On the Political Front: On N.H. Primary Eve, Much Still Up in the Air

Feb 8, 2016

Credit Allegra Boverman for NHPR

"On the Political Front" is our weekly check-in with NHPR's Senior Political Reporter Josh Rogers.

Tomorrow is the day, obviously, and there’s a lot still up in the air this year. Let’s start with the Democrats. What are you watching for?

Well, if you listened to Hillary Clinton’s pitch over the past few days this weekend, it’s clear she’s trying to drum up support among women. She campaigned with four U.S. senators who are women late last week, and with former secretary of state Madeline Albright over the weekend.  The identity politics got pretty explicit at times, but so too is a biographical argument, that Clinton has had a long career focusing on issues surrounding children and families, and that when she’s suffered reversal she fights on. This appears to be an argument the Clinton campaign believes might impress younger voters and resonate with women of middle age and older. 

I saw a tracking poll out last night that shows Clinton up 6 points over Sanders among voters over 50.

Yes. The flip side of that is Bernie Sanders dominance among younger voters, male and female. I know Clinton’s people have been a bit surprised by this. Younger votes can be a fickle lot, but based on the polling, and based on how both campaigns seem to be going, Sanders seems to have  galvanized them. Another thing that’s interesting is the extent to which Sanders is outspending Clinton here. 

Credit AP

  By some counts he’s run three times the TV ads she has over the past few weeks, and he’s also been aggressive on digital ads, which speaks to how crucial New Hampshire is for Sanders. Clinton obviously wants a strong showing here, but for Sanders a win here is really crucial for his long term prospects, and the bigger the better.

So where will you be looking tomorrow night for clues to the outcome?

Well in the 2008 Democratic primary, Obama carried the towns and Clinton won by carrying a lot of the cities – Manchester, Nashua, Rochester, Claremont, Berlin -- and large towns in Hillsborough and Rockingham counties. If Sanders does well in those places, he should do quite well. If Clinton is strong in those places this race could be closer than the polling has suggested.   

What about the Republicans?

The big question here is do Trump’s numbers hold up? He’s led every poll taken since July….and while Trump came in second in Iowa, where he also led, the latest tracking polls show him holding a solid margin. There have been a lot of doubts about his campaign’s  ground organization, and whether it can deliver his supporters, many of whom aren’t habitual voters, to the polls. And we’ll get an answer to that question tomorrow. The rest of the race is scarcely any clearer.

Credit Allegra Boverman for NHPR

A lot of people are still talking about Marco Rubio’s debate performance.

Yes. He came out of  Iowa with momentum, and with a strong result here he would stand a decent shot of coalescing a lot of support among mainstream GOP voters. He may yet, but his stumble in the debate Saturday,  where Chris Christie accused him of being little more than someone who recites talking points, and Rubio seemed to prove him right by repeating the same line several times, makes that less likely to happen with any speed. And that means we may have more candidates emerging out of New Hampshire than we might otherwise.

Now typically, two, maybe three candidates get out of NH with any chance.

There is little typical this year. But besides Trump and Rubio, you’ve got Ted Cruz, who will in all likelihood continue the trend of Iowa caucus winners who don’t prevail here, but who is expected to do better in South Carolina. You’ve also got the governors – Christie, Kasich and Bush -- who unlike Trump, Cruz, and Rubio have really focused on New Hampshire. Kasich’s banking it all on New Hampshire; so is Chris Christie; Jeb Bush, meanwhile desperately wants and  needs a strong  showing here. How those votes for these guys get parceled out will be very interesting, and not just for them, but for the New Hampshire primary itself.

I know Jeb Bush has come right out and said a Trump win here would be bad for New Hampshire’s brand.

Well, it wouldn’t do much for Jeb Bush’s brand either, but I think it’s a fair point given way the GOP race in particular has gone – but you can make a similar argument about the democrats if Sanders, who does little in the way of retail politicking, wins.  And ask if what New Hampshire tells itself  --and the world --about the primary, that it rewards candidates who put in time here, who interact with voters one on one, and that everybody gets a shot etc, still holds. Let's see what the voters say.