February 8, 2016
It’s never too early to start thinking about how the campaigns might attempt to put the best possible bow on tomorrow’s results. This absolutely matters. Marco Rubio’s 3rd place Iowa “victory” resonated and put him in position to make his debate performance such a big deal.
Good spin takes more than a few minutes to create. It’s a combination of setting expectations low enough to make a respectable finish a win, while still sounding confident enough to make your voters want to turn out. At the same time, you’re looking ahead, trying to make the next key state look forward to your arrival.
Expect the following from the main contestants:Hillary Clinton
If she finishes within 5 points of Bernie, it really is a bit of a moral victory. A few days ago, he was up by almost 20 points on average. It would mean the voters took measure of both and at a minimum many Democrats came back home to the Clintons.
Team Clinton will say the demographics of Iowa favored Sanders and she still won. They’ll say he was on home turf in New Hampshire and she made it way too interesting. Hillary will give a victory speech, talking about how she fought for every vote in the Granite State and will fight for every American when she gets elected.
If it’s a 10 point win, she’ll tone down the victory but say many of the same things. Her communications team will point to the 15 point advantage candidates from bordering states normally have in New Hampshire and declare she beat expectations and took Bernie’s best shot.
Sanders has outspent her on the airwaves over the past month. It’s neither fair to call him an underdog (will be fair again in Nevada and South Carolina), nor to say Hillary is a normal candidate who is at a huge disadvantage against a relative local.
If the margin is 12 to 15 points or more, it gets increasingly difficult for Hillary’s crew to explain what happened. She’ll just need to hope her advantage among Latinos and African-Americans holds up better over time than Bernie’s among young voters. A portion of voters in other states are both non-white and under 40, so something’s gotta give.
A win is a win. If he wins by three votes, he’ll point out what an accomplishment this is against the entire Democratic establishment of New Hampshire, the governor, senator, most other elected officials. He’ll remind everyone the Clintons have run four times in the Granite State and are more at home there than he is.
Assuming he wins by at least a few points, they’ll play up the (Larry) David and Goliath narrative to the hilt. It’s not unfair. A year ago, you would have figured Hillary should have defeated him in Burlington, Vermont. His victory speech will include a version of “just take a look at me for a second. I won. Me. It’s because we’ve begun a revolution.”
If he wins by 15 points plus, it’s an earthquake. It means Hillary didn’t close all that strongly. The results would match the post-Iowa polls. It means his voters really did turn out in large numbers, in addition to keeping a chunk of Independents from flocking to the GOP contest. It means you can’t make the data argument that he won because he’s a local.
The biggest question is if and to what extent Bernie begins to pivot as he looks towards Nevada and South Carolina. Will he make any changes to his pitch, more enhancements than subtractions, to more directly attempt to appeal to non-white voters? He got the endorsement of ex-NAACP chief Ben Jealous the other day.
You can see Bernie deciding he’s making progress doing things his way, and there’s no need to risk being seen as pandering. He may feel it’s just a matter of voters in Nevada and South Carolina getting to see as much of him as Iowans did. The campaign has plenty of money to spend on ads and other forms of outreach.
Or, he might begin to adjust, even if it’s subtle. Sanders has become used to fighting back against the Clinton campaign. Until the past few weeks, Hillary was more inclined to avoid directly attacking him. She was safely ahead everywhere except New Hampshire. Why risk angering the Berners if she could win without them. Better to stay non-confrontational and bring them around in November.
Lately, it’s become a slugfest. Though Bernie won’t go beyond certain self-imposed boundaries, he is willing to contrast and doesn’t back down when he feels he’s in the right. If that’s an indication of how he might act going forward, the worst thing the Clinton campaign can do is to say Bernie is not minority-friendly.
If their spin is that Bernie is eventually doomed going forward because African-Americans can’t or shouldn’t trust him, he’s going to get pissed. As much as he might believe he should stick to his course and wait for voters to discover for themselves what he offers, he’s not going to stand for being called a racist any more than he was ok with being described as sexist.
The larger the Sanders win, the more likely Clinton goes scorched earth in Nevada. If that happens, he pushes back and winds up with exactly the more minority-centered approach Hillary should fear. Remember, this does not involve Bernie changing any of his positions. He just needs to create more consistent linkage between what he already wants to do and how it affects African-Americans and Latinos.
At some point north of a 10 point victory, Hillary is damned if she does and damned if she doesn’t. Pushing will cause a problem, failing to creates the chance of losing Nevada because she held back. We know that isn’t an option.
This doesn’t mean Bernie is suddenly the nomination favorite with a double-digit win, but the race does become a fight to the death.