Sanders, Buttigieg, and Klobuchar Shine in New Hampshire

NASHUA, New Hampshire—Pete Buttigieg focused first on Senator Bernie Sanders. “I respect him greatly to this day, and I congratulate him on his strong showing today,” Buttigieg said to 1,200 supporters packed into a steamy gymnasium on Tuesday night. Then he shifted to his own success. “Thanks to you, a campaign that some said shouldn’t be here at all, has shown that we are here to stay.”

Buttigieg’s acknowledgment of Sanders’ triumph—25.9 percent to the former South Bend mayor’s 24.2 with 90 percent of the vote counted—mirrored that of many in the political world last night, in that he quickly moved away from it. Yes, Sanders’ margin of victory—at just under 1.5 points—was significantly tighter than the 7 or 8 percentage points that polls had projected for the senator whose home state of Vermont is next door to New Hampshire’s first-in-the-nation primary. Yes, 25.7 percent is the worst showing ever for a New Hampshire primary winner and less than half the 60 percent of votes Sanders received in 2016. But the field is much bigger this time around, and with popular vote victories in each of the first two states, plenty of money in the bank, and strong national polling, it’s hard to look at Sanders as anything other than the frontrunner.

But he’s a weak one, with a high floor of (very passionate) support and—so far—a ceiling that would prevent him from amassing the necessary delegates once the field winnows further. With their impressive performances on Tuesday, Buttigieg and Senator Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota seem best positioned to convert the abstract campaign currency—momentum—into vote totals that could rival Sanders’ base. But Nevada and South Carolina—with large Latino and black populations—will prove rockier terrain than Iowa and New Hampshire.

After pulling in 26.2 percent and 24.6 percent of the vote in Iowa and New Hampshire, respectively, Buttigieg will now bring his version of hope and change to states where he is currently polling in the mid-single digits. The campaign has proved more than capable of elevating the 38-year-old’s profile thus far, but it has primarily had to appeal only to white voters, and college-educated white voters at that.

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