieg and Sen. Amy Klobuchar. Either Buttigieg or Klobuchar could surprise and perhaps supplant Warren, and if either were to top her I suspect that would be the beginning of the end of the Warren campaign.

On the other hand, Warren has been tactically very smart in not announcing staffing levels, levels of voter contact, etc. She may surprise, which would give her campaign a big boost.

Yang has been a fascinating candidate and has shown surprising appeal, but unless he breaks through in Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada or South Carolina, his race will be over.

Iowa, with that strange and fascinating process, is going to announce results based on the first round of caucusing, followed by the consolidated round, followed by announcing the delegate awards. This could end up being the effective equivalent of school awards where everyone gets a prize and claims victory even though they may have only been a participant. My sense is that the order of finish in Iowa will be exactly the same as I have predicted for New Hampshire. If different candidates win different rounds of the reported results in Iowa, however, all of the candidates will end up in New Hampshire in a muddle and we could perform our historical role of really sorting out this race.

Remember that in Iowa less than 20% of the voters participate; in New Hampshire our numbers are likely to approach or exceed 70%.

What happens in Nevada and South Carolina is hard to predict, although in Nevada it appears that there are only two contestants really battling it out: Sanders and Biden. South Carolina looks to be a firewall or, at worst, a place for a strong and decisive finish for Biden. If he were to emerge from Iowa and New Hampshire without a victory it may put his chances of securing the nomination in danger, although a big win in South Carolina could steady the ship. Remember, fundraising success usually follows the early caucus and primary results.

A wildcard going forward is Super Tuesday and the impact of Michael Bloomberg and Tom Steyer. I suspect that the Bloomberg theory of his candidacy is this: When Super Tuesday arrives, and Biden has not gotten decisive momentum rolling and his campaign is faltering, the establishment wing of the Democratic Party might be looking at the prospect of nominating either Sanders or Warren with some trepidation. At that point, the party may pull back and turn to Bloomberg.

While that may prove successful, it may have the effect of further diluting and weakening Biden’s prospects and in turn strengthen Sanders’s position. Be careful what you wish for.

Another fascinating aspect of the Bloomberg candidacy is whether $1 billion can overcome the impact of skipping the early four states. Depending on the final result, that may either help or hurt the future of the New Hampshire presidential primary.

On the Republican side of the aisle, President Trump has done what any politico would concede to be an extremely successful job of consolidating and expanding his base within the Republican Party. When he won the presidency, he reportedly had the support of 71% of registered Republicans. Today that number is in the low 90th percentile. That in and of itself is unusual, but his success in doing so effectively shut down any meaningful challenge to his nomination and actually bodes well for his re-election.

Four years ago the campaign was quite disorganized and free-flowing. This year, the president has the best organization seen in decades with the most sophisticated database and voter contact operation in history.

An observation about delegate awarding: In the Republican Party we argue about how soon after the early four states any state can make its primary or caucus a “winner take all” vote. Delaying “winner take all” gives lesser-known candidates a longer opportunity to make their case but it also means the primary fracas continues longer than may be healthy for party unity.

The Democratic Party, however, took the opposite tack and any candidate who receives 15% of a vote in any state is awarded delegates. This is in place for every primary and caucus from beginning to end. Yikes!

In theory, that could mean that if the early four states do not set a trend for an eventual winner, and the infusion of money and effort by Bloomberg and Steyer don’t prove decisive, we could witness the entertaining prospect of a Democratic National Convention that has no one candidate who has secured enough votes to be the nominee. That would be a windfall for President Trump.

Current polling seems to indicate that Biden would be the strongest challenger to Trump, but it is always a daunting task to take on an incumbent president who has a strong economy and no major foreign crisis as campaign themes. Again, considering the bias of this source, I suspect Biden would have a stronger path to the nomination and a better chance as a candidate in a general election were he to select his vice presidential running mate right after his first primary win.

If I were his adviser, I would pick Klobuchar. She is a serious senator who is viewed as more centrist than most of the candidates. She is respected in the Senate and has a record of bipartisanship. Selecting her gives comfort to many voters who are concerned about Biden’s age, and it certainly would please a number of women voters who were disappointed when Hillary Clinton lost. Then again, consider the source of this advice.

Another factor to keep in mind is the age of the candidates and how that will impact voter decisions.

Ronald Reagan was our oldest person to be sworn in as president at age 69. He was supplanted by President Trump, who was the oldest at 70 when he was sworn in. Biden would be 78 were he to take the oath in January 2021, Sanders would be 79, Bloomberg would be 78 and Warren would be 71. Many Americans questioned whether Reagan was too old to be effective in the waning days of his administration at age 78. Biden, Sanders and Bloomberg would all be older on their first day in office than Reagan was on his last day. So much for the youth movement. Then again, have you seen Sanders at one of his events? That Vermont maple syrup (inferior to New Hampshire’s but still good ) must be stoking his energy.

Hang on! It will be a fun week and a half.

(Steve Duprey of Concord is a local business owner who also is active in New Hampshire Republican politics.)

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