New Hampshire's Rebuke

Michael Barone
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Posted: Feb 12, 2016 12:01 AM
New Hampshire's Rebuke
New Hampshire voters issued a rebuke to conventional party leaders when they voted by large margins for Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders in Tuesday's primaries. But Sanders is not going to win the Democratic nomination, and it's by no means certain Trump will be the Republican nominee.

The results show that Hillary Clinton has a clear but clunky path to the nomination but is a problematic general election candidate. They show that the Republicans have a potential advantage in November but first must get through a problematic nomination process.

Consider turnout, which is the one thing pollsters have trouble forecasting. As in Iowa, more people in New Hampshire voted in the Republican contest than the Democratic. That's the opposite of 2008, the last time both parties had contests. Both these target states seem to tilt Republican this time.

As for the Democrats, Hillary Clinton got fewer votes and a lower percentage than when she won New Hampshire in 2008. Then she won "beer Democrats" but lost "wine Democrats" to Barack Obama. This time, not so much. In Manchester, the state's largest city, she got 41 percent, compared with 45 percent in 2008.

The exit poll suggests that she did worse with women. Millennial women voted about 80 percent for Sanders. Clinton is banking on near-unanimous black support in Southern and industrial-state primaries, but she likely won't match her 2008 showings among beer Democrats and may falter with Hispanics, who enabled her to carry Texas and California. It seems certain she won't match Obama's 2008 turnout or percentages from millennials.

One-third of New Hampshire Democrats based their vote on honesty and trustworthiness, and 93 percent voted for Sanders. Yes, those "damn emails" hurt.

As for the Republicans, they face a problematic primary. Donald Trump has established that he has a high floor among primary voters -- but also perhaps a low ceiling: Forty-seven percent of Republicans said they'd be dissatisfied if he were nominated. He could easily lose one-on-one primaries.

But he's not going to face one anytime soon. Each potential challenger faces serious obstacles but has a rationale to keep on fighting.

John Kasich got one point less than Jon Huntsman's 17 percent in 2012, but that was a poor third in a smaller, weaker field. Kasich's 16 percent made him No. 2, though far behind the winner. His problem is that his shtick is poorly adapted to the electorates in South Carolina and other Southern states voting next. An endorsement by The New York Times is no help there.

Then there are the three candidates who essentially tied for third with between 10.5 and 12 percent of the vote.

Ted Cruz exceeded expectations, and he proceeds now to favorable Southern turf. But he's the likely target of other candidates, as Marco Rubio was in New Hampshire, and certainly of the media. Cruz's argument that he can turn out additional conservatives in November has some basis. But he's not a clear general election winner.

Jeb Bush, for whom millions were spent in New Hampshire, gets to fight in South Carolina after finishing just ahead of Rubio. His father and brother won big victories in South Carolina, the latter after losing by 19 points in New Hampshire. But the more serious Jeb's chances, the more he has to battle the polling evidence suggesting he's a sure loser in November.

Marco Rubio admitted that he messed up in the Jan. 30 debate and promised not to do so again. He will have his chance in the Greenville debate Feb. 13, when his nemesis Chris Christie will be missing, and he's done well in debates before. He needs to argue, as George W. Bush did in 2000, that he's a reformer with results and a November winner.

All three of the tied-for-third Republicans face the classic problem of candidates in multi-candidate races. If Candidate A attacks Candidate B, he can hurt B but he also can hurt himself and help Candidates C, D or E. That's what Chris Christie did in New Hampshire, with no benefit to himself.

Bush has already attacked Trump, antagonizing some of his voters, and Cruz and Rubio have tussled over immigration in a way that seemed to hurt both. Kasich has an itch to attack Republican conservatives generally.

The Republicans have good prospects in November. But the results in New Hampshire's Mardi Gras primary show they have a rough ride in the weeks and months ahead.