Bernie Sanders' victory scrambles the race

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) will clinch victory in the first-in-the-nation primary in New Hampshire, according to a CNN projection, powered by his strength among blue-collar, younger and more liberal voters.

Posted: Feb 11, 2020 8:45 PM
Updated: Feb 11, 2020 11:30 PM


CNN Opinion contributors weigh in with political analysis on the New Hampshire Democratic presidential primary results. The views expressed in this commentary are their own. View more opinion articles on CNN.

SE Cupp: A bad omen for the Warren campaign

Having grown up north of Boston, just a few miles from the New Hampshire border, I can tell you New Hampshire voters and Massachusetts voters are dissimilar in some striking ways. But that notwithstanding, someone like Elizabeth Warren, a Massachusetts Senator, should have done much, much better in tonight's New Hampshire primary. With more than 85% of the vote in, she is in a distant fourth behind Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, former Mayor Pete Buttigieg and Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar.

That should sound some loud alarms for her campaign, which is already reeling from a third place finish in Iowa, some embarrassing staff defections in Nevada and looming money woes. Warren was hoping New Hampshire would give her a much-needed jolt.

My assessment? Warren has failed to capture a lane. Sanders came out swinging as a Democratic Socialist, out-lefting nearly everyone in the field. Klobuchar has emerged the more promising moderate than a flailing former Vice President Joe Biden. Buttigieg is the exciting newcomer, leaving Warren where, exactly? No man's land.

Back in 2018, the Boston Globe editorial page told Warren not to run, that she'd missed her moment in 2016. The reason they offered was she was too divisive to take on Trump. But maybe it was that she was too inconsistent, vacillating on issues and losing steam this week. She even admitted herself that in the last debate before this primary, she 'just didn't say enough, didn't fight hard enough.'

There are a number of contests where Warren could still be competitive, if she can last that long, but finishing fourth in a New England state full of white, older, female suburban voters is likely a very bad omen for her campaign.

SE Cupp is a CNN political commentator and the host of 'SE Cupp Unfiltered.'

Ian Sams: Sanders' victory underscores a new reality

Don't get it twisted: Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders is the Democratic frontrunner.

His New Hampshire victory, within a week of winning Iowa's popular vote, underscores a reality in this crowded primary: you don't need anywhere near a majority of the electorate to win. You just need a loyal base.

Gone is the famous 'Obama coalition.' The 'Bernie Bloc' is in.

Sanders' base of millennials and Gen Z, very liberal voters, men, non-black minorities and working class whites may be unconventional, but it sure looks big enough to keep delivering him narrow wins.

It's taken everything former Mayor Pete Buttigieg and Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar had to come close to Sanders in Iowa and New Hampshire, and former Mayor Michael Bloomberg and former Vice President Joe Biden are still competing with them for the driver's seat in the same lane. They're all scrambling to build a broader base for later states. Women, college educated suburbanites, rural moderates and black voters are split. The winner: Sanders.

I will say: credit to Buttigieg, who showed that he is here to stay with a narrow second place New Hampshire finish.

His near victory proved that his Iowa win in the delegate count wasn't a fluke, and voters in the states to come will give him another look. It's a remarkable rise for the largely unknown former small city mayor, but now his challenge is proving that he can grow his base beyond older voters in mostly white states.

With the volatility to come, Sanders ought to be licking his chops. As others compete with each other for an expanded coalition within largely the same lane, in both homogeneous and diverse states the 'Bernie Bloc' may be enough to win.

Ian Sams is a Democratic strategist with experience on seven state and federal campaigns. He was most recently national press secretary on Sen. Kamala Harris' presidential campaign. The views expressed in this commentary are his own.

Errol Louis: What matters most is who lost

As Democrats seek a candidate to run against President Trump, the party entered New Hampshire urgently needing to trim the size of the 10-candidate field. Some candidates are bumping into hard financial and logistical facts that will spell the end of their candidacies.

