The quick takeaways from the Granite State: 1. Trump and Sanders won big, but haven’t put to rest questions about their electability and 2. The GOP establishment vacuum remains, but Marco Rubio, the big loser tonight, still remains the likeliest candidate to fill it.
1. Hillary is winning minds but not hearts. There’s no gentle way to put this - Hillary lost BIG TIME. Sanders bested her among almost every conceivable demographic group: liberals and moderates, men and women, those that went to college and those that did not, as well as young people and not so young people. Yet among those voters who prized experience and electability, Clinton was far and away the favorite. She carried those who said they wanted a candidate who could “win in November” with 81 percent and those whose top priority was a candidate who had the “right experience” with 87 percent. The challenge for Clinton, however, is that just 39 percent of Democratic voters saw electability and experience as their top priority. The other 59 percent put more value on a candidate who was “honest and trustworthy” and who “cares about people like me.” And, on those issues, Sanders absolutely crushed Clinton, winning over the “cares about people like me” with 81 percent and the “honest” voters with a whopping 92 percent.
In other words, even though Clinton may be winning the electability argument, Democratic voters in New Hampshire valued Sanders’ authenticity more. It also suggest that the real “firewall” for Clinton isn’t simply demographic, she does better in states like South Carolina that are more racially diverse than New Hampshire or Iowa, but pragmatic. She wins if and when Democrats prize electability over relatability.
2. Trump gets the most votes, but remains incredibly polarizing. Like Sanders, Trump had a convincing win Tuesday night. He won among Republicans and independents, those who graduated from college and those who didn't, very conservative as well as moderate voters. However, also like Sanders, he does best with those voting their hearts and not their heads. For all the talk about a GOP electorate that wants to overthrow the establishment, voters in New Hampshire, like those in Iowa last week, were evenly divided over whether they wanted a candidate who had experience in politics (46 percent) or one who was “outside the establishment” (48 percent). What helped Trump last night, was the fact that while he took just six percent among those who valued “experience.” No other candidate was able to consolidate that “experience” vote. Kasich took 25 percent while Bush had 21 percent and Rubio came in at 20 percent. Yet among those who wanted an outsider, Trump dominated, taking 57 percent.
Trump’s big margin also masks the fact GOP voters in the Granite state were evenly divided on his electability, with 48 percent saying they’d be satisfied with him as the nominee and 49 percent saying they would not be happy with that at all.
If and when electability and experience become more important to GOP voters, Trump suffers.
3. Rubio was a big loser last night, but still has the most realistic path forward of the “establishment” pack. It’s important to give John Kasich his due - he spent a ton of time and his SuperPAC spent a ton of money in the Granite State. And, that investment paid off with a second place showing. But New Hampshire, with its heavily independent and more secular and moderate electorate, is tailor-made for Kasich. South Carolina, which is heavily evangelical and conservative is much less friendly to him. While Bush has money and history on his side (South Carolina has been good to his family at crunch time), he will have a harder time winning over evangelical voters than his brother did in the 2000 election. Jeb is also plagued by a higher negative ratings than any of the other GOP candidates. The most recent national NBC/Wall Street Journal poll showed Bush’s fav/unfav at 29 percent to 36 percent. No other GOP candidate had more Republicans viewing them unfavorably than favorably.
As for Rubio, his faltering performance in Saturday’s debate didn’t help him dispel the perception that he’s not ready for primetime. His support for the Gang of Eight immigration bill will also be a liability in the Palmetto State. However, it’s hard to see how Bush takes advantage of that liability given that one of his most prominent backers in the state, South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham, was also a member of the Gang of Eight. Rubio, who took 21 percent of the evangelical vote in Iowa, should also do well among evangelical voters and more conservative voters in South Carolina. The same goes for the bevy of southern states that are on the docket on March 1st.
4. Don’t Forget About Ted Cruz. He was a non-factor in New Hampshire, but he will be a big one in South Carolina and in the southern-flavored March 1st “SEC” primary states thanks to his support among evangelical voters and his opposition to immigration reform.
Ultimately, the results of the New Hampshire primary have made one thing very clear: the primary contests for both sides are going to remain contested and competitive for many weeks to come.