The Democratic race was messy going into New Hampshire. It’s even messier as it moves on.
Yes, Bernie Sanders won the state’s primary on Tuesday night. And that victory, coming on the heels of his functional tie with Pete Buttigieg in the dysfunctional Iowa caucuses last week, makes him the indisputable front-runner for the Democratic nomination.
But look at how closely behind him Buttigieg finished, despite furious attacks from Sanders and other rivals over recent days. Look at the sudden surge of Amy Klobuchar, whose strong third-place finish demonstrates not only how unsettled the contest is but also how many Democrats crave a moderate — or female — alternative to Sanders.
Note that while Sanders is hugely well known in New Hampshire and beat Hillary Clinton by 22 points in its Democratic primary in 2016, he squeaked by Buttigieg this time around, as many people who voted for him four years ago obviously didn’t do so on Tuesday night.
Finally, brace for the days ahead, during which Sanders’s strength will be seriously tested as he comes under brutal assault from Democrats who believe that his nomination would be suicidal for the party and guarantee Donald Trump’s re-election. Sanders, a cranky 78-year-old who includes “socialist” in his description of his politics, is hardly in the clear.
You expected resolution from New Hampshire? What an optimist you are! And how impatient. Resolution was never likely to happen, not this year, not with Democratic voters’ near-crippling anxiety about the surest path to the far side of President Trump, not with this many viable but flawed candidates, not when there’s so much noise in Washington and so much frustration in the air, not when so many voters have stopped taking cues from the institutions and traditions they frequently turned to in the past.
Elizabeth Warren was endorsed by respected media organizations. No matter. She finished fourth in New Hampshire, with less than 10 percent of the vote, though she had lavished hope, energy and resources on the state, next door to Massachusetts, which she represents in the Senate.
Joe Biden has high-profile surrogates galore, is as conventionally prepared for the presidency as a human being could be, and basks in the vestigial good will that many Democratic voters feel toward President Barack Obama’s administration. None of that did him any good. He finished fifth, with less than 9 percent, and the dearth of confidence in him following his fourth-place showing in Iowa deepened, perhaps irreparably.
But add Biden’s, Buttigieg’s and Klobuchar’s votes in New Hampshire and they far exceed those for the two prominent progressives, Sanders and Warren. Democrats’ appetite for a nominee less liberal than Sanders is real.