John Kasich needed a big night — and got it with a second-place finish. Meanwhile, Marco Rubio rode into the Granite State with a chance to clear out the establishment lane and instead found himself trying to squeak by Ted Cruz and Jeb Bush.
Here are the takeaways from the New Hampshire primaries:
Donald Trump is for real
So he missed a rally because he’d gotten snowed into his Manhattan home. So he complained he might miss the Super Bowl because he’d had to drive so far to get to a town hall. So he didn’t have the staff on the ground to compete with other Republicans.
Trump isn’t playing by anyone’s rules, and it didn’t hurt him here.
After a close second-place finish in Iowa and a big win in New Hampshire, and with a clear lead in the national polls, it’s hard to argue that Donald Trump isn’t the Republican presidential front-runner.
He could stay that way for a while, too: The muddle behind him — particularly with Rubio’s establishment support collapsing after a weak debate performance — means those who don’t support him will still be split among several options.
In one respect, the hard part of the campaign is nearly over for Trump. Iowa and New Hampshire voters are used to the sort of retail politicking that requires dozens of town hall events and multiple in-person meetings.
On Super Tuesday, though, Trump’s ability to draw in the masses from miles away — and his command of national media attention — will prove much tougher to match for opponents who were willing to put in the first two states’ requisite shoe-leather work.
Bernie Sanders is going national
This can’t be dismissed as a one-off win by a politician from a neighboring state. In less than a year, Sanders has turned a hopeless quest into a serious threat to Clinton’s ability to win the Democratic nomination — and has already stopped a coronation.
The Vermont senator’s credibility with the party’s progressive base (“we don’t need no super PAC,” his supporters chanted Tuesday night) and his huge edge among young voters mean that while Clinton might have structural advantages as the race moves forward, Sanders isn’t going away soon.
His campaign is set to hit the television airwaves in four states — Colorado, Massachusetts, Minnesota and Oklahoma — that vote in March.
“Listen, people need to start to understand something: We are a better campaign. We are a better-organized campaign. We have more people on the ground,” Sanders senior strategist Tad Devine told CNN at the campaign’s victory party.
Sanders used his victory speech to celebrate grass-roots campaign and host a “national” fundraiser, once again using his platform to call for small-dollar donations and rail against corporate and mega-donor money.
The Vermont senator weathered a series of attacks from Clinton and establishment Democrats who say he can’t win in November and is making promises to voters he can’t keep. And he said he anticipates more attacks.
“They have thrown everything at me except the kitchen sink,” he said, “and I have a feeling that kitchen sink is coming at me pretty soon as well.”
Clinton has work to do
Hillary Clinton lost women. She was crushed among men. And with young voters, she was absolutely demolished.
Worse yet: Her campaign — and her surrogates — have managed to alienate many of the Sanders supporters who previously had nothing against Clinton by casting Sanders as living in a fantasy-land and his female supporters as being traitors to their gender.
Clinton pressed the message that she’s the Democrat best able to address specific problems in her concession speech Tuesday night.
“People have every right to be angry, but they’re also hungry — they’re hungry for solutions. What are we going to do?” she said.
But the hang-wringing had already started amid reports in Politico and elsewhere that Clinton is eyeing a staff shakeup and a more forward-looking message.
Jim Demers, Barack Obama’s 2008 co-chair and an early 2016 Clinton supporter, says message discipline hurt Clinton’s New Hampshire campaign.
“I actually believe we talked about too many issues,” Demers said. “She had a really broad discussion about every issue there was and Bernie Sanders stayed focused on one message. And that resonated.”
Clinton campaign manager Robby Mook tried to calm the nerves of the former secretary of state’s supporters, issuing a memo instructing supporters to forget New Hampshire, and not sweat Nevada and South Carolina too much, either.
“The nomination will very likely be won in March, not February, and we believe that Hillary Clinton is well positioned to build a strong — potentially insurmountable — delegate lead next month,” Mook said in a memo released at 8 p.m. ET, just as New Hampshire’s polls closed.
Trump won despite ignoring the traditional rules of primary politics, but John Kasich finished second — injecting new life into his campaign — because he followed them.
The Ohio governor held 100 town hall events across New Hampshire, putting in the legwork in all parts of the state and breaking away from a jam-packed crowd of establishment candidates in the state most saw as their best opportunity to separate.
Perhaps the biggest reason for Kasich’s rise: New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie’s takedown of Florida Sen. Marco Rubio.
Christie didn’t benefit himself, but in Saturday night’s debate his hounding of Rubio halted his momentum.
The problem for Kasich, whose entire campaign hung on a strong finish in New Hampshire: Things are about to get a whole lot harder.
He could win in Ohio, which votes March 15. But the calendar is brutal until then. South Carolina’s primary is next, and it’s followed by a spate of southern states on March 1.
His moderate leanings — Kasich defends his expansion of Medicaid in Ohio as a moral decision — could make winning any of those states next to impossible. Kasich and his family have talked more openly about his faith in recent weeks, but he’s still facing opponents who for months have heavily courted evangelical voters.
Marco Rubio’s bad night
Marco Rubio came into New Hampshire off a strong third-place finish in Iowa. A good finish here would have set him up well as the leader in the so-called establishment lane.
Instead, he finished behind Kasich, trying to keep up with Cruz and Bush.
Rubio’s repetition of the same anti-Obama line while Christie relentlessly hammered him during Saturday’s debate was widely lampooned online, putting one of Rubio’s strengths as a candidate — his ability to stay crisply on-message — into a potentially major liability.
“I did not do well on Saturday night, and that will never happen again,” Rubio said Tuesday.
Ted Cruz, meanwhile, may benefit the most from Rubio’s poor evening. Cruz’s campaign was obsessed with ending Rubio’s momentum in New Hampshire, and appears to have achieved that goal — guaranteeing at least another week and a half of divided donors, media attention and voter support for his establishment rivals.