The US Presidential Primary season rolled on Tuesday night with the New Hampshire Primary taking place.
Unlike the Iowa Caucus last week, the New Hampshire vote is a more traditional scene with voting taking place in polling booths, rather than Iowa’s antiquated method of herding people into corners of school halls. Despite this, the New Hampshire Primary has failed to correctly predict a President since George H.W. Bush won there in 1988. This should, therefore, worry the winners of the two primaries on Tuesday, Bernie Sanders for the Democrats and Donald Trump for the Republicans.
Sanders delivered a crushing victory, taking 60.4% of the vote to make up for his loss by 0.2% in Iowa last week. Sanders has a massive support base, largely consisting of grassroots support (much is made of the fact the average donation to his campaign is just $27) and they were, unsurprisingly, euphoric after Tuesday night’s victory.
However, one suspects that euphoria may be a short-term sensation given that the campaign now takes a southward turn, heading to South Carolina for the next primary. Polling by NBC/WSJ/Marist at the end of January shows Clinton 37% clear of Sanders, a gap that is likely too big for Sanders to close, even with his momentum boost from Iowa and New Hampshire. This kind of support for Clinton in the south and west, combined with the number of superdelegates who will turn out for her at the Party convention, makes the nomination battle an uphill climb for the veteran Vermont Senator.
It’s the Republican result that is far more interesting. Trump’s victory is unsurprising and much needed after he flamed out in Iowa, and he’ll have plenty of momentum heading to South Carolina. Similarly, Iowa winner Ted Cruz can claim to be in a strong position. Many pundits predicted the Texas Senator to take a hit in a far more liberal northern state, but his 11.7% in third place shows that he has a solid base of support that he can build on in the southern states. Another winner from Tuesday was Ohio Governor John Kasich, who came second (albeit 19% behind Trump) and appears to be regaining momentum in a campaign that had been floundering since the start of 2016. Even Jeb Bush can take solace from his 11% in fourth place, and seemed to be gaining a bit of traction in national polls in the run-up to Tuesday night.
The real loser was establishment golden boy Marco Rubio who slipped to fifth in the voting after his savaging by Chris Christie during the New Hampshire Presidential debate. For him to fare so poorly after finishing a strong third in Iowa, throws a spanner in the works as far as who the Republican establishment will support going forward. It had been presumed he would be a rallying point or moderate GOPers after his Iowa showing, but now he’s been plunged back into the pack, battling with the resurgent Kasich and Bush for the right to be the third man alongside the conservative Cruz and populist Trump.
The GOP establishment must be tearing their hair out at this development. After originally seeming ready to back Bush in the race they saw him battered by Trump and seemingly lacking the popular support of his father and brother. As it all began to go downhill for Jeb, Rubio emerged as a valid replacement, a strong debater conservative enough to appeal to the right, but moderate enough to win a national election, and Hispanic (the voter group the Republicans long to have support them) to boot. Now Rubio has slipped up, what do the establishment do? Kasich would seem an unlikely choice, he’s a bit too left-wing for many in the party, but has now got the momentum to soldier on and steal votes off the other two (and pick up some of the votes vacated by Chris Christie and Carly Fiorina, who both pulled out after Tuesday), giving Trump and Cruz an advantage.
Bush is likely still not as promising a nominee as Rubio, but he could be about to pull the rug under the man who many considered his protégé. Voting now heads to South Carolina, where Jeb has a secret weapon: his big brother. George W may be remembered unfavourably by many, but among Republicans (especially in South Carolina) he is still hugely popular. If Jeb rolls out Dubya in South Carolina and comes a strong third or even pushes Cruz into third (he’s unlikely to beat Trump) then it forces the three way fight between him, Rubio and Kasich to continue for longer.
The longer that fight continues, the better it is for Trump and Cruz. There has been a clear plurality in both Iowa and New Hampshire for the establishment candidates, but the fact they continue to all split the vote between them allows the two anti-establishment figures to pick up delegates at their expense. If the infighting between the three ‘moderates’ continues, then by the time the establishment finally rally round one of them it may already be too late.