February 9, 2016
So rough night for Hillary. Make no mistake, it was a blowout, landslide, beatdown. With 87% of precincts reporting, she has 39% of the vote. In 2008, Hillary won 39% of the vote against Barack Obama, John Edwards and a couple rounding error candidates. Bernie equaled them all.
Aside from the quick jaunt to Michigan on Sunday, Hillary spent the entire week between Iowa and the vote pushing as hard as possible to narrow the margin. Bernie outperformed the final Real Clear Politics average by at least seven points. He did better than the FiveThirtyEight estimate.
Bill Clinton spent the entire week campaigning for his wife. He didn’t hold much back. If anything, it was counterproductive. Voters turned out for Bernie in record quantities. Despite seemingly more drama on the GOP side, exit polls indicated more Independents participated on the Democratic side.
Those Independents favored Bernie 72/27. Voters under 30 gave Bernie over 80% support. As the Clinton campaign, surrogates, and plenty of political commentators have reminded us, New Hampshire lacks voters of color. At least for now, Bernie does not poll very well against Hillary with non-white voters.
There’s a gender gap too, but it’s smaller than the party loyalty, age and ethnicity gaps. The results have little to do with where New Hampshire is located, but plenty to do with who lives there and what the voting rules are.
Many other states allow non-Democrats to vote in the Democratic primary. Some only permit Independents, others are completely open. South Carolina is one of them. Bernie is real. It’s now time to seriously consider the possibility he will win Nevada. More on that in the morning, but the math works. It does not require additional momentum.
I’ll give you the disclaimer that Hillary is still the favorite. Until Bernie wins Nevada, that’s definitely true. Even then, the margin will determine whether we need to wait until South Carolina to draw deeper conclusions.
That being said, unlike 2008, Clinton is running a solid campaign. Their ground game and overall organization performed very well in Iowa. They did fine in New Hampshire too. If you’d told her strategists she’d wind up with the total raw vote she received, they would have figured it was a narrow, non-embarrassing defeat.
Instead, Bernie found another 30,000 voters. Hillary has done well in each debate. She’s done well in each televised town hall. She’s resolutely on message. Unlike 2008, when the ghost of Clinton Administrations past packed the stage behind her victory speech, tonight Hillary had a young and boisterous backdrop.
Cable networks are packed with Hillary-endorsers or Hillary-sympathizers. Most of the discussion tonight was about Bernie’s demographic issues going forward, not dwelling on how a previously inevitable candidate lost a state she beat Barack Obama in to a 74-year-old Jewish socialist.
If the candidate is mostly hitting her marks, the spin squad is more than holding their own, the data team is doing their thing, and you still lost by 20+ points, it’s a problem.
Oh, and Bernie is beginning to bring in significantly more money from his bottomless pool of small donors. He turned his victory speech into a telethon. If he raises $5 million in the next 24 hours, do not be surprised.
There’s a historical precedent the House of Clinton may like. In 1980, George H.W. Bush won Iowa on his way to finishing second in the GOP nomination race. In 1988, he lost Iowa, finishing way behind Bob Dole and even trailing evangelist Pat Robertson.
Though Hillary isn’t a sitting vice president like Bush was, she’s running as though she is. It’s a close enough situation. Dole got a ton of momentum from his win and Bush’s defeat. He quickly led New Hampshire polls by double-digits. A solid long weekend of campaigning and a few attack ads, and Bush recovered to win.
Dole never recovered. After a difficult fall campaign, the rest was history and Bush 41 happened. Momentum gets reversed very quickly in politics. Just ask Marco Rubio.
However, part of what sunk Dole was his caustic temper/attitude. Bush got way under his skin with various attacks. So far, Bernie is keeping his cool. Hillary really pushed him during the last debate and he kept it together.
It’s hard to predict the future more than an hour in advance. Many still think Bernie has no chance, let alone is in any position to become a real contender. I disagree. He’s now one solid Nevada win away from this becoming a 50/50 proposition.