Bernie Sanders Scores Narrow Victory in New Hampshire Primary
MANCHESTER, N.H. — Senator Bernie Sanders narrowly won the New Hampshire primary on Tuesday, consolidating support on the left and fending off a late charge by two moderate rivals to claim his second strong showing in two weeks and establish himself as a formidable contender for the Democratic nomination.
Mr. Sanders had about 26 percent of the vote with 90 percent of the ballots counted, while former Mayor Pete Buttigieg of South Bend, Ind., was a close second. Mr. Buttigieg split the centrist vote with Senator Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, who surged in New Hampshire to finish in third.
Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, Mr. Sanders’s progressive rival, finished a distant fourth in her neighboring state, and in a stinging blow to his candidacy, former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. finished fifth.
The results raised immediate questions about how much longer Mr. Biden and Ms. Warren, onetime front-runners, could afford to continue their campaigns. Both had already cut back their advertising because of financial strain.
Mr. Sanders’s victory leveraged his own reliable strengths as a liberal champion against a moment of turmoil in the party’s more moderate wing: With Mr. Biden tumbling and Mr. Buttigieg and Ms. Klobuchar striving to take his place, Mr. Sanders’s grip on progressives carried him to the top of the field in both Iowa and New Hampshire.
But in both states he captured less than 30 percent of the vote, and his vote share was the lowest total ever for a winner in the primary here. Coupled with the abrupt rise of Mr. Buttigieg and Ms. Klobuchar, his modest success only underscored the churning uncertainty of the race and raised the prospect of a drawn-out nominating process that could last through the spring.
“This victory here is the beginning of the end for Donald Trump,” Mr. Sanders told jubilant supporters in Manchester, N.H., claiming “a great victory” even before the final results were in. And looking toward Nevada and South Carolina, the next two states to vote, he vowed he would “win those states, as well.”
The rise of Mr. Sanders, a democratic socialist from Vermont who remains a political independent, has distressed many centrists and traditional liberals at a time when Democratic voters are united by a ravenous desire to defeat President Trump.
Mr. Trump’s impeachment acquittal, the chaotic vote-counting in Iowa and the fractured Democratic field have many in the party worried that they are endangering their opportunity to win back the White House.
Yet for Mr. Sanders, 78, winning here and cementing his status as a front-runner represented a moment of redemption just four months after he had a heart attack that threatened his candidacy, and four years after he lost the Democratic nomination after a long and often bitter primary race.
While he has not demonstrated a capacity to appeal much beyond his left-wing base, Mr. Sanders is benefiting from something he lacked in 2016: a field of opponents who are dividing moderate voters. The centrist candidates, so far, have been unable to consolidate support.
Mr. Buttigieg and Ms. Klobuchar asserted themselves on Tuesday, and their rivalry may only intensify; Mr. Biden is fading but staying in the race; and the self-funding Michael R. Bloomberg, the former mayor of New York City, is gaining strength in advance of the Super Tuesday contests next month.
As he did in Iowa, Mr. Buttigieg, 38, gave a triumphant speech Tuesday that cast himself as a victor, though Mr. Sanders was still ahead by about 4,000 votes when Mr. Buttigieg took the stage.
He used the moment to claim vindication from the most persistent attack leveled against him over the past week, chiefly by Mr. Biden and Ms. Klobuchar: that he lacked the résumé to be president.
New Hampshire voters, Mr. Buttigieg said, had concluded that “a middle-class mayor and a veteran from the industrial Midwest was the right choice to take on this president, not in spite of that experience, but because of it.”
Mr. Buttigieg was the leader among moderate and conservative voters on Tuesday and, without naming Mr. Sanders, he urged voters to reject a political approach that demanded revolution or nothing.
Mr. Buttigieg also subtly underscored the generational gulf between him and Mr. Sanders, which could become a major theme of their rivalry. “I admired Mr. Sanders when I was a high school student,” Mr. Buttigieg said. “I respect him greatly to this day.”
Helping Mr. Sanders just as much as the fragmentation of the moderate vote is the decline of Ms. Warren, whose setback in New Hampshire may allow Mr. Sanders to further coalesce the party’s left-wing voters.
Taking the stage before even half the votes were counted, but with her dismal finish apparent, Ms. Warren sought to cast herself as a candidate who could unify the party’s factions and warned against a “long bitter rehash” of the center-vs.-left tensions that plagued Democrats in 2016.
“Harsh tactics might work if you’re willing to burn down the party, in order to be the last man standing,” she said.
The night was even more damaging to Mr. Biden, who was already reeling from his fourth-place finish in Iowa. Anticipating a poor showing, Mr. Biden left New Hampshire on Tuesday and headed to South Carolina, a state he hopes can salvage his candidacy.
Trying to change the subject as Ms. Warren did, Mr. Biden appeared at a rally in Columbia, S.C., replete with a gospel choir, and sought to contrast the heavily white electorates in Iowa and New Hampshire with those of the more diverse Nevada and South Carolina, the next states to vote.
