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After New Hampshire: Christie Is Out, But Kasich Isn't Yet the Anti-Trump

Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders won Tuesday night, but Republicans still don't have an alternative and Clinton has some wins to come.
Photo by Olivia Becker/VICE News

The second contest of 2016 is over and Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders are still riding high on their first victories this cycle, in New Hampshire. But already candidates are heading out to the next two states in line, Nevada and South Carolina, where we're likely, once again, to see very different winners and losers over the next two weeks.

One candidate will not be joining them. Chris Christie, the no-nonsense governor of New Jersey, announced Wednesday that he is ending his campaign, saying he does so "without an ounce of regret" in an email to supporters.


Christie went into Tuesday night's primary in New Hampshire feeling good about his chances there after a debate win over the weekend. But he will finish in a disappointing sixth place with approximately 7.4 percent of the vote (5 percent of precincts still have not finished counting their votes yet).

"I have both won elections that I was supposed to lose and I've lost elections I was supposed to win and what that means is you never know what will happen," Christie said in the email Wednesday evening. "That is both the magic and the mystery of politics - you never quite know when which is going to happen, even when you think you do."

A disappointed Christie told supporters last night that he and his wife would return New Jersey to consider their next options, rather than continuing on to South Carolina, where he had events scheduled today.

"We bet the ranch on New Hampshire, and no one ever anticipated the Trump phenomenon," a source close to Christie told ABC News.

Indeed, no one did. But expect to see a lot more of him in the next few weeks. Trump leads significantly in both Nevada and South Carolina and could win three races in a row, giving him plenty of momentum going into Super Tuesday on March 1.

This isn't how it was supposed to happen, at least not according to political watchers. The Republican party's so-called "establishment" is terrified of Trump and has long pushed for an alternative. But after the first two contests in 2016, it's still unclear who they will coalesce around, and that means dividing their votes -- and funding -- among a group of possibilities while Trump continues to rack up wins.


Ohio Gov. John Kasich, the "happy warrior" who has waged a positive campaign among piles of negative advertising, took second place in New Hampshire on Tuesday night. Kasich's victory gives him momentum, but the governor put all of his chips there and doesn't yet have the organization in other states that some of his opponents have. His fundraising could see a post-New Hampshire boost, but with the conservative South Carolina primary coming up on Feb. 20, he doesn't have much time to make inroads there, among voters who tend to be very different from New Hampshire's.

Meanwhile, Sen. Marco Rubio, who was supposed to be the party's savior just a week ago, came in fifth place Tuesday night. Rubio's third place finish in Iowa last week gave hope to establishment Republicans that they'd found their Trump antidote, but a disappointing debate performance on Saturday damaged his campaign. He looked, in the past few days, scripted and robotic. Rubio took responsibility for the loss, telling supporters it would never happen again. And he does still has time to recover, and better resources than Kasich to deploy, but the damage may be done.

The results from New Hampshire have not yet been finalized. With 94 percent of precincts reporting, Sen. Ted Cruz is expected to take third over former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, but both candidates are separated by less than 1 percent of the vote. Cruz actually won Iowa, but he isn't liked by the establishment any more than Trump is. In many cases he's an even less popular choice, given his willingness to fight with his own party in the Senate and his holier-than-thou personality.


Bush has plenty of money, particularly in a super PAC supporting him, but even allies and donors have been disappointed with how the Bush team has used those resources. Heading into Iowa, many were already threatening to decamp to another campaign. And after he placed sixth in Iowa, coming in behind Sen. Rand Paul who dropped out the next day, conservative columnist Mona Charen -- and others -- encouraged Bush to give up his campaign and endorse Rubio. His fourth-place finish in New Hampshire has stemmed the tide of those urgings, for now. But it's unclear how a single strong showing would propel his campaign above Kasich's or Rubio's at this point, unless of course he was able to defeat Trump himself.

The remainder of the field, Dr. Ben Carson and Carly Fiorina, each earned less than five percent of the vote.

On the Democratic side, the next few weeks will test whether Sanders' campaign can appeal to non-white voters outside of the Midwest and Northeast.

Hillary Clinton is polling well ahead of Sanders in Nevada and South Carolina, the first two contests this cycle in which the electorate will not be overwhelmingly white. Sanders has struggled to gain inroads with non-white voters, particularly African-Americans. But his campaign is hoping that some recent endorsements from former NAACP chairman Ben Jealous, some members of the Black Lives Matter movement, and others will make black voters give his candidacy a second look.

Clinton wins in Nevada and South Carolina would give her a needed momentum boost, but would not necessarily knock Sanders out of the race on their own.

Following those contests, the candidates will face voters on March 1 in eleven states (twelve for Republicans, including Alaska which won't select a Democrat until later in March) for "Super Tuesday". Clinton's campaign is confident in a strong showing there, particularly with several southern states participating.