Andrew Yang, a newcomer to politics, suspended his campaign shortly after the polls closed. His campaign had spent more than $3 million on television ads in New Hampshire and he campaigned in the state for 62 days -- far more than any other candidate except Tulsi Gabbard (who rented a home near Manchester and more or less moved into the state). Senator Michael Bennet dropped out as well.

Former Vice President Joe Biden hasn't dropped out, but his likely 5th-place finish was a humiliating blow, coming after his self-described 'gut punch' of finishing 4th in the chaotic Iowa caucuses. Biden may finish with less than 10% of the vote in New Hampshire and likely won't win a single delegate.

Any lingering sense of Biden's inevitability or electability died in the Granite State. In advance of the results, he hastily departed to South Carolina, which he has described as a 'firewall' of black supporters that will restore his electoral fortunes.

'The fight to end Donald Trump's presidency is just beginning,' Biden told supporters. 'It ain't over man. We're just getting started.'

Sen. Elizabeth Warren was also a big loser, finishing no higher than fourth in a state adjacent to her home of Massachusetts. Her single-digit finish likely means that she, too, leaves New Hampshire empty-handed with zero delegates.

In a speech to supporters, Warren warned her fellow Democrats to tone down the level of attacks between them. 'We cannot afford to fall into factions,' she said. 'We win when we come together.'

Warren's back-to-back losses in Iowa and New Hampshire raise serious questions about how long she will stay in the race.

Billionaire Tom Steyer spent more than $17 million on television advertising in New Hampshire, and with over 60% of precincts reporting holds less than 4% of the vote and zero delegates. If his luck doesn't change soon, it's possible that the wealthy businessman will call it quits.

Errol Louis is the host of 'Inside City Hall,' a nightly political show on NY1, a New York all-news channel. The opinions expressed in this commentary are his own.

Jen Psaki: The real test is coming up

After Tuesday night, a few things are clear: Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders is the Democratic frontrunner, and he is effectively tapping into a desire for change. Former Mayor Pete Buttigieg's win in Iowa was not a fluke, and his support is broad and sustained. And Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar's strong debate performance and weekend surge put her in the top tier.

But after the Sanders, Buttigieg and Klobuchar supporters celebrate tonight, the real question will be what this means for the nomination fight moving forward.

For Sanders, he is running on the promise of bringing new people into the process and expanding his group of supporters. The turnout numbers in Iowa do not help him tell that story. His campaign also continues to run the race as an outsider, but he is now the frontrunner and if he wants to win the nomination, he will need to build on his support beyond his committed and loyal base.

For Butigieg, he is running on a message of bringing people together -- effectively drawing from the support of not just former Vice President Joe Biden, but also Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren. Still, there are major questions about his ability to draw support from people of color. He has growing operations in Nevada and South Carolina and he has invested in both paid advertising and staff resources, but if he wants to go the distance, he will need strong performances in both of those states.

For Klobuchar, her rise over the final days leading up to the New Hampshire primary positions her as a real contender. But she is also playing catch up. The Nevada and South Carolina caucus and primary come quickly. Sanders, Buttegieg and even Warren and Biden have had operations in the next two states for months. As a top tier candidate, she will also be under much greater scrutiny -- including for her record as a prosecutor in Minnesota.

No candidate is perfect in any race ever. But the test is how they capitalize on success during the primary process while also managing their individual weaknesses.

Jen Psaki, a CNN political commentator, was the White House communications director and State Department spokeswoman during the Obama administration. She is vice president of communications and strategy at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. Follow her at @jrpsaki.

Scott Jennings: Yang dropped out, perhaps Warren should

Given that I'm a Republican, you'd think I would be happy when any of the Democrats running for president fails. But that's not true. I never met Andrew Yang, but it appeared to me that he was the only person running for president in their primary who was actually having fun.

He had an optimistic message built on fixing things and modernizing various pieces of the government. He was running on a platform warning about the threats of automation — one article said he 'ran on a platform warning against the threats of artificial intelligence and automation'-- which is a little technocratic for a presidential campaign but probably cemented him as an 'ideas guy' for the Democrats for years to come.

And that's a good thing. We need more people like Yang in politics (I mean, some of his ideas were nutty but fun to talk about), not only because he seems like a good man but also because his platform wasn't built on punishing everyone liberal Democrats hate.

