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Who will win? Ranking the Democratic primary candidates in New Hampshire

Kayana Szymczak/Getty Images/File/Getty Images

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

When the Globe set to answer that question in May, former vice president Joe Biden had recently entered the race and sat as the Granite State frontrunner. Mayor Pete Buttigieg of South Bend, Ind., was rising, and New England Senators Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren began to loosely form a top-tier with Biden.

There have been two major changes over the last four months.

First, the top tier of Biden, Sanders, Warren has solidified — so much so it’s hard to see how any other candidate can even compete in New Hampshire.


Second, the next tier of candidates has been focused on national metrics, such as the number of contributors to their campaigns. That’s largely a function of the Democratic National Committee’s requirements to make debates. And it has meant less time campaigning in New Hampshire, compared to earlier presidential cycles.

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.

While the rankings are based on what would happen today, the primary is set to take place in February, so there’s plenty of time for things to change.

One candidate that is unlikely to shift much is former representative Beto O’Rourke from Texas, who has been dropped from this list as a contender. Last month O’Rourke declared he will significantly scale back his campaigning in early states like New Hampshire, a place where he was only polling at about one percent anyway.

Going forward, there are three other main storylines to look for:

— When will Biden slip from first place?

— Can Warren’s momentum overtake Sanders?

— What will happen when Buttigieg and entrepreneur Andrew Yang have beefed up their local campaign teams?


Labor Day serves as a demarcation. Now, more voters are paying attention and the campaigns may begin to go after each other. With that in mind here are where things stand:

1. Former vice president Joe Biden

Joe Biden. Michael Dwyer/associated press/Associated Press

Yes, Biden remains the New Hampshire frontrunner, though no one expects that to last. He doesn’t have the buzz in the state, nor does he have the largest on-the-ground staff, nor the most endorsements.

Oh, and he hasn’t spent much time campaigning in the Granite State either.

His rivals say his place on top is only because of name recognition, and once voters pay more attention, he’ll drop. That may well be true, but Biden detractors have been saying that for six months and Biden has remained the leader throughout.

2. Senators Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren (tie)

Senators Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren.BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images/AFP/Getty Images

New Hampshire is effectively a must-win state for the neighboring Senators-turned-White House hopefuls. But right now, it’s not clear who is ahead.

Sanders began the race with the most advantages. In 2016, he won the New Hampshire primary with 60 percent of the vote. If just half of those voters stuck with him, he’d cruise to another win. But polling repeatedly has him around 20 percent support or less. And Warren is on the move.

One key factor: In polling, Warren is frequently the second choice among Democratic voters who had a different first choice. If a number of these candidates drop out, watch to see if Warren benefits.

4. Mayor Pete Buttigieg

Pete Buttigieg. Charlie Neibergall/Associated Press/Associated Press

It has been six months since Buttigieg blasted off with Democratic primary voters, proving he is far from a flash-in-the-pan type of candidate. His huge audiences in his latest swing through the state two weeks ago are evidence of a candidate who continues to intrigue the primary electorate. In the last two weeks, his campaign has been staffing up in a real way, and now has offices in all 10 counties. That said, he is closer to fifth place than he is to third.


5. Senator Kamala Harris

Kamala Harris. Jeff Chiu/Associated Press/Associated Press

There continues to be great interest in Harris from voters in New Hampshire, but her campaign’s actions suggest her path to the nomination, if there is one, tracks elsewhere. NECN’s candidate tracker shows she has spent the least amount of time in New Hampshire of anyone on this list and a recent CNN article notes she will continue to staff up in Iowa and South Carolina, but omitted New Hampshire.

We’ve seen candidates, such as Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio in 2016, who had a New Hampshire-light strategy. They planned to do well in Iowa, do fine in New Hampshire, and return with a triumphant win in South Carolina.

None of those candidates ever became president — or the nominee.

6. Senator Cory Booker

Cory Booker.Mic Smith/Associated Press/FR2 AP via AP

Is Booker actually above Yang? By a smidge. There’s not much enthusiasm for him among activists, but Booker’s plodding and established campaign infrastructure gives him the edge. Booker punches well above his weight in campaign talent and local endorsements. As a candidate, he is liked among the state’s voters, who largely give him good favorability ratings in polling. If he has a moment in a debate, he has the ability to capitalize. But if he doesn’t have a moment — well his ceiling is set, and it is pretty low.


7. Andrew Yang

Andrew Yang. JOSH EDELSON/AFP/Getty Images/AFP/Getty Images

There might not be a historical precedent for the fact Yang is on this list, at least not in the modern era. He is a 44-year-old entrepreneur who was a complete nobody a year ago. He doesn’t have a fortune to fund a campaign. But he does have an idea: Give $1,000 a month to every American to offset the role automation is playing and will play in the future.

His supporters are all in, in a Ron Paul 2012 kind of way. Supporters drive hundreds of miles to help campaign for him in New Hampshire, a largely organic campaign that other candidates would covet. Yang is now raising money and hiring staff; three more come on board next week. We’re very unlikely to see Andrew Yang, Democratic nominee. But let’s see where this goes.

James Pindell can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @jamespindell. Click here to subscribe to his Ground Game newsletter on politics.