Why Clinton Could Win Tonight, & Why Bernie Probably Will Win Tonight

My kids are eating dinner, and I’m going to have to scramble to put them to bed before the results start rolling in, but I thought I’d quickly lay out a few thoughts before we know who won tonight’s New Hampshire primary.

We’ll start with the most likely: why Bernie Sanders will probably win.

First, Bernie has a home-field advantage. Sure, a lot of people have poo-poohed the notion. But it’s amused me that on Twitter the people who scoff at the notion are those with little or no experience with western New Hampshire, while those of us who know the Monadnock, Cheshire County (Keene), and the upper Connecticut River Valley counties of Sullivan (Claremont) and Grafton (Hanover), chuckle at people who never drive west of Manchester or Amherst declaring that New Hampshire is nothing like Vermont.

About 12-15% of New Hampshire voters (maybe slightly more in a Democratic primary) are in the Burlington VT media market, and have had Bernie on their radios and TV screens for 35 years. Plus, plenty of people who no longer live there but now live elsewhere in New Hampshire still knew of Bernie before his presidential bid. I don’t have time to grab the links, but last April Sanders had about 65% name recognition in New Hampshire. He was only around 35% name recognition in Iowa. It’s not like being from Massachusetts, but there’s some silliness going around that if a candidate’s not from Massachusetts she can’t have a home advantage. If that were true, Howard Dean–after the scream–wouldn’t have beaten John Kerry in almost all of Grafton, Sullivan and Cheshire counties, and lost statewide by only 12 points.

The similarities between New Hampshire and Vermont show up especially in New Hampshire’s Democratic electorate. Like Vermont, the New Hampshire Democrats are almost entirely white. Like Louisiana, Maine and Vermont, the second-most commonly spoken language isn’t Spanish, it’s French. New Hampshire has one of the heaviest concentration of people of English background in the country. And they’re the two most secular states in the country. Assuming Bernie’s strength is in states most like Vermont, there’s no state where he should be stronger than New Hampshire.

There’s another advantage I’ve seen nobody mention: proximity to Bernie’s front door.

In 2006 I managed a Congressional campaign in New Hampshire’s second district. We won, and I had the privilege of working in Congress. In that first year, while planning the first reelection, one of the Democratic party’s number-crunching operations did analyses for all the potentially vulnerable new members elected in that wave. In almost every district, anywhere in the country, over 85% of the population is in 10 or fewer cities and towns. But in our district–essentially the three quarters from Nashua to the VT/MA border, up to Canada, and down half of the Maine border, leaving a carve-out of Durham area, the Seacoast, and the Manchester area–the 20 largest towns had less than half the district’s population. [And that was despite Nashua having about 100,000 people). If a candidate campaigns in Nashua or the other Boston suburbs, about the only people who know she was there are those who were there themselves.

But in the small towns of the rest of the state, when a candidate comes to town, it’s relatively big news, and people talk about it at the local diners, in their supermarkets, their bars. They are not communities of commuters. And they expect to meet and touch the candidates. If a candidate hasn’t given people mani-pedi’s and served them breakfast in bed they’ll say “well, I don’t know, he hasn’t really been here enough for me to get an impression of him.”

Every morning Bernie Sanders wakes up in his bed at home is a day he could get in his car, campaign around New Hampshire, and be back in his bed that night.

None of this is to detract from Sanders’ strong campaign in New Hampshire. But no matter how strong his campaign is, it’s tough to argue that he doesn’t have built-in advantages with a heavily secular, liberal–57% of the primary electorate in 2008–and overwhelmingly white electorate, one that because of proximity he could campaign easier than any other candidate in either field. Sanders has led most of the polls for months, so he should win. He might win by more than 10 points.

But should we assume Sanders actually does have a strong campaign in New Hampshire? I suspect it’s pretty good. But outside of New England, probably no state except maybe Washington should be as favorable to Sanders as Iowa, and Clinton beat him there.

Furthermore, Clinton’s campaign manager Robbie Mook is from Vermont, a few miles from New Hampshire, and he cut his teeth on Dean’s New Hampshire staff (which by all accounts was outstanding, far better than his operation in Iowa) and then he came back in 2008 for the last few months to manage Jeanne Shaheen’s winning Senate campaign. He knows the state. And he may also have help from Michael Wholey, the most respected Democratic field operative of the last thirty years, who ran Kerry’s field operation, keeps involved in New Hampshire, and is based in Boston.

There’s also Clinton’s labor support. It’s possible that in 2008 Clinton would have lost New Hampshire had it not been for targeted voter contact to women by AFSCME, the American Federation of Teachers, and Emily’s List. This time around she also has the endorsements of the SEIU and the National Education Association. There could be a strong member contact program, as well as independent expenditure mail and field contact to women voters. That would be flying under the radar, but could be decisive if the race is otherwise very close.

There’s also the simple fact that overall nationally Clinton does better with women, and 57% of the 2008 electorate was women. Clinton’s national strength with women is in large by because of her massive advantage over Sanders among women of color. But she does better with white women than with white men, so that’s something to keep in mind.

Finally, there’s the undeclared voters. They’re not registered Democrat or Republican, and can pick either primary. In 2008 I heard of quite a bit of anecdotal support for the notion that some undeclared voters who would otherwise have backed Obama thought he would win anyway, so they instead hedged their bets by voting for McCain in the Republican primary. It’s something that’s hard to measure, but so far all the anecdotal stuff coming from reporters has been about undeclared voters are deciding between a Republican and Sanders.

OK, I need to finish up with the kids. But I’m putting this here as a marker for deciphering results tonight and making sense of it all tomorrow.


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