New Hampshire voters have spoken, and two messages are clear.
Which is to say, it was an exceedingly bad evening for both former vice president Joe Biden and Senator Elizabeth Warren.
It’s hard to imagine Biden having such a poor showing that he didn’t win a single delegate, but that was his Granite State reality. Democratic voters simply didn’t buy the electability argument at the core of his candidacy. In conversations on Monday with middle- and retirement-age New Hampshire voters, I heard professions aplenty of affection for Biden, but an equally strong sentiment that his time had passed. Younger voters who see Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont as the man of the moment, meanwhile, considered his fellow septuagenarian an irrelevant figure from a remote era.
Knowing the dreary Granite State results would, to paraphrase Boston singer-songwriter Todd Thibaud, be a stone he couldn’t roll, Biden departed the state before the voting was even finished, as though to say: New Hampshire, you didn’t dump me, I left you.
Biden has long cited his support among Black voters as his campaign firewall. The question has always been whether they would be with him through both thick and thin. It was no mistake that Biden spoke from South Carolina on Tuesday night; its February 29 primary now becomes make or break for him.
The night was just as dismal for Warren. The battle for progressive champion has been decided, and Sanders has prevailed. Still, a victory with only about a quarter of the Democratic primary vote hardly signals an enthusiastic embrace of Sanders-style democratic socialism. Although his margin over Warren was large, Sanders barely beat former South Bend, Ind. Mayor Pete Buttigieg. Senator Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, meanwhile, came from almost nowhere to finish an attention-getting third.
But what’s most important for Sanders is the big margin that separated him from Warren. With that, Sanders demonstrated that he owns the party’s left wing. Normally, one small-state primary (and one botched caucus process) shouldn’t and wouldn’t decide the issue, but in this case, New Hampshire’s verdict matters. It is, after all, the political backyard for both Sanders and Warren. Although the Granite State is more influenced by Massachusetts than by Vermont, it passed as neutral ground for the two rivals to pitch their dueling progressive plans.
By giving Sanders a victory and consigning Warren to a distant fourth, New Hampshire voters confirmed what the Iowa results suggested: The party’s progressive wing wants the full Bernie, not the Sanders-Lite Warren has been offering.
Warren is now trying to recast herself as the candidate a divided party can unite around over the long haul. That’s conceptually at cross purposes with how she’s long campaigned and makes little sense given her political plight. Much will be written about Warren’s long slide, but her big misstep came when she blundered full on into the mandatory Medicare for All morass. Her ham-handed efforts to extricate herself, along with her fanciful financing plan, only made things worse. In combination, those twin mistakes left her middled and muddled. More moderate voters saw her support of compulsory single-payer as too leftward a lurch, while those who consider single-payer health care the Holy Grail viewed her clumsy partial walk-back as apostasy.
Both Buttigieg and Klobuchar can rightly claim momentum from their New Hampshire showings.
How they capitalize on that energy remains to be seen. Politics is often about making the best of imperfect opportunities — and with the huge and expensive multi-state demands of Super Tuesday barreling toward them, imperfect opportunities are what lie ahead.