New Hampshire Primary Requires Candidates to Recalibrate

Bernie Sanders Riding High Into New Hampshire
  • Trump and Sanders have chance for revenge after Iowa losses
  • `The best eight days in American politics' an aficionado says

Hours after the last voters walked out of Iowa’s caucuses, the focus of the reshaped 2016 U.S. presidential race shifted to New Hampshire, where Hillary Clinton tried to put the best face on her slender victory over Bernie Sanders and the gaggle of Republican also-rans trained their sights on the three leaders of their race.

After a shattering loss in Iowa eight years ago, Clinton arrived in New Hampshire Tuesday declaring herself satisfied with Monday’s result, even if her advantage was only a fraction of a percentage point.

“I’ve won and I’ve lost there and it’s a lot better to win,” Clinton told a community college audience in Nashua. 

Sanders, addressing a crowd of several dozen supporters in the parking lot of a Chinese restaurant in Bow, New Hampshire, claimed a moral victory.

“We just got in from Iowa, where we astounded the world, and now in New Hampshire we’re going to astound the world again,” Sanders said from the bed of a white Dodge Ram pickup truck.

For the eight Republicans who were distant runners-up in Iowa to firebrand Texas Senator Ted Cruz, billionaire Donald Trump, and Florida Senator Marco Rubio, the target was clear.

Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush, who finished sixth in Iowa with 2.8 percent of the Republican vote, took on all three while addressing a crowd in Rindge, New Hampshire.

“Is there something you can look back on and say -- whether it’s their business career or their political career -- that they actually did something that might be against their own ambition in order to achieve a public good?” Bush asked rhetorically.

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, who won 2 percent support in Iowa, said Tuesday at his Bedford, New Hampshire, headquarters that Rubio had been sheltered from reporters’ questions -- the “boy in the bubble.”

“This isn’t a student council election; this is an election for president of the United States,” Christie told reporters.

Monday’s results in Iowa, which were kind to outsiders who have challenged parties’ settled assumptions, set fresh challenges before the candidates before the Feb. 9 New Hampshire primary.

Clinton, the former secretary of state, is trying to portray herself as the candidate most likely to win in November and to persuade the 41 percent of Democrats in the state who were undecided in a recent University of New Hampshire poll. In the meantime, Sanders, who comes from neighboring Vermont, leads the polls in the state with his pitch of democratic socialism.

Cruz, a senator from Texas who defied polls to win Monday with massive evangelical turnout, now confronts a more secular electorate. Trump, a billionaire reality-show star whose brand is based on the idea of winning, has a chance to overcome his runner-up finish in Iowa, while Rubio, whose third-place finish may position him as the best alternative to the outsiders, hopes for another strong showing in New Hampshire to consolidate support of those who seek a more traditional candidate.

Trump swiftly began damage control on Twitter, his primary mode of communication:

“The media has not covered my long-shot great finish in Iowa fairly. Brought in record voters and got second highest vote total in history!”

New Hampshire’s first-in-the-nation primary often contradicts the preferences of Iowans. For many candidates, the sprint will include three or four events daily in school gymnasiums, town halls or VFW posts, each of which might feature an hour of question-and-answer with the ever-present risk of a hostile public.

“The best eight days in American politics,” said Tom Rath, the state’s former attorney general and an adviser to Ohio Governor John Kasich, a Republican candidate whose hopes are so tightly pinned to the state that he didn’t even leave for the Iowa caucuses.

Robo-calls, mailers, yard signs, and radio and television ads have been facts of life for months in New Hampshire. Now, the candidates themselves are descending on the Granite State.

“You’ll be just going about your day and -- boom! -- there will be a presidential candidate right there in front of you,” said Tara Bishop, a freelance marketing consultant from Manchester.

Before Tuesday’s rush of campaign staff and reporters, parking spots were easy to find in downtown Manchester. At Campo Enoteca, an Italian restaurant on Elm Street, owner Edward Aloise said Monday would be the last quiet lunch hour he’ll see in a week.

“The circus doesn’t really start until tomorrow afternoon,” he said. “Then, look out.”

Moe’s Italian Sandwiches, also on Elm, is doubling its staff and extending workers’ hours to serve the staffers arriving to join those stuffed into volunteers’ homes for months, as well as hundreds of journalists from all over the world.

“It’s not disruptive,” said Lan Ciesluk, a retired business manager in Merrimack. “It’s entertaining, if anything.”

Economically Robust

Like Iowa, New Hampshire is economically robust, weathering the post-recession era better than many states. Its seasonally adjusted jobless rate in December was 3.1 percent, the fourth-lowest in the U.S.

The mountainous state is wealthier and whiter than the U.S. as a whole. According to the Census Bureau, 94 percent of its 1.3 million people are white, compared with 77.4 percent nationally. The median household income of $64,916 is 22 percent above the national figure.

The state isn’t immune from the 2016 fervor for outsiders. Trump leads by more than 20 points on RealClearPolitics, the poll-aggregating site. On the Democratic side, Sanders leads by 18 points according to the site, suggesting voters may be poised to hand him an unusual win for a non-moderate.

The state, whose motto is “Live Free or Die,” listens to candidates’ stances on national and international issues, but voters often say personalities matter, too. John McCain, the Arizona senator who was the Republican nominee in 2008, won the state twice through incessant touring on a bus. His stripped-down campaign proved that candidates can generate big momentum by impressing voters even if they can’t boast strong fundraising.

New Hampshirites relish and dread in almost equal measure the attention that such a competitive race brings.

“The day after the primary everything will be gone,” said Ciesluk. “No more phone calls. No more events. It’ll just be winter.”

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