How Trump, Sanders victories have scrambled 2016 race

A powerful populist wave in the New Hampshire primary leaves both parties gasping, as distrust of the 'establishment' unites voters of many stripes. 

Richard Drew/AP
Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders (c.) and his wife, Jane O'Meara Sanders (r.) arrive with the Rev. Al Sharpton (l.) for a breakfast meeting at Sylvia's Restaurant, in Harlem Feb. 10. Sanders handily defeated former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Tuesday in the New Hampshire primary.

A powerful populist wave carried Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump to victory in New Hampshire, signaling a rejection of both the Democratic and Republican establishments and ensuring a pitched battle in coming weeks for each party’s presidential nomination.

Senator Sanders’s victory over former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in the Democratic primary was expected, but the 22-point margin – 60 percent to 38 percent – was eye-popping. Sanders beat Mrs. Clinton handily on honesty and empathy, crushed her among young voters, and came out ahead with women, according to the exit polls.

Mr. Trump’s victory in a fractured GOP field – beating second-place finisher John Kasich by 19 percentage points – vindicated the raison d’etre of the billionaire’s campaign, that he’s a winner. After losing in last week’s Iowa caucuses to Ted Cruz, Trump had to win New Hampshire, and he did. His appeal as a rebel carried the day. Half of Republican voters said they preferred an outsider over a candidate with political experience, and among those voters, 61 percent voted for Trump, according to ABC News.

Sanders, a self-described democratic socialist, and Trump, a billionaire reality TV star, are improbable standard-bearers in the 2016 battle for voters’ hearts and minds. But the common sentiment that coursed through New Hampshire on Tuesday was real.

“I think Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump are much closer together on the great circle of American politics than anyone would acknowledge,” says Andrew Card, former chief of staff to President George W. Bush. “They’re both addressing the frustration that rests in so many voters.”

Overwhelming majorities – 93 percent – of both parties’ electorates Tuesday expressed concern about the direction of the nation’s economy. When presented with lists of issues by exit pollsters, about one-third of both parties’ voters picked the economy and jobs as the top issue. From there, the priorities differed. Republicans’ second biggest concern was government spending, followed by terrorism and immigration. Among Democrats, income inequality ranked second, followed by health care and terrorism. But strong distrust of party "establishments" unites adherents of both parties. 

Now the nomination races move south and west, with contests in South Carolina and Nevada on Feb. 20 and 27, followed by the 11 Super Tuesday states on March 1.

Every candidate faces questions going forward, including those who won on Tuesday:

Can Trump trump the other major antiestablishment candidate in the GOP field, Senator Cruz of Texas?

Trump won New Hampshire convincingly on Tuesday, winning 35 percent of the vote against seven other major Republican candidates. But Cruz also performed well, coming in third with almost 12 percent in a state that was not a natural fit for him.

Cruz succeeded in Iowa with a strong pitch to Evangelicals, who dominate the Republican electorate there. In the more secular, moderate New Hampshire, he did an excellent job of finding and turning out “his” voters – the religious and the strongly conservative. Cruz has money and a strong organization, and that should stand him in good stead heading into the Southern contests.

Together, Trump and Cruz took 47 percent of the Republican vote in New Hampshire. That’s a big victory for the “outsiders.” As it appears now, the question is whether the GOP race boils down to Trump vs. Cruz or Trump vs. Cruz vs. one of the establishment-backed GOP candidates.

Can Governor Kasich of Ohio convert his strong New Hampshire showing into a national campaign?

Kasich played a textbook game in the Granite State. He essentially took up residence, and followed the classic New Hampshire playbook, meeting with voters where they are, in school auditoriums, places of work, and coffee shops. In all, he held 106 town halls.

Strong backing from the state’s establishment Republicans, a pile of newspaper endorsements, and his record as a two-term governor of Ohio, and a message of “compassionate conservatism” helped Kasich to second place, with 16 percent of the vote. So he lives to fight another day.

But can he scale up that success for the crush of contests ahead? And how will his message of moderation on immigration and education play in the more conservative states, such as South Carolina?

Can Marco Rubio be saved?

After a strong third-place finish in Iowa, Senator Rubio of Florida underperformed in New Hampshire, coming in fifth with only 10.5 percent of the vote. Normally, a fifth place finish in the Granite State would spell the end. But Rubio has money and big establishment Republican backing.

Voters cited his poor performance in last Saturday’s Republican debate as a reason to question his candidacy. Rubio was caught robotically repeating the same lines several times, opening the door to a devastating attack by Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey. Governor Christie also did poorly in New Hampshire (sixth place, 7.4 percent), and looked poised to drop out on Tuesday. He may be best remembered for puncturing the “rising star” narrative around the youngest candidate in the GOP field.

But Rubio will continue. His task now is to show that he can move off pre-scripted sound bites and demonstrate that he has the depth voters are looking for to be president.

Can Clinton be saved?

New Hampshire has long treated the Clintons well. For her husband, Bill Clinton, a strong second place showing in the 1992 primary turned him into “the comeback kid,” and set him on a path to the Democratic nomination and the presidency. In 2008, Hillary Clinton scored an upset victory in New Hampshire, keeping her campaign alive against Barack Obama.

Her crushing loss to Sanders on Tuesday can’t only be attributed to his “home field advantage,” as a senator from neighboring Vermont. Democratic voters’ concerns about her honesty and integrity came through loud and clear in the New Hampshire exit polls. The story line about highly paid speeches on Wall Street, her use of a private e-mail server as secretary of State, and shifting policy views over the years will be hard to overcome.

Clinton’s ties to minority communities may save her as the race moves into more-diverse states. But talk of a campaign shakeup and a need to retool her “message” shows how deep the concerns are in pro-Clinton circles. The prospect of a Democratic nominee who espouses democratic socialist views is, to many party regulars, beyond the pale. Already, some are reviving the idea that perhaps it’s not too late for Vice President Joe Biden to get into the race.

And it’s no accident that former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg acknowledged Monday that he’s considering an independent presidential bid. If Mr. Bloomberg were to run, analysts say he would likely take more votes away from the Democratic nominee than the Republican.

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