Ground Game

Who will win New Hampshire? Ranking the Democratic primary candidates with less than 100 days to go

When the Globe looked ahead in September to the N.H. primary, former vice president Joe Biden reigned supreme, in a top tier with Senators Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren. Since then, Biden has dropped as Warren surged.
When the Globe looked ahead in September to the N.H. primary, former vice president Joe Biden reigned supreme, in a top tier with Senators Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren. Since then, Biden has dropped as Warren surged. SAUL LOEB/AFP via Getty Images

If the New Hampshire Democratic primary were held today, who would win?

When the Globe set to answer that question in September, former vice president Joe Biden reigned supreme, in a top tier with Senators Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren. Since then, Biden has dropped as Warren surged. Sanders, despite a heart attack, is holding steady. And South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg, is most benefiting from Biden’s slow decline. The changes move the contest toward a top tier of four.

Behind them are a bevy of other hopefuls who believe that with 100 days left, there’s room for a Granite State miracle. They might be right. Entrepreneur Andrew Yang is raising real money and plans to have 100 staffers on the ground in the coming weeks. Senator Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota is riding a wave of momentum after a strong debate performance. And Representative Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii is criss-crossing the state.

The rankings here are based on polls of New Hampshire voters, interviews with more than a dozen, activists, operatives, and insiders, and an analysis of the on-the-ground infrastructure each campaign has built.


1. Senators Bernie Sanders of Vermont and Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts

Finally we have ended up where most analysts thought we would end up in the 2020 New Hampshire primary: a hot contest for first place between neighboring-state senators.

Sanders started the 2020 contest with advantages: He won the 2016 New Hampshire primary by 22 points, had an established network of volunteers, and a clear, well-tested message.

But Warren got in early and has been among the most frequent visitors.

She now has a very solid and experienced organization, and has found a lane among more traditional Democrats than Sanders has.

After ditching its top two New Hampshire staffers, Sanders’ campaign seems to be back on track and has leaned in to getting people who rarely show up at the polls to vote in February.


Sanders announced last week that he has 90 staffers in the state, more than any other candidate. The most recent poll in the state showed him back in the lead.

Warren has led some New Hampshire polls while Sanders led in the most recent ones — but the contest between the 70-year-old from Massachusetts and the 78-year-old from Vermont is all within the margin of error.

Which is to say that the showdown between Sanders and Warren is finally taking shape even if the gloves haven’t come off quite yet.

3. Former vice president Joe Biden

Has Biden’s standing really fallen in New Hampshire? Well . . . his campaign is now talking about how their candidate doesn’t really need to win the state in order to be the nominee. Talk about lowering expectations.

Since he entered the race, there has always been a disconnect between his lead in the polls and the low energy of his events.

Biden is still absolutely in the mix, but the odds are he will continue his slide down, down, down, perhaps watching a young Indiana mayor pass him.

4. South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg

Buttigieg’s rise this year has been remarkable. His campaign’s ability to translate good moments into tangible successes on fund-raising, staff, and on-the-ground infrastructure has sustained him. Now, other candidates are calling the 38-year-old one of the front-runners.


He now has more offices in the state than anyone, has 64 local staff members, and is picking up local endorsements in a nice clip. The offices, staff, and volunteers meant that after his strong October debate performance, his campaign bragged it made nearly 16,000 contacts with New Hampshire voters the very next day.

A lot of Buttigieg’s standing in New Hampshire will rest on his performance back in Iowa, in his native Midwest. He seems to get that. He’s advertising on TV there and not at all in New Hampshire. A solid finish there could be the thing that bumps him into the top two in time for the first presidential primary.

5. Entrepreneur Andrew Yang of New York

Yang moved from being an interesting candidate that folks on the internet loved to someone who is now a legit candidate, raising legit money, with his own legit lane, and creating a legit campaign organization.

Other than Sanders and Warren, his campaign is the one that is most focused on winning New Hampshire. They plan to have approximately 100 staffers on the ground in a matter of weeks, rivaling Sanders for the largest team.

Polls reflect Yang’s legit status: He ranks fifth in the Real Clear Politics polling average for New Hampshire.

6. Senator Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota

In September, this list only had seven candidates remotely in contention for the New Hampshire primary. Klobuchar wasn’t on it. Now she is for two reasons: Biden’s fall has forced moderates to consider other moderate options, and her strong performance in the October debate turned heads.


Coming from a neighboring state of Iowa, she has a lot more pressure to perform well there. But Klobuchar has little something going in New Hampshire.

7. Representative Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii

Gabbard is polling better in New Hampshire than everywhere else, and that may have prompted her campaign to spend a disproportionate amount of time in the state recently. Indeed, while everyone on this list was in Iowa for a major dinner last weekend, Gabbard was in New Hampshire taking advantage of the candidate vacuum. She held town hall events in Lebanon and Laconia, and a “coffee and toffee” meet-and-greet event in Nashua, along with filing to place her name on the New Hampshire primary ballot Monday.

Yet there are still significant questions about her skeleton campaign staff’s ability to identify voters and bring them to the polls on a cold day in February.

8. Senator Cory Booker of New Jersey

Unlike Gabbard, Booker does have a solid campaign infrastructure of staff and endorsements. In fact, he has the most endorsements from state legislators. Unlike Gabbard, however, Booker doesn’t have a particular niche in this contest. For example, what is Booker uniquely selling to Democratic primary voters that they want to buy? He seems to have enough money to stay afloat, but his candidacy just needs a point.

9. Businessman Tom Steyer of California

Steyer has already spent tens of millions of dollars on TV ads in New Hampshire and nationwide, but it’s not clear whether he can use his personal wealth to buy his way into Granite State contention. He returns to the state next week, but beyond paid staff it is unclear who exactly is with him. He has no local endorsements to show he is building something, but polls routinely find him at 2 or 3 percent. That is something the eight other people below him in the Democratic primary contest would gladly take.


James Pindell can be reached at james.pindell@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @jamespindell or subscribe to his Ground Game newsletter on politics: http://pages.email.bostonglobe.com/GroundGameSignUp