Feb 12, 2020 - Politics & Policy

Bernie Sanders' uneasy New Hampshire win

Bernie Sanders raises his fist in victory at his New Hampshire primary night party
Sanders at his victory speech in Manchester. Photo: Drew Angerer/Getty Images

MANCHESTER, N.H. — Bernie Sanders' victory in the New Hampshire primary was real, but he had two moderates close on his heels — suggesting that Democrats aren't ready to hand the nomination to a socialist without a longer fight.

The big picture: Amy Klobuchar's surprisingly strong showing, along with the close margin between Sanders and Pete Buttigieg, was a reality check on the idea that the moderate wing of the Democratic Party has disappeared.

  • The strength of Buttigieg and Klobuchar suggests that there's a sizeable moderate bloc that could be difficult for Sanders to overcome.
  • But it is split, while the progressive wing of the party is starting to consolidate behind Sanders — and may be walking away from Elizabeth Warren.
  • And the big wakeup call: Neither of the moderates in the top tier Tuesday night was Joe Biden. The former vice president — the candidate whom President Trump feared the most — utterly collapsed, placing a distant fifth.

The fact that Sanders and Buttigieg have finished in the top two in both New Hampshire and Iowa — coupled with Mike Bloomberg's rise in the polls and anecdotally among voters — suggests that people are still hungry for an outsider in the same way they were in 2016.

  • Sanders, of course, is a democratic socialist. The Vermont senator has been the longest serving independent in Congress, and a political outsider his whole life.
  • Buttigieg is a 38-year-old gay military veteran from the Midwest who's never held higher elected office than mayor of a town of around 100,000. 
  • Bloomberg is a multi-billionaire, former mayor — and, like Trump, a New Yorker. He has been a Republican, independent and now Democrat.

Between the lines: As the Cook Political Report's Dave Wasserman pointed out, the three moderate candidates combined — Buttigieg, Klobuchar, and Biden — got more than half of the New Hampshire vote, while the two progressives — Sanders and Warren — got far less.

  • However, exit polls suggested that 40% of Hispanics voted for Sanders in the primary, according to an ABC News analysis — suggesting potential strength among minority voters, whose support any Democratic nominee will need.

A sign of the tension between the two wings: Sanders' supporters at his Manchester headquarters booed Buttigieg during his victory speech — chanting "Bernie beats Trump!" and, later, "Wall Street Pete."

  • One of his supporters, Martha Abbott, said: “There’s no reason many people who support Bernie Sanders would support another Democrat. People know Bernie has their back — and that’s why he’s the most likely to beat Trump.”

The other side: At Klobuchar headquarters in Concord, one of her supporters, Tim Donlon, had this to say about Sanders: "I love the way Bernie has energized the younger generation," but "he's a polarizing kind of guy" and "there's a big swath of the U.S. that aren't on the far right or the far left."

  • Another Klobuchar supporter, Susan Hoyt, originally considered Warren but didn’t  like Medicare for All. She sees Buttigieg as too young and inexperienced, and Biden as past his time.

Go deeper: View the full results from the New Hampshire primary

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