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As goes New Hampshire, so goes the nation? Not necessarily

ASU politics professor on the Granite State's first-in-the-nation primary election

A snow scene in the town of Fitzwilliam, New Hampshire
February 09, 2016

Democrats and Republicans in a snowy New Hampshire have cast their ballots and, as is so often the case, have picked different winners than the voters in Iowa just eight days before.

GOP Granite Staters chose businessman Donald J. Trump, giving him a commanding victory over the rest of the field. On the Democratic side, Sen. Bernie Sanders (D-Vt.) scored a more than 20-percentage-point victory over the candidate who once seemed unbeatable, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

Richard Herrera, an associate professor in ASU's School of Politics and Global StudiesThe School of Politics and Global Studies is an academic unit of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences., spoke to ASU Now about what the results in New Hampshire mean and where the primary contest may head next.

Question: Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s campaign seems to have worked very hard to lower expectations in New Hampshire. And, to be sure, Sen. Bernie Sanders has been leading in the polls there for a while. But is it fair to give her a pass? What does it say about the Clinton campaign that she won Iowa in a photo finish and lost New Hampshire — which she won in 2008 — by such a wide margin?
Answer: It’s not unusual for candidates to try to set expectations in primary contests. I don’t think she gets a pass, but I also don’t think she should take much flak for trying to set her bar. She pulled in about 40 percent of the vote, which compares well with what she received in 2008 in a five-way race. 2016 is a different race, so substantively not as comparable across eight years.

Q: Is Sanders writing the sequel to the book Barack Obama authored in 2008 by coming out of nowhere to effectively challenge the powerful Clinton political machine? Is he likely to be the Democratic nominee?

A: Sanders must demonstrate support across a diverse population as Obama did. Obama bounced back from New Hampshire with a win in South Carolina and strong showings in Nevada, Colorado and other states. New Hampshire is overwhelmingly homogeneous, and most of the upcoming contests will be in states that are more reflective of Democratic party constituencies.

Q: Trump’s theory of the campaign had been that he is the only “winner” in the race. That took a hit last week when he came in second in Iowa. Does a big margin of victory in New Hampshire make him the candidate to beat again?
A: Yes, it does. His campaign regenerates momentum with a big win in New Hampshire. He can reclaim his “winner” mantle with the results from Tuesday's vote.  
Q: Throughout the Republican primary we’ve been talking about which so-called “establishment” candidate would emerge to challenge Donald Trump and Texas Republican Sen. Ted Cruz, the winner in Iowa. Many analysts believed New Hampshire would winnow the field and identify that person. But now it seems more muddled than ever. Do you see any clarity?
A: The big surprise is the surge of John Kasich (of Ohio). He may be the the only remaining governor to continue with a viable campaign. HIs strong finish will help him raise campaign funds and may signal him to establishment donors as the alternative to Trump and Cruz. Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) trailed the front-runners badly. This past week he took hits from Gov. Chris Christie and others, and those seem to have made a difference. The beneficiary is Kasich.

Q: Jeb Bush has looked at New Hampshire as his firewall, and in many ways pulled out all the stops, including bringing his 90-year-old mother to campaign with him in the New England snow. Is fourth place in the Granite State good enough for the former Republican front-runner? Or has the party moved on?

A: Without a clear third-place finish, this may have been Bush’s last push. He may continue but has failed to show he can be the establishment candidate. Finishing behind Cruz, in a state Cruz was projected to not fare well, continues the narrative that he is a poor candidate.

Q: Exit polls in New Hampshire indicated that voters care far less about electability than finding someone who “shares my values.” That has been a trend during this primary season. Does that portend a general election pitting fringe candidates against one another?
A: I don’t think so. Primary voters can be poor indicators of the national electorate. It may also be the case that for Democrats, younger voters who are now supporting Sanders may be driving that trend in this phase of the election. For Republican voters, that trend may be the case across more demographic groups than usual, but it would still be very odd for most Republicans to support a candidate who polls worse against Clinton (still the expected Democratic nominee) than another Republican candidate.

Top photo by Kelsey Wyatt, via Wikimedia Commons

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