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Trump and Sanders Deal Major Blows to Establishment Candidates in New Hampshire

February 10, 2016, 4:59 AM UTC
bernie sanders
bernie sanders
Photograph by Jewel Samad—AFP/Getty Images

New Hampshire voters delivered blows to both Democratic and Republican Party establishments on Tuesday, picking insurgent candidates and leaving the trajectory of both nomination fights more muddled than they were a week ago.

Real estate developer Donald Trump, 69, and Sen. Bernie Sanders, 74, easily captured the most prized presidential primary win, even though both were running as representatives of political parties that neither of them belonged to for large portions of their lives.

“Tonight we served notice on the political establishment of this country,” Sanders said in his victory speech.

Despite trouncing Hillary Clinton by more than 20 percentage points in New Hampshire, winning a projected 60% of the Democratic vote in the state, Sanders remains a long-shot to capture the Democratic nomination.

The former secretary of state holds a lead, albeit a shrunken one, in national polls. Clinton also has a big edge in South Carolina and in Super Tuesday states with large populations of African American voters, who disproportionately back her.

But Sanders’ win propels him into a drawn-out fight with Clinton, raising new doubts about her ability to win a general election. Sanders called his New Hampshire win “nothing short of a political revolution.”

Moments later, Donald Trump took the stage at this victory party to the Beatles’ song “Revolution.” The reality TV star not only won the primary, but gained momentum heading into the national nomination fight.

With a projected 34% of New Hampshire’s Republican primary voters backing him, Trump finished far ahead of second place finisher Ohio Gov. John Kasich. The three subsequent placeholders, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, and Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, finished with similar vote counts.

The surplus of non-Trump Republican candidates likely to continue in the race stymies GOP hopes that New Hampshire would help them unite behind a so-called establishment candidate.

After a disappointing second place finish in Iowa, Trump showed he can convert a polling lead into votes. He can likely continue to win primaries if his many rivals continue to divide up the support among those GOP voters who oppose him.

With about 16% of the projected vote, Kasich finished a strong second. The showing allows the previously overlooked Ohio governor to bid for the title of establishment favorite.

The question for Kasich, who invested most of his time and resources in New Hampshire, will be whether he can transfer momentum from his strong finish into success in states where he has a limited organization and little time to campaign.

Jeb Bush, who was on pace to finish in fourth place, at 11%, just behind Cruz, may have benefited from his New Hampshire showing. After rallying from the mid-single digits in New Hampshire polls, Bush looks as viable as any other establishment Republican. And he has superior resources to compete in South Carolina and around the country.

Rubio was the biggest loser on Tuesday. The senator was on pace to finish in fifth place in the New Hampshire primary, less than a week after polls showed him in second place and rising.

The Floridian’s much-mocked repetition of a talking point during Saturday night’s GOP debate likely hurt him. After denying in recent days that he had fumbled in the debate, Rubio switched gears on Tuesday. “I did not do well on Saturday night, so listen to this,” he told supporters. “That will never happen again.”

In blaming his poor finish on the debate stumble, Rubio hopes to cast his New Hampshire failure as a one-time aberration, not a fatal error.

Meanwhile, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, whose takedown of Rubio’s repetition of a “memorized 25-second speech” at the debate wounded the Florida senator, did not profit from the attack.

Projected to finish in sixth place Tuesday in a state he focused on, Christie announced on Tuesday evening that he would suspend his campaign.