It’s a long time to November and Tuesday’s New Hampshire primary has only muddied the waters for the Democrats. As expected, Senator Bernie Sanders, from neighbouring Vermont, won with around 26% of the vote, but this was way down from 2016 when he slaughtered Hillary Clinton.
With around 95% of precincts reporting, turnout in New Hampshire overtook both 2016 and 2008 Democratic contests. Around 292,000 votes were counted, compared with 288,672 in 2008 and 254,780 in 2016
The real shocks were multiple. First, South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg was close on his heels with 24.4%. Then, from nowhere Minnesotan Amy Klobuchar hauled in 19.8% of the vote while early high-flyers Vice President Joe Biden and Senator Elizabeth Warren couldn’t even make 10%.
Biden, has lost much of his early energy and even left New Hampshire early heading down to South Carolina and Nevada, where he hopes to haul support from non-white voters. In a less than felicitous phrase, he said to win the presidency you needed the support of “black and brown” voters who make up 25% of the voting base. Such is the blunt nature of US politics.
With the withdrawal from the campaign by former Massachusetts governor Deval Patrick, who cited his upbringing as an African-American on the South Side of Chicago along with his record as governor, the Democratic campaign is left with no black contender.
The crash of Senator Warren was surprising. From Massachusetts, across the border from New Hampshire, she flooded the market with advertising. She is now pitching herself as a candidate who could build a coalition within the Democratic Party, playing down the significance of winning any one state, and said her focus is on building a broad coalition to win delegates everywhere.
She believes she has a better chance of building a centrist campaign than Sanders, who has drawn heavy support from the 18-30 years-old sector but whose left-of-centre policy planks of Medicare for all, scrapping the private medical insurance system, soaking the even mildly rich, has laid him open to broad attacks by the Republicans.
Candidates are expected to criss-cross the country between Nevada, which will hold its caucus on February 22, South Carolina, where voters will go to the polls on February 29, and the 14 delegate-rich states and two other contests that will vote on March 3, Super Tuesday.
On that day, around one-third of the US population will cast their votes across 15 jurisdictions including 14 states and American Samoa. Critically, California and Texas, the two most populous states in the US will hold their primaries. These account for more than a third of pledged delegates but in Alabama, North Carolina and Texas, there are nominating contests that will be crucial to determining control of the Senate.
Sanders needs to maintain his momentum in Nevada, but he faces challenges from unions which fret their union-negotiated health care plans will be undone by his Medicare for all. This is a challenge to Warren as well.
There are indications the Democratic Party machine is becoming alarmed at the rise of Sanders. Conventional political wisdom maintains only a centrist candidate can win.
Hence the new focus on Michael Bloomberg.
He continues to accumulate support from unexpected quarters, including the Black Caucus in Congress. A Quinnipiac University poll released this week had the former mayor surging to 22% among African Americans. If this is valid, he seems to be eroding the African-American and Latino support claimed by Biden.
Bloomberg missed the early caucuses and primaries, and is focusing his campaign on the Super Tuesday contests. He has opened 150 state offices across the country including all Super Tuesday states with around 2,200 paid staffers.
So far he has spent well over $US200 million on dedicated tv and social media advertising.
Crucially, in some of his tv advertisements, he is using former US President Barak Obama discussing joint efforts at issues ranging from urban safety and regeneration to gun control. Obama has so far failed to disavow his explicit support.
Bloomberg’s Democratic rivals accuse him of buying votes – but the wiser heads in the party are now contemplating his candidature as possibly the only way to defeat President Donald Trump in November.