NASHUA, N.H. – Sen. Bernie Sanders won the New Hampshire primary on Tuesday night, anointing the democratic socialist the front-runner as Democrats also conferred decisive stamps of approval on two moderates, Pete Buttigieg and Sen. Amy Klobuchar.
For Joe Biden, the two-term vice president, a weak finish put his campaign on death watch, a stunning setback for the longtime front-runner.
Sanders’ march will send shudders through a party establishment that fears he’s too radical to win. He and Buttigieg fought to a near tie in Iowa, and Tuesday’s results reaffirmed that the oldest and youngest contenders in the field are on a collision course.
“This victory here is the beginning of the end for Donald Trump,” Sanders, 78, told a gym filled with screaming supporters in Manchester, most young enough to be his grandkids. “We have an unprecedented grassroots movement from coast to coast ... . We are putting together an unprecedented multigenerational, multiracial movement..
Buttigieg, 38, congratulated Sanders on his “strong showing,” claiming vindication and momentum if not victory.
“So many of you decided that a middle class mayor and a veteran from the industrial Midwest was the right choice to take on this president, not in spite of that experience but because of it,” he declared before a cheering crowd of 1,200 at Nashua Community College.
He poked at Sanders’ call for “revolution,” and also issued zingers aimed at the president. “If Washington were serving America well, a guy like Donald Trump would never have come within cheating distance of the Oval Office in the first place.”
For Klobuchar, an underdog who ran fifth in Iowa, a strong third-place finish on Tuesday rewards steady progress and sets up a showdown with Buttigieg for the centrist mantle.
“Hello, America. I’m Amy Klobuchar, and I will beat Donald Trump. My heart is full tonight,” the Minnesota senator told cheering backers in Concord. “Donald Trump’s worst nightmare is that the people in the middle, the people who are tired of the name-calling and the mudslinging, have someone to vote for in November.”
Biden tried to hobble Buttigieg by belittling his experience as mayor of South Bend, Ind., a city smaller than Manchester. Sanders blasted his young rival for cozying up to wealthy donors.
Like Biden, Sen. Elizabeth Warren got squeezed in New Hampshire, a painful disappointment for a senator from neighboring Massachusetts.
“It is clear that Senator Sanders and Mayor Buttigieg had strong nights,” she told supporters in Manchester, also crediting Klobuchar for proving that women candidates can’t be discounted. “But the fight between factions in our party has taken a sharp turn.”
“These harsh tactics might work if you’re willing to burn down the rest of the party in order to be the last man standing,” Warren said, calling for unity and insisting that with 98% of delegates still up for grabs, the race is far from over.
As usual, the one-two punch of Iowa and New Hampshire, eight days apart, winnowed weaker candidates. And outright victory wasn’t the only measure of success.
Andrew Yang – the entrepreneur and political neophyte who made a $1,000-a-month government payment to everyone 18 and older, no strings attached, the centerpiece of his campaign – dropped out. So did Colorado Sen. Michael Bennet.
Biden’s team insisted throughout the day that he would fight at least through Super Tuesday on March 3, when Texas, California and a dozen other larger states award delegates. After all, the Democratic turnout in New Hampshire Tuesday roughly equaled the Democratic turnout in Dallas and Tarrant counties in 2016.
Sanders topped Hillary Clinton 60-38 in New Hampshire, in a two-way field.
Biden’s reversal is profound, though. He held the front-runner spot for roughly a year before running a distant fourth in Iowa.
Polls released this week showed Sanders had overtaken him as Democrats’ top choice nationally.
Biden struggled so badly in New Hampshire that he decided on just a few hours’ notice to skip his own election night event in Nashua. He flew to South Carolina, where he’s hoping for rescue Feb. 29 from African American voters who typically dominate the primary.
“It ain’t over, man. We’re just getting started,” Biden told supporters in Columbia, S.C. “You shouldn’t be able to win it without black and brown voters.”
That was a swipe at Buttigieg, who has made hardly any inroads with nonwhite voters.
But the South Carolina primary is 18 days away – an eternity in politics and ample time for rivals and pundits “to be ordering your tombstone,” said Neil Levesque, executive director of the New Hampshire Institute of Politics at Saint Anselm College. “When you announce to everyone that you’re giving up before the polls close, before people leave work to drive to the polls, it’s just another in a long list of stumbles.”
Biden held his own in Friday night’s televised debate at Saint Anselm, an event that gave Klobuchar a big boost. On the stump, he wavered between combative and disjointed. In a widely mocked moment, he called a student who asked him a question a “lying, dog-faced pony soldier” – a phrase he has used before, and has long attributed to a John Wayne film.
“He gets up and speaks extemporaneously, and people love that sense that he is a real person, that he’s not spitting out a memorized stump speech,” Biden’s deputy campaign manager, Kate Bedingfield, told reporters at a roundtable hosted by Bloomberg News, when asked by The Dallas Morning News about his halting delivery and reliance on written material.
Most presidential candidates deliver their stump speeches off the cuff.