THE SUN didn’t rise in the west on Tuesday, primary day in New Hampshire, but by the end of the day, the long-established order in the Democratic solar system had been challenged, and maybe turned upside down.
Bernie Sanders, the passionately populist, iconoclastic independent Vermont senator, won the Democratic New Hampshire Primary on Tuesday, defeating challenger, former secretary of state Hillary Clinton. That much was expected to happen. It was even comfortably predicted that Sanders would win by double digits. That’s where the dovetail of expectation and reality breaks down.
What probably wasn’t expected was the breadth of Sanders’ win — an emphatic 22-point spread between Sanders and Clinton (60 percent to 38 percent, with all precincts reporting).
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What definitely wasn’t expected, in fact what couldn’t be known until exit polling told us, was the way Sanders won. According to an NBC News exit poll and reporting on MSNBC, the Vermont senator achieved victory with a majority of voters under 30, with independent voters, with avowed liberals, with gun owners — gun owners! — and ... with women.
MSNBC’s Maureen Michaels reported. “[H]e took 88 percent of the vote among those who wanted the next president to be from outside political establishment. Sanders also won 70 percent of those who are unhappy with the way the federal government is working.”
You can build a coalition around that, folks, a demographically diverse, electorally meaningful coalition spanning age, gender, race and even trip-wires like firearm possession. If the results of the New Hampshire Primary tell us anything, if they’re in any way a distillation of the national mood (and that remains to be seen), it says that most if not all bets may be off for the presidential election of 2016.
What they should tell Hillary Clinton amount to the loudest wake-up call of her political career.
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Numerous Sanders supporters flatly stated that they would under no circumstances back Clinton, citing the criticisms of her that Sanders brings up on the stump every day.
Ashley Bays of Quincy, Massachusetts, who came to New Hampshire to volunteer for Sanders, said she would “absolutely not” back Clinton, ever.
“Hillary is obviously not thinking about the best interests of the people,” she continued. “She’s thinking about the corporations that fund her, Goldman Sachs.”
Peggie Greenough, a New Hampshire voter who came to the party along with her husband and three sons, said she wouldn’t vote for Clinton if she’s the nominee.
“I don’t trust her,” she said. “I don’t trust her at all.”
Marilyn DeLuca, of Londonderry, New Hampshire, also said Sanders is “the only candidate out there” with integrity. And she wasn’t exactly enthralled by Madeleine Albright and Gloria Steinem’s goofy arguments that women are obligated to back Clinton.
“They’re irrelevant,” DeLuca said. “Their time has come and gone.”
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THIS IS PROBLEMATIC for Clinton in ways that go beyond the pure numbers. The history that is her putative strong suit worked against her on Tuesday. She won the New Hampshire Primary in 2008, beating then-unknown Barack Obama. And Bill Clinton won the state in 1992 on his way to the presidency. So Hillary wasn’t an unknown quantity to the people of the Granite State. That previous time in New Hampshire, that long tail of goodwill should have helped her this time, but that never happened. At least not enough.
If Clinton has any hope in the days and weeks to come, the South Carolina Primary on Feb. 27 could be a first step back to the light. Hillary can take some solace in Tuesday’s results: New Hampshire is a demographic outlier compared with much of the rest of the country; it’s more liberal, less moderate and screamingly more white than South Carolina. Clinton’s enduring relationship with older black voters, independents and Rock-Ribbed Democrats might be just what she needs to win.
But there’s always the risk that history repeats: Clinton lost South Carolina to Obama in 2008.
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Presumably mending that fence, he sat earlier today at Sylvia’s, a Harlem restaurant institution, talking with Rev. Al Sharpton about a range of topics — a sound tactical move, considering Sanders’ next contests: the Nevada caucuses on Feb. 20 and the South Carolina Primary on Feb. 27.
But one thing at a time. On Tuesday night after his Granite State win, Sanders said that, for all its apostate, outsider appearance, his presidential campaign “is about having the courage to reject the status quo.” By the end of the month, we’ll know whether the electorate elsewhere in the country believes that’s transferable. So will Hillary Clinton.
Image credits: Sanders top: Reuters/Rick Wilking. Clinton: Reuters/Faith Ninavaggi. Sharpton and Sanders: Andrew Renneisen/Getty Images.