Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders took to the stage in Manchester at a little after 11 p.m. Eastern on Tuesday to declare victory in the New Hampshire primary. It was the last of the major wrap-up speeches, but the most important had arguably taken place a few hours earlier. Strangely enough, it took place in South Carolina.
Earlier in the day, former Vice President Joe Biden had decamped to the Palmetto State on his campaign jet, and not just because he likes golf. Biden had already admitted in last Friday’s debate that he would “probably take a hit” in the New Hampshire primary. Between Friday and Tuesday, the magnitude of that hit became apparent.
So, on Tuesday afternoon, before a single vote had been counted, Biden bid farewell to the chowder joints and the speeches at tiny prep schools auditoriums with a crust of snow covering the grounds outside. He headed down South, where he will try to convince his large African-American base that the best man to beat President Donald Trump is still a white septuagenarian who worked with real live segregationists on racial issues.
“Look, we got a lot of good friends here in New Hampshire, but this race isn’t over until you — got significant portions of the electorate who haven’t voted yet,” Biden told reporters as he jetted out of the state, according to CNN. “And I’m going to head to South Carolina tonight and I’m going to go to Nevada as I’ve said from the beginning, we gotta look at them all. And I’m feeling good about that, we’ve got a lot of great friends here who have helped us a lot. We’re still mildly hopeful here in New Hampshire. And we’ll see what happens.”
What happened was that he finished fifth.
And so, after a livestream to supporters in New Hampshire that had to be one of the biggest downers one can imagine, Biden took to the stage in Columbia, South Carolina — hundreds of miles away from the New Hampshire primary dumpster conflagration — to address what happened Tuesday night.
“It is important that Iowa and Nevada have spoken,” Biden told the crowd, apparently referring to New Hampshire. “But look, we need to hear from Nevada and South Carolina and Super Tuesday states and beyond.”
“Up till now, we haven’t heard from the most committed constituency in the Democratic Party: the African-American community,” he said, adding that 99.9 percent of black voters and 99.8 percent of Latinos hadn’t yet gone to the polls.
At least Biden still has minority support to cling to after New Hampshire. Sen. Elizabeth Warren, who hails from the neighboring state of Massachusetts, didn’t fare much better than Biden with a fourth-place finish. Warren’s numbers in New Hampshire had been cratering and it was clear she was headed for another loss, but a single-digit performance was even below expectations.
She heads to Nevada and South Carolina without any sort of hedge; she’s No. 3 in the Nevada polling average but well behind Biden and Sanders, and is fourth in South Carolina, where she has little support from the influential black community there.
It must be said that at least Warren gave her speech in the state where the contest took place. However, it was most remarkable for its tepid call for party unity, with Warren reminding everyone she was the positive candidate. (When she’s not talking about wine caves, of course.)
She was also speaking as much about her campaign as she was congratulating an over-performing rival when she uttered this line, which only a speechwriter could love: “I also want to congratulate my friend and colleague Amy Klobuchar for showing just how wrong the pundits can be when they count a woman out.”
Indeed, the night was more notable for its losers than its winners. Unlike Iowa one week ago — where the saga just ended Sunday — the drama wasn’t at the top. Sanders, former South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg and Senator Klobuchar of Minnesota were at the top all night, with their percentage of the vote scarcely budging throughout the night.
The only real story was the over-performance of Klobuchar, who got a surprisingly high 20 percent of the vote on her way to a third-way finish. Given the paucity of other storylines, that’s all everyone seemed to talk about all night, with Gloria Borger on CNN suggesting there may be a bit of “Klo-mentum.” (Please, no.)
If you were expecting some form of excitement at home, New Hampshire instead provided something of the opposite, a political Ambien to guide you to sleep gently. (Side effects can include morning grogginess, Klo-mentum and Tom Steyer.)
So Sanders could revel in an undiluted victory, Buttigieg could brag about getting within spitting distance of Sanders in Vermont’s neighbor and Klobuchar, at least for a night, looked like a top-tier contender.
Instead, the spotlight was on the losers.
Two dropped out. Entrepreneur Andrew Yang was always the most entertaining candidate in the race and had one of the most rabid bases, but he never appeared to expand his appeal beyond that. No one would have taken any bets a year ago that he’d have gotten almost 3 percent in New Hampshire. Nevertheless, his candidacy didn’t have any viability, and he knew it.
“While there is great work yet to be done, you know I am the math guy,” Yang said in his withdrawal speech, according to The Hill. “It is clear tonight from the numbers that we are not going to win this race.”
“I am not someone who wants to accept donations and support in a race we will not win.”
Colorado Sen. Michael Bennet, who was somehow still in this thing, also dropped out. He’d focused on New Hampshire and ended up with less than 1 percent of the vote, which says it all about how little enthusiasm he was capable of generating when he was a sitting U.S. senator looking to pour all of his resources into one state.
The two biggest losers, though, were Biden and Warren.
For Biden, this was the second state where he jetted off before the votes were calculated. In Iowa, this wasn’t hard. In New Hampshire, leaving on Tuesday afternoon felt suspiciously cheap, like the archetypal used car salesman with the car running in back of the sales trailer.
At least he had somewhere to go, though. For Warren, where is that?
She’ll probably win her home state of Massachusetts on Super Tuesday. There’s a win for you.
Nevada could be a point of emphasis for her, but it’s unlikely she’ll win, not with the stench of death hanging about the campaign.
She does have, as The New York Times notes, the biggest campaign staff numbers on the ground in the Super Tuesday states, but her poll numbers there are still trending the same way that they did in Iowa and New Hampshire in the weeks before those contests.
The best alternative for her at this point might be the John Kasich of 2020 — lurking around in the back of the room, hoping for a split convention and ready to offer her name as a more palatable alternative to Sanders, more experienced than Buttigieg and less establishment than Biden.
Whatever the case, this isn’t where Biden and Warren saw themselves after New Hampshire.
In Iowa, both Sanders and Buttigieg could complain that incompetence stole their thunder on caucus night. In New Hampshire, the thunder-stealers may have been the losing candidates. Both Bernie and Mayor Pete had things to brag about, yet all we could talk about were two hemorrhaging candidacies who once looked so strong.
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