Ever contrarian, New Hampshire voters scrambled the presidential race again. The outsiders who came in second in the Iowa caucuses last week – Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump – won, and it wasn’t even close.
By resoundingly defeating establishment candidates in the first-in-the-nation primary, they set up protracted and increasingly brutal battles for the Democratic and Republican nominations. It’s clear that the campaign will go beyond Super Tuesday on March 1.
On the Republican side, Trump proved he can get his supporters to the polls, capturing 35 percent of the vote. His blustery bubble may not burst, and as long as he’s willing to spend his own billions, he can keep going.
Gov. John Kasich of Ohio finished second at 16 percent and is the new best hope for the GOP establishment. His more civil tone, positive message and compassion on mental health and drug addiction worked in New Hampshire. Now it’s his turn in the spotlight and, perhaps, in the firing line of Trump.
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The more experienced Kasich seems better suited to withstand the scrutiny than the youthful Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida. Flying high after finishing third in Iowa, Rubio crashed to fifth place after a robotic debate performance. He promised supporters that would never happen again; he’ll have to back up those words in South Carolina on Saturday, a week before the next GOP contest, followed by the Nevada caucuses on Feb. 23.
Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey took Rubio down but didn’t get rewarded. He finished sixth and on Wednesday suspended his campaign. Former Gov. Jeb Bush of Florida stayed in the game by coming in fourth. Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, who won Iowa, came in third and is in good shape as he moves to friendlier terrain in the South.
After finishing in the single digits again, former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina suspended her campaign Wednesday. Mike Huckabee, Rand Paul and Rick Santorum dropped out after Iowa.
On the Democratic side, Sanders, who almost won Iowa, crushed Hillary Clinton 60 percent to 38 percent, a remarkable accomplishment. Thanks to a flood of small, individual donations, he also beat Clinton in fundraising last month, also very impressive.
Clinton sharpened her attacks against Sanders in New Hampshire, but obviously needs to retool her message. She has another chance to do both at Thursday night’s debate in Wisconsin.
But she has problems, especially her lack of support among younger voters. According to exit polls, 83 percent of Democrats under 30 picked Sanders in New Hampshire. Also, less than half of all Democrats said that Clinton was trustworthy. The email scandal, her paid speeches to Goldman Sachs and other baggage are taking their toll.
To right the ship, she badly needs to win the Nevada caucuses on Feb. 20 and the South Carolina primary on Feb. 27. Sanders is riding high but needs to prove he can win support from African American and Latino voters as the campaign moves to states far more diverse than lily-white Iowa and New Hampshire.
As many commentators said Tuesday night, up until a few months ago, you would have been certifiably crazy to predict that Sanders and Trump would win New Hampshire.
But there’s anger at the status quo and strong voter interest, as evidenced by record Republican voter turnouts in Iowa and New Hampshire. So far, Sanders and Trump are most effectively tapping into that discontent.