MANCHESTER, New Hampshire — Sen. Bernie Sanders is officially the Democratic front-runner.
Sanders eked out a narrow victory in New Hampshire Tuesday night, but after a muddled one in Iowa, and recent polling showing him leading the field nationally and in the crucial Super Tuesday state of California, the Vermont Independent has unquestionably claimed the lead spot in the 2020 Democratic presidential primary race.
With 90% of precincts counted, Sanders had 26% of the vote and about a 4,000-vote lead over former South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg who had 24.4% of the vote. Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar finished an unexpectedly strong third with nearly 20% of the vote, reflecting strong enthusiasm among New Hampshire voters for a moderate, young, but still experienced, alternative to take on President Trump.
Shortly before midnight, Sanders claimed victory, hitting the winning themes of his campaign.
“With victories behind us, the popular vote in Iowa and the victory here tonight, we’re going to Nevada, we’re going to South Carolina, and we’re going to win those states as well,” Sanders told his supporters. “We are taking on billionaires and candidates funded by billionaires, but we are going to win because we have the agenda that speaks to working people throughout this country.”
The Granite State ended the campaigns of businessman Andrew Yang and Colorado Sen. Michael Bennet, who hung it up after unsurprisingly dismal showings in the second primary state. But it could also mark the beginning of the end of the campaigns of former Vice President Joe Biden, who finished a remarkable fifth, and Sen. Elizabeth Warren who finished a distant fourth even though she’s a sitting senator in neighboring Massachusetts.
Both vowed to fight on even after they each got under 10% of the vote, not even enough to secure a single national delegate from the state.
Biden told a crowd in South Carolina, where he absconded to long before results even began to be tallied in New Hampshire, that he’d refuse to concede until voters of color, particularly African-Americans, had a chance to vote.
“We just heard from the first two of 50 states. Two of them. Not all the nation — not half the nation … two.”
“It ain’t over man, we’re just getting started,” he said Tuesday night. “We just heard from the first two of 50 states. Two of them. Not all the nation — not half the nation … two. Where I come from, that’s the opening bell.”
Warren, on the other hand, said her campaign is built to last and continued to make the case that she is the only candidate who can unify the moderate and progressive wings of the party.
“The fight between factions in our party has taken a sharp turn in recent weeks,” she said at a primary night party in Manchester. “To beat Donald Trump, we will need a nominee that the broadest coalition of our party feels that they can get behind.”
Both may have some reason to stick with it. Sanders carried New Hampshire, but not strongly enough to quiet questions about whether he can grow his coalition from 2016. Buttigieg came in close behind Sanders but failed to show he can claim the mantle of the moderate alternative to Sanders.
Arguably, the only person who should feel unequivocally pleased about the results is Klobuchar, who came from relatively nowhere to claim a close third place after a breakout debate performance and rallies across the state that impressed voters.
“Hello, America. I’m Amy Klobuchar, and I will beat Donald Trump,” she told supporters at a post-election rally in Concord. “My heart is full tonight. While there are still ballots left to count, we have beaten the odds every step of the way.”
Krishna Mangipudi, 60, a high school teacher in Nashua, N.H., said after a Klobuchar rally there on Sunday that he sees the senator as a middle-ground moderate candidate for people who think Biden may be too old and Buttigieg too inexperienced.
“Biden has, I believe, wonderful ideas, he's a well-qualified person, but I believe that his time has come and gone. I think there needs to be a change of guard,” he said. “If you start talking about Buttigieg, he's 38, he needs a little more experience.”
Of course, the feeling at Sanders’ victory party on the campus of Southern New Hampshire University was unreservedly jubilant, with the crowd at times cheering so loudly that Sanders couldn’t be heard in the room.
“The story out of tonight will be Sanders wins and Klobuchar surprises,” said Rep. Ro Khanna, national co-chairman of the Sanders campaign. “And it's up in the air. There is going to be a moderate alternative to Bernie. Whether that's Klobuchar or whether that's Biden, Bloomberg, whether that's Mayor Pete, I think no one knows.”
Sanders will have to take that enthusiasm out West to Nevada later this month, where forces are already mobilizing against Sanders’ brand of democratic socialism. The influential Culinary Union in Las Vegas began blitzing its membership with leaflets and other communications warning Sanders would end their union health care.