On the trail: What we learned from N.H.’s presidential primary

  • President Donald Trump speaks at a rally at Southern New Hampshire University Arena in Manchester, N.H., on February 10, 2020. (Drew Angerer/Getty Images/TNS) Drew Angerer

For the Monitor
Published: 2/13/2020 6:33:54 PM
Modified: 2/13/2020 6:33:44 PM

The traditional task of the Iowa caucuses and the New Hampshire primary – the first two contests in the presidential nominating calendar – are to winnow the field of candidates. Iowa didn’t do its job – no candidates called it quits after the caucuses. But New Hampshire did.

Three candidates – Sen. Michael Bennet of Colorado, former Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick, and tech entrepreneur Andrew Yang – all ended their White House bids.

Race remains unsettled

Yes, Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont won his second-straight New Hampshire primary. But his margin of victory over second-place finisher and former South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg was smaller than expected. But Buttigieg’s second-place finish – to a degree – was overshadowed by Sen. Amy Klobuchar’s strong third-place showing. And former Vice President Joe Biden and Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts exited New Hampshire with very disappointing results. Add it all together and New Hampshire didn’t exactly give clarity to the battle of the top-tier contenders.

“The results show a race that is still pretty unsettled. Sanders won, but by the lowest winning margin and with the lowest winning percentage in a contested Democratic New Hampshire primary of the entire post-reform era. So he did not mobilize the sort of massive turnout surge he’s been saying for years that he and he alone can accomplish, noted Saint Anselm College political science professor Christopher Galdieri.

“At this point, none of the top finishers are on a glide path to the nomination. This could be a long, ground-out, delegate-by-delegate contest,” he emphasized.

Debates still matter

So far this election cycle, the presidential nomination debates have had little impact on the Democratic primary race.

Until now.

Friday’s debate – the first that was held days just days before a primary or caucus – seemed to give Klobuchar a boost in the final public opinion polls – and then in polls that matter the most – the primary results.

“The success of Amy Klobuchar finishing third ahead of Elizabeth Warren and Joe Biden reminds us of two important truths in New Hampshire. First, debates matter. Klobuchar benefited from a very strong performance in the New Hampshire debate prior to primary day. Warren and Biden who, arguably, underperformed saw no help in their numbers,” veteran New Hampshire-based political scientist Wayne Lesperance stressed.

“Retail politics matter,” noted Lesperance, the vice president of academic affairs at New England College. “Klobuchar’s commitment to being present in the state, to continuing the tradition of town hall meetings, house parties and other shoe leather approaches to campaigning paid dividends for her on primary day.”

Paper beats apps

When it comes to counting ballots, New Hampshire always goes old school.

And that paid off as the Granite State calmed a jittery nation following the Iowa caucus results reporting debacle – which was in part blamed on the use of a new app to tally results from caucus precincts from across the Hawkeye state.

“New Hampshire’s primary results stand in stark contrast with Iowa’s caucus results,” Lesperance emphasized. “Granite Staters voted using paper ballots. Their votes were counted immediately. Timely results were provided despite very strong turnout, difficult weather and a very close contest. This is how elections should be conducted.”

Big turnout for both sides

Roughly 300,000 ballots were cast in the Democratic contest, breaking the previous high from the 2008 primary. That pumps up Democrats nationwide – who were concerned following the lackluster turnout in last week’s Iowa Democratic caucuses.

And thanks to a full court press by the Trump campaign and the Republican National Committee, turnout in the GOP presidential primary surged, considering there was no real contest to talk about.

But extreme long-shot primary challenger Bill Weld – the former two-term Republican governor of Massachusetts – did come close to cracking double digits.

“Donald Trump won New Hampshire hands down for the GOP primary. Still, what does it say that just over 9% or 13,787 Republican voters participated in the GOP primary and voted for Bill Weld?” asked Lesperance.

Women rule

According to exit polls, women made up nearly 60% of the Democratic presidential primary electorate on Tuesday.

“I think that women continue to power our victories. I’m not sure why women don’t turn out in that same rate across the country,” said Ray Buckley, longtime New Hampshire Democratic Party chairman. “I think if they did, they would be as successful as we are in electing so many women to high office”

Bloomberg plants flag in N.H.

Mike Bloomberg wasn’t on the ballot – the former New York City mayor is skipping all four early voting states and instead concentrating on the delegate-rich states that vote on Super Tuesday on March 3 and beyond – but he still claimed the first victory in New Hampshire.

Bloomberg carried the small North Country hamlet of Dixville Notch – which for 60 years has led the voting process by casting ballots at midnight. He grabbed three write-in votes, with the remaining two votes split between Sanders and Buttigieg.

Statewide, he collected 4,777 write-in votes, which technically put him in ninth place in the Democratic primary without being on the ballot. By comparison, the 10th-place finisher, former Massachusetts governor Deval Patrick, who was on the ballot, got 1,266 votes.

The multi-billionaire business and media mogul announced the day after the primary the hiring of two veteran Granite State Democratic operatives to start to build up his general election team in New Hampshire – which is an important battleground state coming November.

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