February 3, 2016
The Democrats, all two of them, are now safely ensconced in the Granite State. In the six days between now and the vote, Hillary and Bernie will do a CNN town hall, MSNBC debate, and plenty of retail campaigning. The Super Bowl knocks out Sunday as a day of attention. If the Patriots had managed to win in Denver, nobody would care about politics all week.
It’s a crowded week. I’m assuming Bernie is going to win the primary. At this moment, the odds are somewhere north of 90%. If he loses, the nomination race is over, unless the FBI forces a Hillary replacement. We already saw in Iowa that candidates and media are both attempting to make expectations more of an opponent than the actual winner.
Given the small amount of delegates from each early state and the outsized importance placed on them, it’s a reasonable way to look at things. How much of a win does Bernie need? How close a loss will enable Hillary to declare virtual victory?
Wants: A commanding win. He’s up 17 points in the Real Clear Politics average. He’s up close to 30 points in the most favorable polls. Anything north of 15 points after Clinton makes a full press and they have a debate and a town hall counts as a big win. A commanding win is north of 20.
The home-field advantage is overrated. It helps, but doesn’t guarantee success. From Ed Muskie (Maine) in 1972 to Mitt Romney (Mass, vaca home in NH) in 2008, a long list of New England-based candidates have seen New Hampshire decide neighbors aren’t necessarily the best nominees.
In both cases, expectations helped capsize the candidates. Muskie’s narrow win and Romney’s narrow loss were both viewed as major disappointments. It does appear the Granite State has adopted Bernie. However, the bigger factor is the ability of Independents to vote in either partisan primary.
In Iowa, Bernie did far better with voters who think of themselves as Independent (you had to register as a Dem to participate in the caucus). Hillary was just as dominant among Democrats.
The goal here is to narrow the margin among Democrats, and prove that in an ideal environment (New England, very Caucasian, plenty of progressives), he can compete among actual party loyalists. You can’t win the nomination if you are only pulling 30% of serious Democrats.
At the same time, he needs to show that he can drive Independents to vote for him in large numbers. Again, ideal place to do this. His argument is that he’s broadening the electorate. Voters will prove this with their feet. Depending on your ideology, Donald Trump, John Kasich, and others are an alternative. Bernie benefits a little bit from Rand Paul’s exit.
Needs: A strong win. He needs a double-digit victory. If he pulls less than 55%, it means either a bunch of Independents voted Republican, a wide majority of loyal Democrats chose Hillary, Bernie continued to do very poorly among seniors, or some combination.
He’s doing fantastically among voters under 30. It’s unprecedented. As a point of reference, 1972 was the first election to allow voters under 21. Democrats assumed this would help them. Having George McGovern as the candidate was supposed to push youth toward the party.
Richard Nixon won the 18-21 age bracket. Richard Nixon. Late Vietnam Era Richard Nixon.
Liberals don’t automatically monopolize young voters. The problem for Bernie is senior voters are more plentiful at the polls. He needs to start closing the gap on that side. For all the talk about his problem with African-Americans and Latinos, striking out with white seniors is probably more deadly and more of a threat to stick.
Might Survive: A modest win. Less than 5% and I go back to concentrating 95% of my attention on the GOP. Hillary rallied in 2008 at the last minute. Barack Obama was up 11% in the final poll and lost by a few points.
She made a huge deal about winning Iowa this time, even if it was by Florida 2000 margins. Conversely, a loss is a loss, even on Bernie’s turf, in a state that voted for her last time. The whole game is Nevada. An 8 point win in New Hampshire would give him enough momentum to compete there.
Wants: A long election night. If the networks declare the result within 5 minutes of the polls closing, she has a problem. It’s not a good contrast with Iowa where she wasn’t declared until the next morning. A couple of hours of analysis, talking heads showing maps and exit polls, that’s the goal.
These exit polls would show her with big leads among older voters and Democrats, commentators would mention the rest of the country looks more like the people who voted for her. Donors would relax a little, the narrative for the next day would sound ok.
Hillary could get up and make a “we rallied here and showed we can compete in all 50 states” speech. Then on to Nevada!
Needs: To finish closer in New Hampshire than Sanders does in South Carolina. At this point, talk of firewalls and racial gaps for Bernie have made the Palmetto State home turf for Hillary and another place to exorcise the demons of 2008.
If Bernie wins NH by 20 while Hillary only wins SC by 12. Not good. On the other hand, if Hillary can finish within 8 or 10 here, while Bernie loses 65/35 in a couple weeks, it’s easy for Clinton to argue she’s the national candidate and he’s the boutique regional one.
Might Survive: A blowout. Hillary is the front runner. She does have the support of 99% of the elected Democrats in the galaxy. Until she loses Nevada or gets indicted, she’s the clear favorite. It’s a bad sign though.
Result Conversion System
The Iowa tie (with official Hillary win) was an almost perfectly neutral result for the two candidates. If Bernie had won by a coin flip and some counting alchemy it would have scored as a big win for him. Even a two point loss would have looked like a loss.
The New Hampshire equivalent is a 12 point Bernie win. That would leave the candidates deadlocked heading to Nevada. Anything above that is advantage Sanders, below it helps Clinton (or hurts her less than Bernie needs it to). Remember, Hillary still has a big structural edge.
The first salvo gets fired tonight on CNN at 9pm Eastern.