That's the strategy that seems to animate many of the other candidates: demonize successful people, brand Republicans and Trump supporters as racists, attack the traditional values of people in rural areas. But I didn't sense Yang was motivated by that same sort of vindictive attitude; I'm not sure it ever dawned on him to use politics for that purpose.

Which is the exact opposite of Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren, who doesn't seem to realize her campaign is over. Her speech on Tuesday night gave the impression that she intends to stay until the bitter end, which will serve no purpose other than to let her push her vindictive platform and opinions, like the time at her CNN town hall when she took a mean-spirited jab at voters who believe in traditional marriage.

Warren's message is not unifying, and her ongoing trouble with the truth about her own narrative has exposed her as inauthentic (she has told some whoppers about her heritage and her kids' private schooling, for example).

Bernie Sanders appears to be in the driver's seat now, and the only question for Democrats is whether he will benefit from the same condition of protracted fragmentation within his party that helped Donald Trump win the 2016 GOP primary. With Warren's announcement of her intention to stay in and with Mike Bloomberg lurking in the wings, it seems perhaps that he may.

Oh, sorry, Joe Biden. You've never finished higher than fourth in a presidential primary state in three national campaigns. Don't wait until South Carolina. Bow out now and save yourself the embarrassment.

Scott Jennings, a CNN contributor, is a former special assistant to President George W. Bush and a former campaign adviser to Sen. Mitch McConnell. He is a partner at RunSwitch Public Relations in Louisville, Kentucky. Follow him on Twitter @ScottJenningsKY.

David Gergen: Bloomberg could be the heavyweight the Dems are waiting for

Some late-night reflections after the New Hampshire primary:

— The biggest story of the campaign so far is the near-collapse of former Vice President Joe Biden's candidacy. One wonders whether in the controversy over Ukraine, the Trump team ultimately accomplished what it wanted -- a smearing that badly weakened Biden. To be sure, there were other factors: Biden has a long, disappointing record in national campaigns. This is his third, and he has yet to win a primary. Unless he now wins Nevada and South Carolina, pressures will rise for his exit.

— Biden's stumbles opened up the moderate lane for former South Bend, Indiana, mayor Pete Buttigieg and Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar -- and both have smartly seized their opportunity. 'Mayor Pete' has the talent to go all the way but perhaps, as with Jack Kennedy in his national debut, he will need more seasoning to get there. Klobuchar grows on people as a candidate but she, too, may need more gravitas. Give her credit; she has already shown she should be at the top of any short list for Vice President.

— Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders deserves credit, too. In his case, he has already become the most popular socialist in American history. But he may have crested in the 2016 campaign. After all, he won New Hampshire by over 20 points then against Hillary Clinton; this time, he won New Hampshire by less than 2 percentage points. And across most of the Democratic Party, strategists are worried about his chances against President Donald Trump. To them, he is the Jeremy Corbyn (leader of Britain's Labor Party) of the American left.

— Biden's troubles have also opened the door to Michael Bloomberg -- and he, too, has smartly seized his opportunity. A national Quinnipiac poll last week found him rising to third place in preferences among Democrats. More importantly, in a head-to-head against Trump, he held the widest lead over the President: 9 points.

One danger for him is that leaders on the Democratic left will try to destroy him before voters have had a say. One can already see signs of that. As some of the savviest observers believe -- see Tom Friedman in the New York Times -- Bloomberg could be the most effective heavyweight the party has in slugging it out with Trump. But will the Democratic left give him a fair hearing?

As always these days: stay tuned!

David Gergen has been a White House adviser to four presidents and is a senior political analyst at CNN. A graduate of Harvard Law School, he is a professor of public service and the former director of the Center for Public Leadership at the Harvard Kennedy School.

Sery Kim: Sanders has a winning strategy -- and it's similar to Trump's

As the Democrats comically fouled their Iowa caucuses and flew to New Hampshire, Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren and former Vice President Joe Biden warned of the dangers posed by President Donald Trump's reelection. This stood in stark contrast to the approach that the eventual victor in New Hampshire's primary, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, offered -- radical change with a side of fun.

