How Bernie Sanders' Major NH Victory Has Upset the Dem Party's Nomination Battlefield
The most unpredictable presidential campaign in years jumped into a new orbit on Wednesday as the candidates who gained and lost credibility in the New Hampshire primary jockeyed for position amid new attacks from their rivals as the heated contest heads next to South Carolina and Nevada.
“Here comes the kitchen sink,” was how Bernie Sanders put it in a morning fundraising e-mail to supporters after trouncing Hillary Clinton by 21 points. By mid-afternoon, it was not the kitchen sink but buckets of money—$7 million in one day—that more than 150,000 supporters had thrown at him, his campaign announced. That insulated Sanders from what had begun on primary night: Clinton’s allies slamming him in the national media for inexperience, a lousy legislative record, too few endorsements from Democrats in Congress, and being too much of a “single-issue” candidate, as Rep. Ann McLane Kuster, D-NH, told NPR.
While Sanders began Wednesday by meeting with Rev. Al Sharpton in New York City—who did not endorse him and sees Clinton next week—much of the coverage turned to whether African-Americans in South Carolina, who make up the majority of that state’s Democrats, would drop long-time allegiances to the Clintons. Making the case for Sanders were high-profile Black celebrities such as author Ta-Nehisi Coates, who tweeted, “But that’s me, the citizen. Me the writer doesn’t speak for anyone else.”
A more forceful endorsement of Sanders and indictment of Black loyalties to the Clintons came from author Michelle Alexander, who wrote an article for The Nation, “Why Hillary Clinton Doesn’t Deserve The Black Vote.” She argued that the then-First Lady supported her then-husband and president’s awful crime and welfare bills that deeply harmed Blacks, a point that Atlanta rapper Killer Mike made Tuesday night during NPR’s New Hampshire coverage.
The new normal on the Democratic side of the campaign trail may be the candidates taking the high road while their surrogates take the lower road. In her concession speech, Clinton sounded more Sanders-like than ever, pledging to go after every injustice and root out bad behavior on Wall Street as only a knowledgable battle-tested leader could. On Wednesday, her campaign held a media conference call where African-American elected officials and civil rights leaders questioned Sanders’ record on guns and criminal justice.
Rep. Hakeem Jeffries, D-NY, said “issues of significance to communities of color will now be discussed and debated,” and said there was no comparison between the candidates. “She’s been at the dance from the beginning of her career,” he said, whereas “Sanders has been missing in action on issues of importance.” Jeffries also said Sanders was at “the twilight of his career.” Former NAACP president Hazel Dukes dismissed his attendance at the historic 1963 March on Washington led by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
An even more significant all-but endorsement came from former Obama White House Press Secretary Jay Carney, who told CNN the leader of the Democratic Party, President Obama, backed Clinton. “He is maintaining that tradition of not intervening in a party primary," he said. "But I don’t think there is any doubt.”
Endorsements and statements like these, especially from elected officials from upcoming primary states or celebrities, will be a regular feature as the presidential campaign trail looks ahead to not just the next two states with sizeable non-white populations—Latinos in Nevada, and Blacks in South Carolina—but also to the dozen states that will vote on March 1.
That date, so-called Super Tuesday, will reshape both party’s contests due to the number of delegates in play. On the Democratic side, states like Texas—with 222 unpledged delegates, out of 2,382 needed to win the nomination—are seen as being in Clinton’s camp. She already has commitments by more than 350 super-delegates, elected Democratic officials, which can change, but is another sizeable hurdle for Sanders to clear. He reportedly has 8. On the GOP side, Super Tuesday’s biggest delegate-awarding states are fairly conservative, such as Texas and Georgia. That party’s rules, which are not the same as Democrats, require 1,237 delegates to win the nomination.
GOP Nightmare Deepens
On the Republican side, New Hampshire’s results also prompted aggressive messaging, especially from the remaining governors and senators who are trying to convince their party that one of them will rise up to defeat Donald Trump, who won the primary but only had 35 percent of the vote.
The GOP field narrowed slightly Wednesday, with New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and ex-Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina ending their campaigns. Christie’s biggest impact may have been his withering attacks on Marco Rubio in last Saturday’s debate, which deflated the momentum that Rubio gained after finishing third in the Iowa caucuses behind Trump and Ted Cruz.
The biggest short-term beneficiary of Rubio’s fifth-place showing in New Hampshire was John Kasich, whose second-place finish puts him in a class with Jeb Bush and Rubio to be the party’s establishment candidate. But the notion that one of them may slowly gather enough support to take on Trump and bypass Cruz as others quit the race increasingly seems like a pipedream. Kasich has little money and no organization to move onto the next states, whereas Bush’s campaign and its allied super PACs have $60 million to attack rivals. On Wednesday, Bush began by saying Kasich has no "viable path" to win, while Kasich said the Bush campaign was "freaking out."
“For the establishment wing of the Republican Party, the picture just keeps getting bleaker,” Politico.com wrote Wednesday, quoting George W. Bush’s 2004 campaign strategist, who said the remaining contenders were creating “a perfect storm” that likely would keep propelling Trump forward and position Cruz to win conservative southern states throughout March.
Other Republican strategists who were veterans of past presidential campaigns agreed and said the long-shot candidates are getting desperate as they head to South Carolina, which holds its Republican primary on Saturday Feb. 20 and is notorious for dirty politics. In 2000, George W. Bush's backers floated a rumor that his opponent, John McCain, had a Black child, which was seen as contributing to his loss in that state.
“I don’t think you could write a better script for Trump,” Curt Anderson, a former Republican National Committee political director told Politico. “It will be bombs away. And who will coast? Trump.”