Scrambling expectations in NH

The New Hampshire primary always plays out on two levels: The horse race to grab bragging rights by finishing first and the expectations game that judges whether candidates overperformed or took a surprising dive, which can have a powerful effect on the race going forward, regardless of where they place in the contest.

On the first level, it was another win for Bernie Sanders, who is now 2 for 2 in the first primary season competitions after narrowly capturing the most votes in the Iowa caucuses (even while narrowly losing the delegate competition). It gives the Vermont democratic socialist a big tailwind and makes him the presumed front-runner for the nomination. His support is rock-solid and fervent, but it’s not very wide and he has no broad mandate from the Democratic electorate.

Indeed, with just under 26 percent of the vote as of this morning’s tally, Sanders is on track to capture the lowest vote-share ever for a New Hampshire primary winner, a fact that underlines just how fractured the Democratic field remains.

On the expectations front, Amy Klobuchar was the big winner, rocketing from a blip on the New Hampshire radar a couple of weeks ago to a strong third-place finish, only a few points behind second-place finisher Pete Buttigieg. The big losers were Elizabeth Warren and Joe Biden, who finished fourth and fifth. Perhaps there’s still hope for an early primary season win for Biden in South Carolina at the end of the month, but after getting trounced in neighboring New Hampshire, the senior senator from Massachusetts has no obvious path to winning an upcoming state primary.

Analysts and pundits have been quick in recent days to use poll numbers and the Iowa results to try to paint a picture of which way Democratic voters lean, calling the combined totals for Pete Buttigieg, Amy Klobuchar, and Joe Biden the left-center or moderate bloc, while combining support for Sanders with that of Elizabeth Warren to describe the share of voters leaning firmly left.

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By those measures, the electorate leans more to the center than the left (the New Hampshire vote would divide roughly 53-35 in favor of moderate among those top five finishers). Even ascribing that full 35 percent share to the left may be generous, however, as Warren moved in recent days (perhaps to her detriment) to position herself as a “unity” candidate who straddled the left and center.

It’s easy to make a case that those calculations point toward a more moderate winner under a system of ranked-choice voting — the kind of electoral reform that many Sanders backers likely support. A few later primaries in small states plan to use ranked-choice voting this year, but most states are not. Meanwhile, the first-past-the-post focus in Iowa and New Hampshire has led to a battle to win the optics between Sanders and Buttigieg, who ran close to even by each  grabbing about a quarter of the vote in both states.

The fact that the putative front-runner in the race has landed there with support from only a quarter of primary voters underscores why the race seems so unsettled. It’s why someone like Michael Bloomberg thinks he can still parachute into the race — along with a few hundred million dollars — without even vying in Iowa or New Hampshire and have a shot at the nomination.

There will be plenty of carping about the fact that Bloomberg was once a Republican. Of course, the guy who just won the New Hampshire Democratic primary (after also winning it four years ago) isn’t a Democrat. Meanwhile, the wild Democratic scramble is all for the right to take on a  president who was once a registered Democrat but has completely taken over the Republican Party with a set of positions on everything from trade to foreign policy to deficits that only a few years ago would have had someone laughed out of any GOP county convention.

All of which helps explain why the smartest pundits right now are the ones saying they have no idea where it will all land.



With a tax debate looming on Beacon Hill, the MBTA flips its operating budget philosophy, doing away with “structural deficits.” (CommonWealth)

Health officials oppose expanded booze sales. (Eagle-Tribune)

Officials: State’s plan doesn’t tackle housing crisis. (State House News Service)


Area residents criticize Columbia Gas at hearing. (Eagle-Tribune)

Gloucester schools investigating allegations of sexual assault. (Gloucester Daily Times)

For the fourth time in three days, gunfire erupted in Brockton. (The Enterprise)


All four federal prosecutors handling the case of Trump friend and adviser Roger Stone withdrew from the case — and one quit his Justice Department post altogether — after the department signaled that it planned to undercut their sentencing recommendation in the case. (Washington Post)

Doctors push back as Congress considers new rules on surprise billing. (NPR)

SNAP rule limits access to food. (The Salem News)

State vape rules fill some federal loopholes (State House News Service)


Former Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick will decide Wednesday whether he’ll will remain in the presidential race. (MassLive) Meanwhile, Sen. Elizabeth Warren says she’s in the race for the long haul. (MassLive) In the Republican primary, Bill Weld garnered 6 percent of the vote. (Boston Globe)


Northeast Alternatives, which opened Fall River’s first recreational cannabis dispensary last year, is now trying to open a second dispensary in Swansea. (Herald News)

Local chocolatiers are gearing up for Valentine’s Day— with some stores estimating they will sell 1,200 pounds of chocolate. (Patriot Ledger)


UMass Amherst agrees to pay $185,000 annually to the town of Amherst for educating students of parents living in tax-exempt college housing. (Daily Hampshire Gazette)

The board of trustees at Tabor Academy in Bourne is determining what to do about its headmaster, who was pulled over in January and arrested on charges of operating under the influence of liquor. (Standard-Times)


Paul Hattis of Tufts University Medical School unpacks Gov. Charlie Baker’s 30 percent plan for behavioral and primary care. (CommonWealth)

Editorial: Mental health program to reach youth in rural areas shows promise. (MassLive)

A Worcester Polytechnic Institute professor has developed a 3D model of the coronavirus. (Telegram & Gazette)


The Cape Cod Regional Transit Authority has developed a smartphone app to make accessing its services as easy as using popular ride-hailing services such as Uber and Lyft. (Cape Cod Times)


Good news and bad news on offshore wind: The launch of the industry delayed by an extended federal environmental review of Vineyard Wind, while Mayflower Wind unveils a low price for its project. (CommonWealth)

Boston University professor Nathan Phillips ends his hunger strike over the Weymouth natural gas compressor construction site. (WBUR)

A developer is proposing a 140-unit project on the site of the former Boston State Hospital in Mattapan that would be heated and cooled using geothermal energy. (Boston Globe)


How do you get a second-day story out of an op-ed by US Attorney Andrew Lelling denouncing “sanctuary policies”? Ask Somerville Mayor Joe Curtatone and strong backers of such policies if they still support them. (Boston Herald)

A corrections officer was assaulted by an inmate on Tuesday at the problem-plagued Souza-Baranowksi Correctional Center in Shirley. (Boston Globe)


The Dayton Daily News avoids the knife when the original owner buys back the paper from the private equity fund it had sold it to. (Nieman Journalism Lab)