Beyond his policy proposals, Sanders offered live music by The Strokes. He made the process of picking a presidential candidate as fun, engaging and accessible as could be. And the Sanders' choice here is critical, because voters, many of whom are exhausted by a prolonged primary process, want to have a good time when they pick a presidential candidate. They want to feel good about themselves, about the candidate they vote for -- and certainly about the direction of the country he or she will take it in.

And you know who knows this best? Trump. 'They can't take a joke,' the President gleefully proclaimed in New Hampshire on Monday, as the crowd laughed and cheered. And keep in mind, this crowd stood in freezing New Hampshire rain for hours because seeing Trump in person was like seeing The Strokes in concert: Trump is their rock star.

Moving forward, the Democrats need to lighten up and enjoy this process. Warren was never more popular than when people saw how much she loved taking selfies for hours on end. And Andrew Yang, who just exited the race, lasted longer than multiple senators and congressmen, in part, because he often looked like he was having a great time.

Sery Kim is an attorney, Republican strategist and former senior adviser in the Trump Administration. She currently resides in Texas where she works at the law firm Scheef & Stone, LLP.

Van Jones: Yang's race may have ended, but his ideas live on

Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, former Mayor Pete Buttigieg and Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar will get most of the attention Tuesday night, and they deserve it. But one of the biggest stories out of New Hampshire was businessman Andrew Yang's decision to end his presidential campaign. A decade from now, he will appear to be a much more significant voice than we recognize right now.

Yang's campaign did not ask you to hate anybody. So much of politics now is, 'Who do you hate?' Liberal elites? Immigrants? Billionaires? Socialists? But you could join the #YangGang and not hate anyone. He simply wanted to make sure we re-tooled the economy for the human, environmental and technological challenges to come.

One year ago, Yang was an unknown technology entrepreneur with interesting ideas but limited organization. In the months that followed, he showed the power of ingenuity and authenticity. The fact that he lasted so long -- on stages with senators, governors and a former vice president -- is nothing short of remarkable. And he broke a color barrier as an Asian-American guy who inspired young Asian-Americans to get involved in the political process.

He forced candidates to talk about automation, algorithms and how we measure what is important in society. A year ago, his ideas around universal basic income seemed like a fringe idea few had heard of. Now, UBI is right in the thick of conversation across the country. Yang's presidential campaign may have ended, but his ideas will live on.

Van Jones is CEO of REFORM Alliance and co-founder of #cut50, a bipartisan criminal justice initiative of the Dream Corps. He is also the author of 'Beyond the Messy Truth: How We Came Apart, How We Come Together.'

Sarah Isgur: We've got a long way to go

Now everything changes. Nevada and South Carolina are contests totally unlike their more famous siblings in Iowa and New Hampshire, in which retail politics traditionally help win the day. Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, former Mayor Pete Buttigieg and Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar may be leaving New Hampshire with the wind at their backs, but everything about their campaign structures -- ground game, messaging, voter targeting -- are going to have to shift into new gears.

First, the voter demographics are completely different in the next two states. Race is the biggest factor. Iowa and New Hampshire are predominately white states. Nevada, on the other hand, is less than half white -- and more than a quarter of South Carolina voters are black. These more diverse states will have different needs and priorities -- and the candidates will have to speak to those.

Second, these candidates are moving away from states that had held their first-in-the-nation status for decades. Nevada and South Carolina have only held two early nominating contests for Democrats -- in 2008 and 2016. This means there is no tried and true path to victory, and far fewer polls to guide the way. And it means there aren't the same traditional events -- like the famous wooden eggs handed out at New Hampshire's Politics & Eggs Forum -- where voters know to go to meet the candidates.

While there's nothing unusual about finding an Iowa voter who has met four presidential candidates in person and asked them each a question, Nevada and South Carolina are still adjusting to their new role in the spotlight.

