The polling average according to Real Clear had Sanders winning by an average of 13.3 points as well as the historical trend of New Hampshire Primary voters bucking conventional wisdom.
Eight years earlier, Obama was fresh off his Iowa caucus win and was poised to deliver a hard blow to the Clinton campaign as he was leading in the New Hampshire primary polls. That night it was Clinton who emerged victorious, and the Democratic nominating contest began its long process to count the delegates.
In the 2000 Republican Primary, the George W. Bush campaign was on the verge of inevitable until Senator John McCain (AZ, R) delivered a sizable upset win that propelled him to contender status. South Carolina ended McCain’s quest as a viable alternative to Bush. Meanwhile in the Democratic Primary in that same election cycle, then-Vice President Al Gore survived a scare from former Senator Bill Bradley (NY, D) but was able to continue his path to securing his party’s nomination.
In 1992, it was then-Senator Paul Tsongas (MA, D) who won the primary, but then-Governor Bill Clinton’s (AR, D) strong second place showing that allowed him to declare that he was the comeback kid and it propelled his campaign forward. In that same primary among Republicans, incumbent President George H.W. Bush defeated political commentator Pat Buchanan, 53-38. Though Bush won, it created a divide between Republicans in whether to support an incumbent president whose approvals were sinking or back a challenger who could possibly save the party from November defeat. Four years later, New Hampshire narrowly chose Buchanan over eventual nominee Bob Dole.
Sanders won New Hampshire by 20-plus, but now it seems like a distant memory as Clinton has won two consecutive contests, the Nevada Caucus and just recently the South Carolina primary.
Compared to New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina are a tad more reflective of the Democratic Party’s demographics. 11 states scheduled to host primaries and caucuses today; among those states are Texas, Georgia, and Virginia which are very ethnically diverse. This was the challenge for the Sanders campaign: try to repeat what Barack Obama did in 2008.
Except that he has been unable to do that.
In 2008, the Obama team put all of their resources into winning Iowa and it paid off. What it also did was convince black voters that there was something about this Obama fellow. If Obama can win over liberal white voters in Iowa, he might have a chance at winning this thing, which as documented in the book Game Change was Obama’s line of thinking. “If I win Iowa, I could win this thing” were his exact words.
I’m sure the thinking among black voters when Obama announced his candidacy was, “yeah, Obama is running. It would be nice to have a black person in the White House, but we’ve been down this road before.” In 1972, New York Congresswoman Shirley Chisolm made a run for the Democratic nomination but machine politics as well as the Democratic Party searching for someone viable to defeat Nixon in the general election were hurdles that she was unable to overcome. Jesse Jackson’s 1984 and 1988 runs are well documented, but his issue was a demographic brick wall that today Sanders faces.
When Jackson ran in the 1980s the Democratic Party was dominated by white moderates/conservatives. Today it is nonwhites that make up a good chunk of the Democratic Party base while white moderates/conservatives and white liberals split the remaining difference. It was one of the reasons why the Jim Webb (remember him?) candidacy failed. The other reason is that the party has gotten too liberal for Webb to run in.
Going forward, the Sanders campaign faces a demographic brick wall. He is likely to win in Vermont as the most recent poll shows him up by 75 points. But where else could he win?
Even though early voting just concluded in Texas and Georgia, Clinton has been dominating in the polls in those delegate rich states. In Texas, Democratic primary voters are higher than 2012 numbers but way down from 2008 numbers, so unless there is an election day surge, Clinton is likely to win Texas. Massachusetts is a state that is favorable to Sanders, but the most recent polling shows Clinton with a 5-point lead. Oklahoma is surprisingly looking like a close state between the two candidates; it is a southern state with their Democrats more conservative than their liberal counterparts but has demographics that look like Iowa and New Hampshire.
There are two caucus states that vote tonight: Minnesota and my adopted home state of Colorado. I have seen Sanders ads on television here in Denver, a good share of Sanders bumper stickers on cars, and a couple of yard signs. One thing about caucuses are they are hard to poll so there is hardly any polling data on these two states. Endorsements might play a role in these states. In Minnesota, Senator Sanders has the endorsement of Rep. Keith Ellison (MN, D), but Mrs. Clinton has the endorsement of Senators Amy Klobuchar and Al Franken, and Governor Mark Dayton.
Colorado is honestly a hard read and like the previous caucus states depends on who shows up.
So… what have we learned so far?
The Sanders campaign admits they have a lot of work to do in trying to convince African-American and Latino voters to vote for their candidate. It was a (small) African-American vote in Iowa that helped Clinton squeak out a close win. The Latino vote in Nevada propelled Clinton to a 6-point win in that caucus state. And as shown in South Carolina last Saturday, Clinton did better with African-American voters than Obama did with that same group eight years ago.
The argument among Sanders’s supporters is that those groups of voters should be flocking to the senator because his positions would be the most beneficial to them. One thing that is forgotten is that the Clintons have long standing relations with these group of voters. It should be noted that at times the relationship between these groups have been strained (Bill Clinton signing the 1994 crime bill and his 2008 criticism of Obama’s campaign), but as shown by Clinton’s recent back-to-back wins these groups remain loyal supporters.
This should be a lesson for future Democratic presidential primary campaigns (hopefully in 2024) that if you are to run for the nomination you will need the support of these influential voting blocks. Without a doubt they are the base of the party.
The Sanders campaign has addressed the issues of campaign finance and aggressive Wall Street reform. However, the Sanders campaign appears to only play with a certain demographic segment of the Democratic Party.
One thing for certain, it is hard to not notice its impact on politics.