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What To Take Away From The New Hampshire Primary


A week ago at this time, we were wondering who had actually won the Iowa caucuses. Today we can definitively say which candidate was the winner in New Hampshire - Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders. Former South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg was a close second.


That may sound like the result from the Iowa caucuses, but there were some surprises. Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar finished third, Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren fourth and former Vice President Joe Biden, who left New Hampshire before the voting ended, came in fifth.

Let's take a moment now to talk about what this means and what to expect next. And to do that, we're joined by NPR senior political editor Domenico Montanaro. Welcome back.


CORNISH: Let's start with the victor of the night, Bernie Sanders, capturing about 26% of the votes, roughly the same as in Iowa. What have you learned from that?

MONTANARO: Well, you wouldn't say there's a front-runner in this race, but if you're Bernie Sanders, you got to feel pretty good. I mean, he's certainly got the advantage right now over the field because the center-left of the party hasn't coalesced around anyone. You know, he's taking the very liberal lane all to himself, especially considering, as you noted up there, Warren falling to a disappointing fourth place. She finished with less than 10% of the vote, and she's a neighboring senator.

Still, overall, I have to say 26% - not great - you know, certainly not enough to win the nomination at that rate. He has to show he now can expand beyond his base of voters who are under 30 and people who consider themselves very liberal.

CORNISH: We've been hearing on the program about Democratic voters torn between these moderates, Pete Buttigieg and Amy Klobuchar. Is that what you see in their second- and third-place finishes?

MONTANARO: Well, I mean, Buttigieg and Klobuchar are facing critical tests now coming up in Nevada and South Carolina. They haven't demonstrated that they have wide appeal with voters of color at all, and those states are much more diverse electorates. In 2016, Nevada was more than 40% nonwhite, and 61% of South Carolina Democratic voters in the primary were African American.

But look. It's not just Buttigieg and Klobuchar that the moderates or pragmatic voters in this race are torn between. I mean, add into that mix Biden, Tom Steyer, who is also competing very heavily in South Carolina, and, you know, Mike Bloomberg, the former New York mayor who's sitting out there with his hundreds of millions of dollars on ads that he's spent. And he's about to become a very real factor in this race over the next few weeks - on March 3, the Super Tuesday states, which hold about a third of the delegates overall in this race.

CORNISH: Now, correct me if I'm wrong. Nevada and their caucuses are next, and yet we heard last night former Vice President Joe Biden in South Carolina making his case to voters of color. Here he is.


JOE BIDEN: You can't be the Democratic nominee and you can't win a general election as a Democrat unless you have overwhelming support from black and brown voters. It's just really simple. No. It's a natural fact. It's true.

CORNISH: Help us understand why he's staking his claim there.

MONTANARO: Howard Dean, the former Vermont governor and former Democratic National Committee chairman, said on our - air last night during our live coverage that South Carolina is Biden's Waterloo and that if he doesn't do well there, it's over. And I think that's a hundred percent accurate. The theory of the case for Biden has been shredded in half already. He said he could win white working-class voters. He hasn't. And his last hope is saying that he can win black voters. If he doesn't do that, he has no path to continue.

CORNISH: Turnout overall - how did it compare in New Hampshire?

MONTANARO: Yeah. Look. Democrats rebounded and set a turnout record last night in New Hampshire. More than 295,000 people cast ballots, higher than 2008, good sign for the party - wants to show it's fired up and ready to go, to borrow a phrase against Trump. But I have a feeling we're going to have a whole lot more data points as this delegate race continues.

CORNISH: That's NPR senior political editor Domenico Montanaro. Thanks so much.

MONTANARO: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Domenico Montanaro
Domenico Montanaro is NPR's senior political editor/correspondent. Based in Washington, D.C., his work appears on air and online delivering analysis of the political climate in Washington and campaigns. He also helps edit political coverage.