And none of these states will have mattered if this turns into a true battle over delegates. The first four states combined award less than 200 of the 1,991 delegates needed to clinch the nomination. The contests held across the country on Super Tuesday, including California and Texas this year, will award a third of the delegates needed for the nomination. So, what does all this mean for the candidates? In short: we've got a long way to go.

Sarah Isgur is a CNN political analyst. She has worked on three Republican presidential campaigns and is an adjunct professor at George Washington University's School of Media and Public Affairs. She is a graduate of Harvard Law School.

Daniel Guild: More surprises lay ahead

Of all the oddities of the American political system, surely the hardest to explain to a non-American is the role expectations play in primary politics. The idea that the candidate who finished third could be the 'winner' is, well, strange.

Yet that may be exactly what New Hampshire has done. Because, though, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders was the victor, with former Mayor Pete Buttigieg just behind him, the real winner -- at least in terms of expectations -- is Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar.

A mere three weeks ago, she was an afterthought in New Hampshire, mired in the mid-single digits. But a strong close in the Iowa caucuses gave her some measure of momentum. And one supporter told me on Monday that her exchange with Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders during the debate over democratic socialism and health care is what energized her campaign. She made clear she was an alternative to the current Democratic frontrunner by offering a more moderate path.

Notably, in the CNN exit poll, Klobuchar won among those who wanted to unite the country, while Sanders won those who wanted much-needed change. These two competing goals define the divide in the Democratic Party as much as ideology does.

If identifying the winners was hard, the losers were easy to spot. Nothing so defined former Vice President Joe Biden's performance in New Hampshire as his decision to leave the state for South Carolina while voting was still underway. My candidate, Elizabeth Warren, fared little better. She organized early, and she actually led in October -- but struggled to maintain that momentum.

So, where do we go from here? In the same CNN exit poll, 50% of New Hampshire voters said they did not decide until the last few days of the primary campaign. Perhaps the final lesson from New Hampshire is more surprises are ahead.

Daniel Guild is lawyer, project manager and Democratic activist in New Hampshire. He writes for Bleeding Heartland, a progressive political blog.

Joe Lockhart: The center-left is strong

There are enough numbers out of New Hampshire to craft any narrative that supports your own view of the party and Democratic voters. So, let me get it out of the way right up top.

The Democratic party is a center-left party, not an ultra-liberal or far-left party. Exit polls in New Hampshire show that 76% of voters consider themselves somewhat liberal or moderate. Only 21% say they are very liberal. The results tonight are no surprise, with Buttigieg, Klobuchar and Biden combined polling better than Sanders and Warren combined.

Second, the Sanders victory is not the blowout we saw four years ago in New Hampshire from the Vermont senator when he won by almost a 2-1 margin over Hillary Clinton. There are more candidates this time around, but it is significant that youth turnout dropped from 2016 by 20%, according to a CNN exit poll. Sanders talks about bringing new voters into the party, but tonight the new voters are not showing up in growing numbers.

But the most interesting race, as anticipated, was for third place. Amy Klobuchar, coming off a strong debate last week, has remade her candidacy as one of the top three and viable for the first time. Joe Biden came in a distant fifth, a second gut punch that will be hard to take. But he's in South Carolina tonight playing to his firewall, African Americans who could, emphasize could, put him back in the race. But even among African Americans, his support has dropped significantly nationally, although not as much in South Carolina.

That leaves Elizabeth Warren. She has to be disappointed with a distant fourth place finish. And the question is what happened and what can cushion the descent. As to what happened, I don't think the political professional class has figured that out, since it happened so quickly.

She went from a favorite in the race to someone fighting for her life. My best guess was her somewhat subtle move to the middle made the far left of the party much more comfortable going with the more ideologically dependable Bernie Sanders. Less apparent is that the rise of Pete Buttigieg has also eaten into her base of highly educated middle- and upper-middle-class voters.

And she has no firewall in South Carolina, where she is polling poorly among African Americans and it's not clear where she can turn it around. That leaves Nevada. She has a good organization and it better book tickets to Vegas and get going. It may be her last stand.

Joe Lockhart was White House press secretary from 1998-2000 in President Bill Clinton's administration. He co-hosts the podcast 'Words Matter.'

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