New Hampshire: Populist Uprising

Robert Borosage

“We have sent a message that will resound from Wall Street to Washington,“ presidential candidate Bernie Sanders exulted last night, after drubbing Hillary Clinton in the New Hampshire primary.

On the Republican side, Donald Trump won convincingly as predicted.

The revolt against the establishment of both parties was inescapable. Endorsements of party officials meant nothing. Trotting out 90-year-old Barbara Bush or the Big Dog, Bill Clinton, didn’t matter. Voters were sensible. Empty suits like Marco Rubio were punished with a fifth place showing. Chris Christie, Carly Fiorina and Ben Carson were retired. And their message was clear: they are sick and tired of being sick and tired. It is time for change.

The Sanders Victory

The scope of Sanders victory took virtually all observers by surprise. He trounced Clinton by more than 20 percentage points. He won every age, except the elderly; every income group except the affluent (over $200,000). He won blue-collar voters. He won those without a college education (67-31) and those with one (56-43). He won the very liberal, the liberal, the moderate and the independent. He carried large cities, suburbs, small towns and rural areas. Fifty-five percent of women voters reserved a berth in Madeline Albright’s “special place in hell” by casting their vote with Sanders. As he had in Iowa, Sanders once more won young voters (18-29) by a staggering margin (83 percent to 16 percent.) Think about that: 83 to 16.

He won on the issues. Two-thirds of Democratic voters wanted to replace our health care system with a single payer system. Sanders won their votes 70 percent to 29 percent. Eighty percent of the voters are worried about the economy. Sanders won two-thirds of their votes. Clinton won a majority of those who were not too worried. Sanders won big among those for whom inequality was the major issue (70-29) and for whom the economy and jobs was the major issue (59-38). Clinton won a small margin (49-47) on those for whom terrorism mattered most.

This is a stunning victory. Writing it off because Sanders comes from a neighboring state won’t work. John Kerry beat Howard Dean, the former governor of Vermont, here in 2004. And New Hampshire has a long and special history with the Clintons, one they invoked frequently over the last days. It saved Bill Clinton’s candidacy in 1992 in the wake of the Jennifer Flowers revelations. It gave Hillary Clinton a stunning upset victory over Barack Obama in 2008, keeping her candidacy alive. If anything, New Hampshire is home base for the Clintons.

Clinton’s Electability Problem

Clinton won a majority those voters for whom electability was a major concern. But New Hampshire raises significant questions about Clinton’s electability. Even Democratic voters have doubts about her honesty and trustworthiness. Among voters who cared most about honesty and trust, Sanders led Clinton by 91 to 5. She has a real problem with young voters, whose enthusiasm and turnout are utterly essential to the majority Democratic coalition in the fall. She has made herself the candidate of continuity in a time when people are desperate for change. She’s become the defender of the Obama economy even while most Americans still haven’t felt the recovery. In debates with Sanders, she’s increasingly sounded the theme of “No, You Can’t,” not exactly a ringing call to arms.

Democrats are generally worried about whether a 73-year-old Jewish Democratic Socialist from Vermont is electable. Now they better begin worrying about whether Clinton, if nominated, can mobilize the Obama coalition.

The Next Stage

Now the campaign heads to Nevada and South Carolina, and then busts out into Super Tuesday. Name recognition means more as campaigning turns from retail to wholesale, from coffee shops to tarmacs. Gatekeepers count for more when candidates don’t have time to introduce themselves. Money means more when ads replace time for personal contact.

For Sanders, the challenge is clear. Can he introduce himself to African-American and Latino voters, whose support is essential in both the nomination and general election battles? Clinton has name recognition and endorsements by virtually every gatekeeper. Whether her current margins hold remains to be seen. Sanders may well have the resources to compete, as his small donor base gets ever larger and more excited. And clearly his message will have resonance if it gets heard. Sanders won blue-collar and low-income voters in New Hampshire. Now we will see if he builds that same coalition among African-Americans and Latinos.

For Clinton, a reset is needed. Rumors have already started about staffing changes. The campaign is tempted to roll out its opposition research operation and go negative on Sanders. David Brock, head of one of Hillary’s Super PACs, has already promised as much in the press. Sidney Blumenthal and Lanny Davis won’t be far behind. Bill Clinton has already done one of his destructive South Carolina eruptions.

Going negative is likely to be counterproductive. It will only reinforce the sense that Clinton is part of an old politics that people can’t stomach.

What Clinton needs is a clear, ringing statement of where she wants to take the country, how she wants to mobilize support to make the long overdue changes we need, how she is ready to join with the great majority and take on the special interests, big money and right-wing zealots standing in the way. Her tendency to argue that “I know how to do this,” that she can negotiate to find “slivers” of common ground with Republicans isn’t the answer. Americans don’t think the answer lies in the back rooms, in the old politics. They are looking for change. Hillary Clinton’s challenge isn’t to beat up Bernie Sanders. It is to make herself the agent of that change.

In the first primary, New Hampshire voters have punctuated what we already knew. This is a populist moment. People get that the economy is rigged, that our politics is corrupted. And they are looking for those who are ready to fight for them to take that on.

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