The New Hampshire primary is in the books, and has introduced further confusion into an already muddied primary season. Here are a few key takeaways from the Granite State.
Marco Rubio fumbles
Iowa gave Marco Rubio a serious boost in the Republican contest, almost stealing second place from Trump. Supporters heralded ‘Marcomentum’: a surge that would carry the young Senator from Florida onto victories at New Hampshire and South Carolina.
That didn’t happen. After a disastrous debate performance days before the primary, during which Rubio fell foul of a Chris Christie assault, the senator failed to build on his relative success following Iowa. Rubio collapsed, falling to fifth in the state.
Rubio is the youngest contender in the Republican pack, hispanic, and has called for a ‘New American Century’. While supporters argue that he would be a handsome face for a revitalised Republican Party, he has since shifted to more conservatives positions on issues given his current competition.
Rubio’s debate performance may not entirely explain his lacklustre showing in New Hampshire, but it fuels the criticism that he isn’t ready for the big stage. Repeating the same phrase (“Barack Obama knows exactly what he’s doing…”) to Christie’s attack underscored how ill-prepared Rubio is for the main stage, revealing him to be another badly scripted politician according to critics.
Rubio needs to regain his footing in South Carolina if he is to reassume his position as the favoured ‘establishment candidate’.
Kasich scores big at second place
The Ohio Governor John Kasich won a triumphant second place among Republicans in New Hampshire. Kasich had thus far failed to generate much buzz in a crowded Republican field, but his brand of steady, responsible leadership has paid dividends in New Hampshire.
Kasich is probably the most liberal of Republican hopefuls, expanding Medicare coverage under Obamacare in his state of Ohio and arguing that he would be able to find points of collaboration with Democrats in Congress.
He has also managed to avoid much of the Republican mudslinging so far, but given his strong performance in New Hampshire this won’t last for long. Expect Bush and Rubio to set their sights on Kasich in South Carolina, to undermine his attempt to position himself as the most credible ‘anti-Trump’ candidate.
Trump Wins ‘Yuge’, leads the Republican pack
After an underwhelming tally in Iowa, Trump has notched his first win of this primary season.
Trump led in New Hampshire polls for weeks, attracting both registered Republicans and independents, who make up a sizeable portion of New Hampshire’s electorate. His win was emphatic, pulling 35% of votes, almost 20% ahead of second place Trump.
The billionaire is leading polls in South Carolina too. Simply put, if the Republicans cannot decide on a viable alternative before Super Tuesday on March 1st, Trump could conceivably win a swathe of victories before the party establishment has had the chance to rally around one candidate.
Goodbye Chris Christie
He may have taken Marco Rubio down a notch or two, but New Jersey Governor Chris Christie has called his 2016 campaign quits.
Christie is a compelling figure. Courted by Republican party officials in 2012, Christie turned down this initial attempt at the presidency, leaving Romney to launch his failed bid for the Oval Office.
Since 2012 he has suffered scandal in New Jersey and entered a chaotic field in 2016 that was never overly receptive to his boisterous rhetoric. His attempts to pivot his candidacy onto national security following the Paris and San Bernardino attacks lifted his poll numbers briefly, but in a field that contains hawks like Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio and Donald Trump, Christie failed to rise above the crowd.
Winnowing the Republican field makes it more likely to find a true challenger to Trump, and Kasich, Rubio and Bush will fight among themselves to pick up as many Christie supporters as possible.
Sanders sends a message, Hillary has a women problem
The Democratic narrative played out exactly as it was forecast: Sanders won New Hampshire in spectacular fashion, and the Clinton campaign was left reeling.
Bernie Sanders effectively tying Iowa and then winning New Hampshire has sent shivers through the Clinton camp, with reports suggesting that Hillary is unhappy with the direction of the campaign.
Bernie had been polling well in New Hampshire for months, in part because he is Senator for neighbouring Vermont.
But more significantly, Sanders undeniably is able to connect with a disaffected section of the base of the Democratic party while Hillary has so far fundamentally failed to woo young women voters.
However, the former Secretary of State does poll much better with ethnic minorities than Sanders. Commentators predict that the ‘southern firewall’ of racially diverse state will mitigate early losses for the Clinton campaign.
If Bernie Sanders can wrest control of Nevada or South Carolina from Clinton, this logic may break down. Nevada and South Carolina are must-wins for Hillary.
Bush lives, at what cost?
Jeb Bush managed to outshine his young Floridian rival, Rubio, coming in at fourth place in New Hampshire. If Bush had failed to beat Rubio in New Hamsphire, serious doubts would have been cast on his whole operation, and major donors may have fled the dynastic son.
In large part the campaign is propped up by sheer financial mettle. Bush’s campaign and super PAC spent around $36 million on television ads alone for New Hampshire, compared to roughly $600,000 for third place Ted Cruz.
Put another way: Jeb Bush paid 30 times more per vote than Donald Trump.
Jeb’s brother, former president George W., will attempt to give the Jeb campaign a shot in the arm in South Carolina. This, however, may be too little too late. With Kasich and Rubio performing well in New Hampshire and Iowa respectively, Jeb needs to show that he can bring in a victory in South Carolina or Nevada.
What this means heading into Nevada and South Carolina
On February 20th the Democrats have their caucus in Nevada, and the Republicans have their South Carolina primaries. Nevada’s Republican caucus is on February 23rd, and the Democrat’s South Carolina contest culminates on February 27th. Then comes the big day: March 1st, when 11 states go to the polls on both Democratic and Republican sides.
Going into Nevada and South Carolina both competitions are uncertain.
The grouchy underdog Bernie Sanders has mounted a real challenge to the Clinton machine, leaving Hillary desperate to take victories in these next two states. In particular, analysts are eager to see whether Clinton can connect with a higher proportion of women voters, and whether her support among African American communities holds.
Around 44% of Democratic voters are non-white, and Hillary’s relative advantage among these groups could be the panacea to her Bernie-troubles.
For the Republicans, the picture is very troubling.
Trump and Cruz are here to stay, at least through March. Ben Carson’s campaign has little hope of revival, so look for the retired neurosurgeon to pull out relatively soon. The real question is who will emerge from the Kasich-Bush-Rubio fracas.
Kasich and Rubio have each outperformed expectations in New Hampshire and Iowa respectively, but Bush’s financial resources mean the former of Governor of Florida can afford to stick around longer than Chris Christie.
The most dangerous scenario? That Kasich, Rubio and Bush continue attacking one another, leaving Trump to sail to victory in South Carolina and Nevada before Super Tuesday. The latter half of February will be pivotal for politics in 2016.