02:24 - Source: CNN
Sanders declares victory and others say their goodbyes
CNN  — 

The 2020 New Hampshire primary is in the books, and one of the messiest primaries in recent history seemingly got even messier.

Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders did win as expected. He remains the national front runner in polling and fundraising. But Sanders got just 26% of the vote and finished barely ahead of former South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg.

The slimness of Sanders’ victory along with the tight result in the Iowa caucuses strengthens the case that we may very well be heading towards a contested convention (i.e. no one winning a majority of pledged delegates).

Sanders’ share of the vote was the lowest for any Democratic New Hampshire primary victor since caucuses and primaries became the means by which most delegates are selected to the Democratic National Convention. Sanders didn’t come close to the 29% Jimmy Carter took in 1976, the previous record. He fell way short of his over 60% vote share four years ago.

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But it’s not just that Sanders’ vote share was low, it was that two other candidates were close by. Besides Buttigieg, Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar came in with 20%. Three candidates hitting 20% of the vote in the New Hampshire Democratic primary has not happened in the modern era.

The lack of clarity from New Hampshire follows an Iowa result that was just as unclear. Four candidates took at least 15% of the vote there. It was the first time in the history of the caucuses that this many candidates hit 15%. In fact, it was the first time since the 15% threshold was implemented for delegates on the Democratic side that four candidates hit 15% in any contest.

Indeed that’s the key point: multiple candidates are crossing 15%. If only two candidates were getting above 15%, a contested convention would look quite unlikely.

Now, I should say we saw a similar lack of a frontrunner in the early 1996 Republican contests. No one finished above 30% in either Iowa or New Hampshire. Bob Dole, of course, would go on to easily capture the Republican nomination after struggling in Iowa and New Hampshire.

This year, though, the Democratic frontrunner nationally isn’t close to getting to 30% in the polls. Dole was often at or near 50%. That is, Iowa and New Hampshire were aberrations in 1996. In 2020, the national polls suggest Iowa and New Hampshire are a sign of things to come. The national leader (Sanders) is scoring the lowest percentage nationally at this point since the 15% threshold went into effect for the Democrats.

(Sanders is also well below where Republican Donald Trump was at this point in a messy 2016 Republican field.)

Speaking of the national polls, it’s less than clear that Sanders and Buttigieg got the most from their performances in the Iowa caucuses. That is surprising. Usually, you’d expect them both to get the strongest bounce after finishing in the top two.

Instead, the candidate who seems to have gained the most since Iowa is former New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg. He seems to have picked up a lot of the support that former Vice President Joe Biden has lost.

It’s a signal that, at least some, voters are searching for a moderate alternative to Sanders. They just don’t know who.

You see this in the entrance and exit polls in Iowa and New Hampshire. A majority of voters in both states said they decided on whom to vote for in the last month, and in both states Sanders got a sliver of the vote he got among those who decided early.

In both states too, Buttigieg and Klobuchar were first and second among these late deciders. Voters though couldn’t get behind one alternative.

If those voters looking for someone other than Sanders continue to struggle like this, it does two things. It certainly helps Sanders gain a plurality of delegates. It also increases the chance for a contested convention with no one reaching a majority.