With the Iowa caucuses unresolved, the focus of the political sphere shifts to New Hampshire on Tuesday for the first-in-the-nation-presidential primary.
Eleven Democrats, two Republicans and scores of long-shot independents all want a shot at taking on the current occupant of the White House, incumbent Republican President Donald Trump, who is also on the ballot seeking a second term.
The job pays $400,000 a year and comes with a 55,000-square-foot house, transportation and Secret Service protection.
Polls have shown many New Hampshire voters remain undecided, and candidates have been crisscrossing the state for months trying to win them over. Their appearances in the state started picking up the minute last Monday’s party meetings in Iowa were finished.
“This is a wide open race at the moment,” said Jeffrey Berry, a political science professor at Tufts University who follows presidential politics. “I really don’t think there’s a favorite.”
On the Democratic side, recent polls show former South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders nearly tied for the lead among likely primary voters in New Hampshire, followed by Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, former Vice President Joe Biden and Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar.
Among Republicans, Trump is in a solid position, polls show, despite a primary challenge from former Massachusetts Gov. Bill Weld and former Illinois Congressman Joe Walsh.
In New Hampshire, undeclared voters can cast ballots for either Democrats or Republicans. Independents constitute a majority of the state’s electorate and are expected to play a major role in deciding the outcome of the presidential primary Tuesday.
At stake in N.H.
The vote in New Hampshire will kick off a long schedule of primaries, including the Super Tuesday contest March 3, to narrow the field of Democratic nominees. It comes after results in Iowa were muddied by an embarrassing failure of the reporting process.
Iowa officials initially attributed the delay in reporting results, in part, to technical problems with an app that precinct chairs were supposed to use to record and transmit votes.
Buttigieg and Sanders were neck and neck late last week, with nearly all the results reported, but the Democratic National Committee has called for a recanvass of all the votes.
Sanders, who is making his second run for the White House, also goes into the New Hampshire primary with a strong advantage. He won more than 60% of the votes in the Democratic primary four years ago.
“Bernie’s support is solid,” Berry said. “But the question is whether there’s a ceiling to that support, and whether he can peel away votes from the other Democratic candidates.”
Following his strong showing in Iowa, Buttigieg heads into New Hampshire with a “bump” and will be looking for another good result, Berry said.
“He exceeded expectations in Iowa and that’s given him a boost,” Berry said. “The polling shows that he’s gotten quite a bump, and it appears to be coming from Biden supporters.”
Warren, who has spent a lot of time campaigning in the Granite State, also hopes to siphon some voters from Biden after placing a distant third in Iowa.
Biden, whose performance in the Iowa caucuses fell well short of expectations, is hoping for a “comeback kid” moment in New Hampshire to prop up his candidacy.
“I’m not going anywhere,” Biden told supporters at a rally on Wednesday in Somersworth. “And I’m counting on New Hampshire. We’re going to come back.”
Berry said New Hampshire will be a “watershed moment” for Biden, who entered the crowded Democratic presidential race in April as the perceived frontrunner.
“You have to wonder if this is the beginning of the end for Joe Biden,” he said. “He needs a top-three finish in New Hampshire or he’ll start to lose support and fundraising.”
Recent polls give Sanders a slight lead over Buttigieg in the race for the nomination in New Hampshire — with Trump in first place.
Political observers say polls have been proven wrong in previous primary seasons, and anything can happen.
“The polls are wrong as often than they’re right,” says Andy Smith, a political science professor and pollster at the University of New Hampshire. “Historically, they either get the wrong winner, or they get the margin of victory so far off that it’s not accurate.”
New Hampshire is the fifth-smallest state with the ninth-smallest population, but its outsize influence on presidential politics can’t be underestimated.
It’s the birthplace of American “retail politics” where candidates trade in their multimillion-dollar advertising campaigns for shoe-leather operations. They walk neighborhoods knocking on doors, shaking hands at diners and coffee shops, taking selfies at gun ranges and community centers, and hoping to win over undecided voters.
The state’s so-called “undeclared” voters, or independents, make up about 41% of an electorate of more than 1 million registered voters.
The battleground state had 284,174 registered Republicans, 307,360 Democrats and 415,316 independents as of Dec. 31, according to the Secretary of State’s Office.
Smith said exit polls of previous primaries show that 40% or more of the voters routinely make up their minds just a few days before the election.
Another 10 to 20% wait until the actual day of the election to decide, he said.
“New Hampshire voters are notorious for keeping their options open until the last minute,” Smith said. “Most aren’t party activists, just regular voters, and the majority of them won’t pay attention until Election Day.”
While the state’s voters are notorious for waiting until the last minute, when they do make up their minds, recent history shows they’re most often right.
The Granite State has picked 10 of the last 16 eventual Democratic nominees, and 14 of the last 17 Republican candidates, including Trump in 2016.
But Michael Goldman, a longtime Democratic strategist who has worked on numerous presidential campaigns, said for candidates it’s not always about being the first-place winner.
“It’s all about beating expectations,” Goldman said. “In presidential politics it’s about who wins in the expectation game, not necessarily who gets the most votes.”
Christian M. Wade covers the Massachusetts Statehouse for North of Boston Media Group’s newspapers and websites.
FIRST-IN-THE-NATION PRIMARY BALLOT
Democrats (11 candidates):
Michael Bennet, 55 senator from Colorado
Joseph R. Biden Jr., 77, former vice president
Michael R. Bloomberg, 77, billionaire media executive; former mayor of New York City
Pete Buttigieg, 37, former Mayor of South Bend, Ind.; military veteran
Tulsi Gabbard, 38, congresswoman from Hawaii; Army National Guard veteran
Amy Klobuchar, 59, senator from Minnesota; former Hennepin County, Minn., attorney
Deval Patrick, 63, former governor of Massachusetts; executive at Bain Capital, private equity firm
Bernie Sanders, 78, senator from Vermont; former congressman
Tom Steyer, 62, former hedge fund executive; climate change activist
Elizabeth Warren, 70, senator from Massachusetts; former Harvard professor
Andrew Yang, 44, former tech executive who founded an economic development nonprofit
Republicans (Three candidates):
Donald Trump, 73, incumbent
Bill Weld, 74, former Massachusetts governor
Joe Walsh, 57, former congressman from Illinois