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Ben’s Bench: Let’s talk about New Hampshire

If I was forced to boil down Tuesday’s primary to its essence, it would be that New Hampshire did what Iowa did not. 

Unburdened by the presence of rogue rookie technologies, phone trolls and days of uncertainty, the New Hampshire “first-in-the-nation” primary set out to weed out the still unwieldly Democratic presidential field and went off without any hitch to speak of. And yet, somehow, it ended up being even more shocking. In fact, that was so baffling, it can be divvied up into three main parts: the comebacks, the crumbles, and the full-out collapses. 

First, the comebacks, of which there was really one: Amy Klobuchar. After months of being cast aside as an “also-ran” runner behind big names like Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and former Vice President Joe Biden, the Minnesota senator pulled off a remarkable third place win in the Granite State, especially so given how far behind she was for most of this race. Despite talking heads declaring Klobuchar’s conventional moderate platform and weaker name recognition liabilities in a war waged by big names and bold stances, Klobuchar’s victory proves that one factor matters more than those two combined: likability. Thanks to her extensive congressional record, her inspiring – if a tad predictable – rags-to-riches backstory, her ability to directly connect and relate with voters reluctant to embrace more extreme positions from the likes of Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), and her numerous endorsements by the likes of the Union Leader, and the Keene Sentinel – not the mention the half-endorsement she received alongside Warren from the New York Times – Klobuchar has successfully crafted herself into a reasonable, down-to-earth alternative to the more exciting yet controversial former South Bend mayor and former vice president in the moderate category. Given how she has been able to outlast them and more popular names like Beto O’Rourke, Kamala Harris and Cory Booker, a similarly strong showing in the upcoming South Carolina and Nevada contests will confirm her newly-minted top-tier status. 

If only I could say the same for Joe Biden and Elizabeth Warren, which brings me to the second shock of the Granite State: how two former leaders became the catch-up candidates. For a guy who prided himself on his connections and bromance with Barack Obama – one of the most popular presidents of the century thus far and the left’s self-proclaimed savior – Biden is losing love faster than Michael Bloomberg is spending his fortune. As I mentioned last week, his alleged “mental gaffes” that do not cloud over other septuagenarians like Sanders and Bloomberg have severally dampened confidence in his campaign and “electability” bragging rights; not even the endorsement of John Lynch could help Joe here, who I see as an old-timer on his last legs. More than ever, a first-place win in South Carolina is vital to not just his presidential hopes, but also any credibility he may have left in American politics, especially given his touting of overwhelming black support in South Carolina. 

As for Warren, her supporters down south and out west better have a comeback backup staged, because for a candidate whose gimmick is that she has a plan for nearly everything, it does not look like she has that clear of a path forward. After settling for third in Iowa and fourth in New Hampshire, she’s got third place in overall delegates, but could lose much progress should Klobuchar continue her surprise uprising next week. 

Then we have the rest of the pack, which is just a jumble of big names and no gains. Following Joe Biden’s six delegate count, no other remaining candidate manages a single point on the board. Bloomberg’s intentional absence from the early contests aside, the only viable candidate capable of staying in the long haul is Tom Steyer, whose own war chest, I predict, will last him at least until a potential zero-sum game in South Carolina or Nevada, longer if he manages to score any delegates. Meanwhile, the only thing keeping Tulsi Gabbard in the running is just how unorthodox she is, as well as how many Democrats she manages to get on the bad side of. Barring any major breakthroughs, though, I’m calling next week as her last. 

Now to the political grave we go, this time with three new additions. The most notable of these is Andrew Yang, whose promises of $1,000 a month for every American and a tech-inspired/casual approach to the race was not enough to propel him in the Granite State.  

Or, as he put it himself: “I am the math guy, and it is clear tonight from the numbers that we are not going to win this race.”  

I actually feel kind of bad for Yang; he seemed like a cool guy with his “Yang Gang” and all, and that $1,000 a month actually sounded reasonable. However, delegates, not dollars, are the name of the game, and – save for Bloomberg’s incoming blitz – money alone will not win this race. 

Next up, Colorado Sen. Michael Bennet. He was there; now he’s not. Moving on. 

And then you have Deval Patrick. Deval. Patrick. 

As I shake my head, I have to wonder – and pardon my French here – why the f*** was Deval Patrick in this race?!?!? What was the point? Was he trying to top Bill de Blasio as the most pointless candidate in this race? If so, he succeeded. I kept reading that he might have been Barack Obama’s backup candidate in the case of a brokered convention… but I guess that’s not happening now. Don’t get me wrong, Patrick seems like a good guy, but seriously, his efforts could have been better spent trying to run for governor of Massachusetts again. 

You may have noticed that I have not mentioned the two frontrunners up to this point: that’s because there’s no need to. Sanders scored a smaller sequel to his 2016 triumph in the state, while Mayor Pete maintains a delegate lead nearly as slim as his support among African Americans. Should this showdown continue – not counting a Klobuchar clobbering – 2020 will become a throwdown between the older yet revolution-seeking Bernie and the younger moderate embodiment of vanilla ice cream from South Bend. If Buttigieg can somehow steal away the black vote from both Biden and Bernie, he likely keeps his lead; if Sanders takes it instead into a double-win next week, the Democratic establishment paranoia will morph into full-out panic as it feels the Bern of flames shooting out of Sanders’ orchestra arms. 

In other words, New Hampshire may have weeded out the field, but the race is far from over; and for a state whose sole other job was to make the 48 states plus territories less stressed, it’s only made them more so. 

Still better than Iowa, though. 

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