Senator Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump each decisively won their party's primary in New Hampshire Tuesday, a result that seemed impossible six months ago. Now it seems possible that a self-proclaimed socialist and a former Democrat turned Republican could face off in the presidential election this coming November.
Trump scored more than a third of those who voted Republican in the primary. "We learned a lot about ground games in one week, I can tell you," Trump told supporters in Manchester, N.H., referring to his narrow second place finish in the Iowa Caucus. While Trump carried both independent and Republican voters, his total votes were less then both Sanders and Hillary Clinton. But Trump had more than double his nearest Republican opponent, Ohio Governor John Kasich.
Kasich bet the farm on doing well in New Hampshire, and he held more than 100 town meetings in the state. Kasich, who ran a positive campaign, greeted his supporters in Concord, N.H., with a hopeful message. "We never went negative because we have more good to sell than to spend our time being critical of someone else," he said. "Maybe, just maybe, we are turning the page on a dark part of American politics because tonight the light overcame the darkness of American campaigning." But it is hard to see how Kasich can win in South Carolina and beyond.
Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush was energized by his competitive finish. "This campaign is not dead. We're going on to South Carolina," he told his supporters. But he will have to do well in the Palmetto State February 20 in order to continue with his campaign. On the other hand, Texas Senator Ted Cruz told his supporters that he had exceeded expectations in New Hampshire, a state in which he did not poll well. But Cruz has built a formidable organization in South Carolina, which has a large evangelical population. While Trump is leading in that state's polls, Cruz is well positioned to overtake him.
The big losers Tuesday were the two candidates who came to verbal blows in Saturday's GOP debate. Florida Senator Marco Rubio took responsibility for his poor primary performance, telling supporters, "I did not do well on Saturday night ... that will never happen again." New Jersey Governor Chris Christie tagged Rubio in the debate as a truant, adding, "he simply does not have the experience to be President of the United States and make these decisions." But his aggressive debate performance did not propel him into a top five finish among the Republican candidates.
The Democrat contest ended up to be a rout as Sanders won among independents, voters under 30, men and women. Clinton delivered a rousing concession speech in which she congratulated Sanders, and then asked her audience a rhetorical question. "Who is the best change-maker?" she said. The crowd responded, "You are!" This is a stinging defeat for Clinton, who had hoped to finish much closer to Sanders. After all, New Hampshire has been good to both she and her husband. Instead, she felt the "Bern."
For his part, Sanders put together a remarkable organization and mobilized thousands of voters throughout the state. In his victory speech he told his supporters, "We have sent the message that will echo from Wall Street to Washington from Maine to California, is that the government of our great country belongs to all of the people and not just a handful of wealthy campaign contributors and their 'super Pacs.'"
He has also sent a strong message to the Democratic establishment that he can go all the way. He is building a respectable organization in South Carolina, where he is courting minority voters, and in Nevada he has strong ties to some unions that can help him in that state's caucus.
That Trump and Sanders both won in New Hampshire Tuesday is all the more remarkable when one thinks that just a few months ago they were both written off as losers. Now these two native New Yorkers, one from Queens and the other from Brooklyn, one a Democrat turned Republican and the other an independent turned Democrat, have capitalized on voter dissatisfaction with government and the Washington establishment.
Sanders and Trump are the "Odd Couple" of American politics, and, no matter the final outcome, they have each run historic races. In fact, their campaigns have been "yuge!"