Analysis-Takeaways from the New Hampshire presidential primary

Analysis-Takeaways from the New Hampshire presidential primary

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© Reuters. A voter enters a voting booth to fill out a ballot to vote in New Hampshire’s first-in-the-nation U.S. presidential primary election at the Medallion Opera House in Gorham, New Hampshire, U.S., January 23, 2024. REUTERS/Faith Ninivaggi
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By James Oliphant

MANCHESTER, New Hampshire (Reuters) -Donald Trump, the former president, won his second straight nominating contest over challenger Nikki Haley, the only other Republican left in the race, by besting her in Tuesday’s New Hampshire primary.

Haley, who served as Trump’s ambassador to the United Nations, was attempting to keep the margin close in order to argue she has a viable path forward.

Meanwhile, President Joe Biden easily won the Democratic primary, even though he wasn’t officially on the ballot.

Here are takeaways from the New Hampshire primary:

A PRICKLY PATH

It was often said in New Hampshire that Haley needed to keep Trump’s vote share below 50% in order to argue that more Republicans want Trump to go away than win.

But she failed to do that on Tuesday, leaving her as the leader of a no-Trump coalition that is likely not large enough to get her where she wants to be. With votes still being counted, Trump was on track to eclipse her by double-digits.

Before voters headed to the polls, Haley’s campaign argued a path lay ahead for her even if she didn’t win New Hampshire. Campaign manager Betsy Ankney noted that multiple states on the calendar will have setups similar to New Hampshire, where independents can crash the party and vote.

South Carolina, which holds its Republican primary on Feb. 24, allows any voter who doesn’t first cast a ballot in the Democratic primary on Feb. 3 to vote. Michigan, which follows, has an open primary and a closed convention.

Then comes Super Tuesday on March 5, when 874 delegates are up for grabs from 15 states and one U.S. territory. Ankney said roughly two-thirds of those are in states with open or semi-open primaries.

She named Virginia, Massachusetts, Texas and North Carolina among states where Haley could perform well with independent or moderate voters whom the campaign views as persuadable.

Still, all of this could soon become academic. If Trump blows Haley out in her home state of South Carolina, where she served as governor, she will face mounting pressure to quit.

Until then, Haley has a month to campaign, raise money and position herself as the only anti-Trump Republican left.

RED FLAGS

Trump’s victory wasn’t nearly as sweeping as his Iowa win last week, but it was never expected to be in a state with an electorate packed with moderate Republicans and independents.

In fact, the town-by-town map showed Trump fell to Haley in New Hampshire in many of the same areas where he lost to Biden in 2020.

That should concern the Trump campaign because Biden beat Trump in the state by about seven percentage points, a margin that made it hard for even Trump to cry fraud.

According to exit polls by Edison Research, independents flocked to Haley. She won 60% of them, and she dominated among college graduates 56% to 41%.

Perhaps the biggest warning light of all was on abortion. The issue did not really play in the primary between Trump and Haley, but it will be central to a matchup with Biden.

Among voters who considered the issue their top priority, Haley won 64% to 30% even though she is ostensibly more conservative on the issue than Trump.

Haley, however, has signaled that she would approach the issue pragmatically as president.(Trump otherwise dominated among self-identified religious voters.)

All that suggests Biden can still assemble a coalition in November that can defeat Trump if he becomes the nominee.

TRUMP STRENGTHS

But there was no denying that Trump continued to flex his muscle with the Republican base.

He crushed Haley among working-class voters without college degrees, according to Edison. Among those who said they made less than $50,000 a year, Trump took 66% of the vote.

He won large majorities among voters who said they attend religious services weekly and who said they own a gun.

Perhaps most critical for a rematch with Biden, Trump, unsurprisingly, kept his hold on voters who described themselves as dissatisfied or angry with the state of the country and dominated among voters who said the economy was “not so good or poor.”

For voters who said their families were falling behind financially, Trump won 74% of their support.

And for New Hampshire voters who were most interested in which candidate could beat Biden in November, Trump handily beat Haley 59% to 39%.

That means a majority of Republicans still do not buy the argument Haley has been making that Trump is unelectable.

NO WORRIES

It is hard to lose to a candidate who isn’t on the ballot, but Democrat Dean Phillips pulled it off on Tuesday.

For Biden, the result brings a sigh of relief that his campaign avoided what could have been a mortifying night that would provided talk-show fodder for weeks. The incumbent president was on track to win the primary by a nearly 50-percentage-point margin after voters wrote his name in on their ballots.

The primary offered Phillips a chance to make a name for himself after the national Democratic Party punished New Hampshire for refusing to follow the more diverse South Carolina on the Democratic primary calendar. Since no delegates will be awarded from the New Hampshire primary, Biden did not bother with qualifying for the ballot.

Phillips, a Minnesota congressman and the only mainstream Democrat challenging Biden for the nomination, aired a surprising number of TV and radio ads in the run-up to the primary while the Biden campaign kept its distance from the whole thing.

Local Democratic officials, looking to ensure their state did not become a political punchline, mounted a write-in effort on Biden’s behalf.

More than 30,000 Democrats braved the cold to write in Biden’s name even though it meant nothing in the grand electoral scheme, a win that the White House will take. At least among some Democrats, there were no hard feelings about being bypassed in favor of South Carolina, which holds the first official Democratic primary on Feb. 3.

INDIES TO THE RESCUE?

Haley needed a healthy number of independent voters, who are permitted to vote in the primary, to come out for her to offset Trump’s strength with traditional conservatives.

There were early signs that may have been occurring, based on Edison Research exit polls.

According to Edison, 34% of voters who turned out considered themselves moderates or liberals, compared to 29% in 2016, when Trump won the primary handily.

Of the 43% percent who called themselves independents, Haley was winning 60% of their vote compared to 35% for Trump. She was winning 73% of those who call themselves moderates.

On the flip side, Trump was dominating with self-declared conservatives, winning them by a 70% to 28% margin.

More than half the voters (51%) believe Biden did not win the 2020 election fairly, according to the poll. Trump, who has perpetuated that false claim since he lost to Biden, was getting the vast majority of those voters at 86%.

More than half the voters (54%) also said they believed Trump would be fit for the presidency even if convicted of a crime, the poll said.

Conversely, 42% said he would be unfit, and Haley was earning 84% of those voters. That suggests Trump’s legal problems could hamper him in a general-election matchup against Biden.