After a long and torturous vote count in the Iowa Caucuses, the race to the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination is ready to begin in earnest with this week’s New Hampshire primary.
The contest has long been an important bellwether in presidential politics, as, from 1952 to 1988, no candidate who had lost the New Hampshire primary had gone on to become president.
Bill Clinton changed that in 1992 after losing in New Hampshire but rallying to win both the Democratic nomination and then the presidency. Similarly, both George W. Bush and Barack Obama were New Hampshire also-rans, in 2000 and 2008, before winning their general elections.
While the jump from a New Hampshire win to the White House is no longer a lead-pipe cinch, the state’s primary is still crucial when it comes to presidential politics. It can buoy a front-runner, vault a rising star, or dash the hopes of a troubled campaign (often all three at once).
As it stands on the eve of voting in New Hampshire—and in a battle for the soul of the Democratic Party—the top-runners are democratic socialist Bernie Sanders, 78, and centrist Pete Buttigieg, 38. Coming off a near-tie in Iowa (Buttigieg managed a surprise 0.1% plurality, earning 14 delegates to Sanders’ 12), the two candidates currently top most Granite State polls, with the edge going to Sanders.
Looking ahead, Vermont senator Sanders is currently the front-runner in the next two democratic primaries, Nevada (February 22nd), and South Carolina (February 29th).
With a big Iowa bounce, South Bend, Indiana mayor Buttigieg is polling extremely well in New Hampshire. However, a lack of minority support may cut into his gains as the campaign rolls into more racially diverse states (Iowa and New Hampshire are 85% and 90% white, respectively).
Additional drama in New Hampshire will centre around former vice president Joe Biden, 77. With his campaign now possibly on the ropes—a 4th-place finish in Iowa, and currently polling third or fourth in New Hampshire, depending on the source—a poor finish could make it increasingly difficult for the early front-runner to find a path to the Democratic nomination.
Should Buttigieg's campaign falter after New Hampshire, Biden could stand to pick up the centrist standard. With many in the party still viewing Sanders as an outsider, there is likely to be continued opposition his candidacy. The beneficiary of that opposition, however, remains to be seen.
Massachusetts senator Elizabeth Warren, 70, similarly finds herself in a tough spot. Third in Iowa and currently battling Biden for third or fourth spot in New Hampshire, Warren’s efforts at this point seem geared towards earning enough delegates to hang on with the hope that lightning strikes further down the line. With an ideology which leans more more left than centre, however, she has been overshadowed of late by Sanders, causing her message to be lost in the fray of an increasingly polarized Democratic Party.
As for candidates like Minnesota senator Amy Klobuchar, 59, and businessman Andrew Yang, 45, there’s a good chance that New Hampshire may be the end of the road. Out of the lower-polling candidates, only former New York mayor Michael Bloomberg, 77—a billionaire—has the cash on hand to stay in the race for the long run.
New Hampshire polls close at 5:00pm PST Tuesday, February 11th.