Democrats are hoping that voters in New Hampshire will reset the party’s presidential nomination fight on Tuesday and bring clarity to a young primary season that has been marred by deep dysfunction and doubt.
Since the chaotic Iowa caucuses failed to perform their traditional function of winnowing the race, it now falls to New Hampshire to begin culling the Democratic field, which still features almost a dozen candidates.
For Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, the vote is an opportunity to lock in dominance of the party’s left flank. A repeat of his strong showing in Iowa could severely damage progressive rival Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, who faces the prospect of an embarrassing defeat on her near-home turf.
While Sanders marches forward, moderates are struggling to unite behind a candidate. After essentially tying with Sanders for first place in Iowa, Pete Buttigieg, the 38-year-old former mayor of South Bend, Indiana, begins his day as the centrist front-runner. But at least two other White House hopefuls — former Vice President Joe Biden and Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar — are competing for the same voters, a dynamic that could delay the nomination contest if it continues.
More than a year after Democrats began announcing their presidential candidacies, Democrats are struggling to coalesce behind a message or a messenger in their desperate quest to defeat President Donald Trump. That’s raising the stakes of the New Hampshire primary as voters weigh whether candidates are too liberal, too moderate or too inexperienced — vulnerabilities that could play to Trump’s advantage in the fall.
During the final day of campaigning, many voters said they still hadn’t made a final choice. University of New Hampshire pollster Andy Smith predicted that as many as 20% of voters would make up their mind on Election Day with twice as many deciding over the last three days.
“Historically, New Hampshire is known to shift late,” he warned those with expectations.
New Hampshire’s secretary of state predicated record-high turnout on Tuesday. If that doesn’t happen, Democrats will confront the prospect of waning enthusiasm following weak turnout in Iowa last week and Trump’s rising poll numbers.
Trump, campaigning in New Hampshire on Monday night, sought to inject chaos in the process. The Republican president suggested that conservative-leaning voters could affect the state’s Democratic primary results, though only registered Democrats and voters not registered with either party can participate in New Hampshire’s Democratic presidential primary.
“I hear a lot of Republicans tomorrow will vote for the weakest candidate possible of the Democrats,” Trump said Monday. “My only problem is I’m trying to figure out who is their weakest candidate. I think they’re all weak.”
Another complication that could affect turnout: weather. Forecasts call for a light wintry mix or rain and snow in some parts of the state, which could make travel treacherous.
Biden — and the Democratic Party’s establishment wing — may have the most to lose on Tuesday should the former two-term vice president underperform in a second consecutive primary election. Biden has earned the overwhelming share of endorsements from elected officials across the nation as party leaders seek a relatively “safe” nominee to run against Trump.