Here’s how the 2020 New Hampshire Democratic primary played out, and what each top candidate needs to do to win the Democratic nomination and take on President Trump.
Why he finished first: Sanders now holds the record for the largest percentage win in a competitive New Hampshire primary and the smallest percentage win in a New Hampshire primary, just four short years apart. But he won because he created his own deeply loyal base of supporters and then kept them.
What he needs to do now: Spend money and win a resounding victory on Super Tuesday, three weeks from now. No candidate, except Michael Bloomberg, can compete with Sanders in campaign cash, name recognition, and staff. If Sanders does well on that day, he will be hard to stop.
Why he finished a strong second: He had a number of good moments throughout the campaign — a viral moment criticizing Mike Pence’s position on gay marriage and good debate performances — and, each time, his team capitalized. Suddenly, the mayor of a city the size of Manchester, N.H., had the most staff and offices in Iowa and New Hampshire. That organization created his path to win Iowa and, once again, take advantage of the good news to surge into second place.
What he needs to do now: Buttigieg should go all in on Nevada and then pivot to Super Tuesday and juicing his delegate count. (South Carolina might be a lost cause.) The union that dominates the caucuses in Nevada already expressed displeasure with Medicare for All, but it is unclear how their members might vote. The last polling in Nevada was over a month ago, when Biden led. It is a very different campaign now, with an opportunity for Buttigieg.
Why she finished a strong third: Klobuchar didn’t show up much. She didn’t build out a big campaign team, or run that many ads in New Hampshire. But she did one essential, campaign-saving thing: She crushed it in Friday night’s debate. Media exit polls suggested that roughly half of voters said the debate was very important in helping them make up their minds.
What she needs to do now: She has basically no campaign infrastructure because she never had the money to buy one. Now, she must raise a ton of money, hire a bunch of people, make a ton of ads, and attend rallies while the early voting in Nevada begins on Saturday. Oh, and she must also have a career-topping performance in next week’s debate or it is probably all over.
Why she finished a weak fourth: Warren did a lot of things right. She visited the state often, quickly scooped up talented staff, and laid out a serious platform. She also had a lot of advantages — the senator for a neighboring state that shares a media market with most of New Hampshire’s residents; a woman running in a state that often elects women statewide. With all those advantages, New Hampshire was supposed to come down to a battle between Sanders and Warren. But when Warren began to lose steam, she never directly challenged Sanders in a sustained way, even at the end.
Was there anything she could have done? Yes. She could have a breakout debate performance. She did that in the fall. But it was Klobuchar who did well in the final pre-primary debate instead.
What she needs to do now: First, Warren must figure out what her political argument is now. She isn’t the progressive option, that’s Sanders. She isn’t the top female candidate option, that’s Klobuchar. She isn’t the unity candidate, that’s Buttigieg.
Second, she needs to figure out her campaign cash situation. In any other primary season, she would have dropped out Tuesday. But this time around, she is raising much of her money from smaller donations that are set up to auto-donate every month. Warren will have some money, but she has the second-largest staff next to Bloomberg, an operation that may not be sustainable after two disappointing finishes. She needs to figure out where to put limited resources — slimming staffers and boosting TV, or beginning to cherry-pick states to focus on.
Why he finished a weak fifth: In his two previous runs for president, 1988 and 2008, Biden dropped out before the New Hampshire primary. This time, he made it, but didn’t stick around for the polls to close. Biden is just a poor candidate on the stump, on the debate stage, and on TV. His campaign was not able to amplify his empathy with everyday people and his Scranton charm. It didn’t understand the right message, nor how to get people out to the polls.
What he needs to do now: He must win South Carolina. Win, not come in a close second, or a respectable third. Victory is the only way forward.