MANCHESTER, N.H. — The dispute over the Iowa caucuses’ winner bled into New Hampshire Saturday night, where supporters of Pete Buttigieg and Bernie Sanders traded chants of “Buttigieg won” and “Bernie won” prior to the state party’s annual dinner. If polling in the Granite State is accurate, Tuesday’s primary is headed toward another tight finish between the former South Bend, Ind., mayor and the Vermont senator.
The McIntyre-Shaheen Dinner brought together, for the final time before voting on Tuesday, every primary contender along with their boisterous supporters packed into the SNHU Arena. In a foreboding omen for Joe Biden, the Buttigieg contingent was the largest, while former vice president’s cheering section took up a small corner of the arena.
The Sanders crowd rained down jeers on Buttigieg during his address Saturday night when he repeated his regular refrain that Democrats should not divide Americans by forcing them to choose between the status quo and the “revolution” that Sanders frequently evokes. They also booed his comments about the cost of insulin by chanting “Medicare for All,” the single-payer program supported by Sanders. The Buttigieg fans in return chanted their candidate’s name when Sanders boasted about winning the popular vote in Iowa.
With Buttigieg coming off a strong finish in Iowa and surging in recent New Hampshire polls, Sanders supporters in the crowd weren’t the only Democrats to take aim. Biden’s campaign launched a new digital ad Saturday comparing Buttigieg’s record as mayor to that of Biden’s vice presidency, underlining attacks Biden had begun earlier last week when he said that nominating someone whose highest office was mayor of a city of 100,000 against President Trump was too great a risk.
The Biden ad mocked Buttigieg as a neophyte, comparing Biden’s role in helping bail out the American auto industry with the installation of “decorative bricks” in the sidewalks of South Bend, Ind., when Buttigieg was mayor. “Both Vice President Biden and former Mayor Buttigieg have taken on tough fights,” the ad said sarcastically. “We’re electing a president. What you’ve done matters.”
In his speech at the dinner, before a crowd of several thousand, Buttigieg said that people from Midwest cities are "tired of being reduced to a punch line by Washington politicians."
Hours after Biden’s ad went up, the Sanders campaign released its own attack on Buttigieg, over his big-ticket fundraising events. And Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., alluded to Buttigieg’s campaign’s reliance on wealthy donors and what she described as a candidacy designed by campaign consultants.
That all came after Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., spent Friday night’s debate repeatedly attacking Buttigieg, who stumbled in his response to a question about South Bend policing practices, a history that has hurt him with African-American voters.
Following the debate, Klobuchar saw a bump in fundraising, but it remains to be seen if her poll numbers will improve; in previous debates her performance was frequently praised by media pundits but she has struggled to rise above the low double digits in most polls. But there is enough data to show that Biden’s post-Iowa spiral, after his fourth-place finish in the caucuses, is continuing. The candidate who was the frontrunner for much of 2019 conceded that he’s likely to struggle in New Hampshire. “I took a hit in Iowa and I’ll probably take a hit here,” he said, blaming the fact that Sanders and Warren both hail from neighboring states. The Biden campaign is counting on a big turnout by African-American voters in South Carolina to boost him back into contention.
A new CNN poll indicated that Biden’s core argument — electability — had crumbled in New Hampshire, with just 25 percent of respondents saying they thought Biden had the best chance of winning in November, a 16 percentage-point drop from last month. His debate performance didn’t help his cause, with an Ipsos poll showing that those who watched were less likely to vote for him. In the polling average of New Hampshire, Biden now trails both Sanders and Buttigieg by double digits and is in danger of slipping to fourth behind Warren.
As the muddled race’s de facto frontrunner, Sanders continued his efforts to reassure Democrats that he can take on Trump. There was a recurring theme in the chants from his supporters, in a banner hanging in the SNHU Arena, and in the new branding of Monday’s election eve rally featuring Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y.: “Bernie beats Trump.” Sanders also deployed a line from his stump speech as a pitch at party unity during his address Saturday night.
“Even though we have differences of opinion, I know I speak for every candidate when I say no matter who wins the Democratic nomination we are going to come together to defeat the most dangerous president in the history of this country,” said Sanders to cheers from the crowd.
The candidates will blanket the state with more than 50 events over the next two days before Tuesday’s primary. If Sanders lives up to his polling numbers, the biggest question will be where the rest of the field ends up.
And President Trump himself will arrive here in the Granite State Monday. He’s scheduled to hold a rally Monday evening in the same arena where Democrats gathered on Saturday night.
At least one security guard in the arena seemed to have absorbed the message Trump has been sending about Sanders. When he overheard reporters discussing the contrast between party regulars sitting on the floor of the arena eating dinner while people in the seats above them watched, he turned and said, “Isn’t that how socialism works?”
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