“We haven’t heard from the most committed constituency of the Democratic Party, the African-American community, and the fastest-growing segment of society, the Latino community,” he said.
But there are signs that some black voters are exploring other options, most of all Mr. Bloomberg and Tom Steyer, another self-funding billionaire who has focused much of his effort on South Carolina.
Mr. Sanders got a lift in New Hampshire from an electorate that, like Iowa’s, is fractured along ideological and generational lines. He was the overwhelming favorite of younger and more progressive Democrats, while his rivals divided older and more moderate voters.
Mr. Buttigieg and Ms. Klobuchar still roared into contention here thanks to a late migration of voters who said they had just made up their minds.
Mr. Buttigieg benefited from his virtual tie with Mr. Sanders in Iowa last week and steadily gained support as Mr. Biden declined in the week leading up to the primary here.
Ms. Klobuchar’s surge was even more sudden. After a lackluster finish in Iowa, the third-term Minnesota senator harnessed a standout debate performance on Friday to gain momentum and emerge as the unexpected story of New Hampshire, a state famous for springing electoral surprises.
Addressing supporters in Concord, N.H., long before the race was called, Ms. Klobuchar opened with a salutation that nodded to her relatively unknown status with most voters: “Hello, America,” she said. “I’m Amy Klobuchar, and I will beat Donald Trump.”
And she seized the moment to make the case for her own electability that doubled as a plea for political moderation. “Donald Trump’s worst nightmare,” Ms. Klobuchar said, “is that the people in the middle, the people that have had enough of the name-calling and the mudslinging, have someone to vote for in November.”
As the race moves forward, Mr. Sanders has another factor weighing heavily in his favor: money. Besides Mr. Steyer, Mr. Sanders is the only candidate who has raised enough cash to finance a robust advertising and get-out-the-vote effort in Nevada and South Carolina, which vote this month, as well as in the 15 states and territories that all vote on March 3.
His campaign raised $25 million in January, and even before polls closed on Tuesday said it had already received 600,000 contributions in the first nine days of February.
In a number of the important March primary states, including California, early and mail-in voting will have been underway for weeks by the time Super Tuesday arrives, potentially giving a head start to any candidate who is ahead of the pack in the middle of February and disadvantaging those Democrats counting on a late-breaking shift in their direction.
As promising as this moment may appear, Mr. Sanders still faces daunting obstacles. Most notably, he has not yet demonstrated an ability to build a broader coalition beyond his loyal faction of progressives.
His 26 percent of the vote in New Hampshire was less than half of what he drew here in 2016, and he received only slightly more than a quarter of the vote in Iowa. Even if his center-left opponents continue to split voters, they may still deny him the delegate majority he needs to claim the nomination because Democrats do not have winner-take-all contests.
Each of Mr. Sanders’s top New Hampshire rivals insisted on Tuesday that they were forging ahead.
But the Nevada caucuses, which take place a week from Saturday, could winnow Mr. Sanders’s opposition.
Mr. Biden had been his most formidable opponent in Nevada, at least according to polls taken before Iowa and New Hampshire. But with 10 days before Nevada votes, Mr. Buttigieg and Ms. Klobuchar may prove stronger than Mr. Biden after their success in New Hampshire.
For both of them, Nevada represents the first test of their abilities to build support from racial minorities, something they did not have to do in the first two states, which have heavily white electorates. Both candidates scrambled to start airing broadcast television ads in Nevada this week.
A more significant challenge for Mr. Sanders may await on Super Tuesday, which takes place just three days after South Carolina’s primary on Feb. 29: Mr. Bloomberg, who did not compete in the first nominating states, has used his wealth to saturate the states voting that day with more than $300 million on advertising and organizing.
Polls show the former New York mayor rising nationally and also in some of the Super Tuesday contests, in part because no one besides him, Mr. Sanders and Mr. Steyer has been able to buy commercials in those states.
The central question for Democrats on the center-left is whether Mr. Biden can regain traction in the race or whether his support is likely to crumble after another poor showing in New Hampshire — and, after falling short again, whether any of the remaining moderates can sweep up the bulk of those votes.
Within the progressive wing of the party, the shape of the race seems clearer. Mr. Sanders is widely seen as having a good chance to win the Nevada caucuses, and the strength and enthusiasm of his national following may give him an upper hand on Super Tuesday over a diffuse field of rivals on the center-left.
Yet there are deep doubts across much of the party about his ability to win the general election. It is unclear whether he will be able to ease those concerns in time to take control of the race during the big-state primaries in March. For him to do that, Mr. Sanders would have to more fully sideline Ms. Warren, who still has a sizable bloc of support on the national level, and do more to chip away at moderate resistance to his candidacy.
Stephanie Saul contributed reporting from Columbia, S.C.