The primary voters in New Hampshire have had their say, and what told us was load and clear. On the Democratic side, insurgent socialist Bernie Sanders won by a wide margin, handing frontrunner Hillary Clinton a resounding and humbling defeat. Although Sanders had been leading big in most of the New Hampshire polls for quite some time, it was still shocking to see him win by as much as he did. This result should insure that the race for the Democratic nomination will go on through March, at least, and that there will be no coronation for Clinton. A Sanders loss in New Hampshire would have handed the nomination to Clinton, for intents and purposes.
So, after the first two nominating contests, Clinton has a very narrow win and Sanders has a landslide victory. Still, Clinton retains a sizeable lead nationally and in most of the states that have upcoming primaries and caucuses. The question remains as to whether Sanders can use his momentum to broad his appeal as we head into states like Nevada and South Carolina, which have much more diverse populations than mostly-white Iowa and New Hampshire. Even if Sanders can be competitive in Nevada, which is next up, his biggest challenge is going to a week later in South Carolina, which has a large African-American population. But Clinton needs to address some challenges of her own, such as her great lack of appeal to younger voters.
On the Republican side, Donald Trump is back. He won New Hampshire in a blowout. He received more votes than the second and third place finishers combined. After a setback in Iowa that let some air of out his political balloon and threatened to derail his campaign, he has re-established himself as the GOP frontrunner with his big win. It is now as if Iowa never happened, as far as his standing is concerned. He now heads into South Carolina – where was already leading – with a head of steam. Also note that even after losing in Iowa, Trump remained on top in the national polls as well, although his lead did shrink a bit. With a win a South Carolina, he could make it nearly impossible for anyone to stop him from winning the nomination.
John Kasich scored a surprise second place finish with 16%. After not putting much effort into Iowa and finishing eighth there, Kasich had staked his entire campaign on New Hampshire and the bet paid off. He got the ticket he needed to allow his campaign to move forward. This will also help him with much-needed fundraising. But the immediate primary calendar doesn’t look friendly to him, and he doesn’t appear to have a national campaign infrastructure in place. He must somehow survive upcoming states like South Carolina and all of those other southern states that hold their primaries on Super Tuesday before he can get to Michigan on March 8, the winner-take-all primary in his home state of Ohio on March 15, and other states in his native Midwest. Perhaps strong performances in Massachusetts, Vermont, and Minnesota on Super Tuesday could tide him over. At least New Hampshire gave him a chance to play this survival game.
Ted Cruz has to be pleased with his third place finish. He did not put a lot of his resources into the state, but still managed to finish ahead of Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio. With a win in Iowa and having been unscathed by New Hampshire, he will now head into evangelical-rich South Carolina and the “SEC states” on Super Tuesday, where he will be competing with Trump for hundreds of delegates. His home of state of Texas, which offers the second highest total of delegates, also holds its primary on Super Tuesday. It’s hard to imagine a scenario in which he wakes up on the morning of March 2 without being first or second in the delegate count.
Bush had invested a lot of time and money into New Hampshire and ended up in fourth place, which is higher than where he had been in the polls for many weeks. And he did manage to finish ahead of Rubio. It was also enough to keep him in the race. However, in the closing days of the New Hampshire campaign, he had been hoping to come away with a strong second or third place finish to establish himself as the alternative to Trump and Cruz. He will now move on to South Carolina, where he hopes to finally win the battle for that mantle. A major plus for him is that his family has strong ties to South Carolina, and his brother, former President George W. Bush, plans to campaign for him there.
With his strong and surprising third place showing Iowa, Rubio had hoped to use his momentum to get at least a second place finish in New Hampshire. This would have served to cement his claim on being the mainstream alternative to Trump and Cruz. But his poor performance in Saturday night’s debate wounded him and knocked him all the way down to fifth place in New Hampshire. That result, combined with Kasich’s unexpected second place finish and Bush’s fourth place finish left the race for the establishment mantle in a three-way muddle. That just plays into the hands of Trump and Cruz. And things could get worse in South Carolina, where Bush is planning to vigorously attack Rubio. This could have the effect bringing down Rubio even further and also raising Bush’s negatives, making it impossible for him to win either. Rubio can only hope that he can endure Bush’s withering assault and leave South Carolina with regained momentum.
Like Kasich, Chris Christie pretty much ignored Iowa and staked his whole campaign on New Hampshire. But unlike Kasich, he lost that bet. Despite spending more time in New Hampshire than any other GOP candidate, he finished a disappointing sixth, which wasn’t good enough to qualify him for the next Republican debate. He almost single-handedly brought down Rubio at the most recent debate, but in the process, he may have brought himself down too. He did have a little boomlet in the New Hampshire polls in mid-January but his numbers soon subsided. He probably peaked too soon. He has now decided cancel his flight to South Carolina in order to go home and re-think the future of his campaign. He will probably suspend his campaign within the next day or two.
Carly Fiorina, who finished seventh (and also finished seventh in Iowa), and Ben Carson, who finished a distant eighth after a fourth place finish in Iowa, have indicated that they will go on. However, they will no longer be major factors in the race, and might as well drop out. Jim Gilmore, who once again finished in last place with zero percent of the vote, vows to continue his quixotic campaign for reasons known only to him, his family, and his closest advisors.