Klobuchar gave her campaign a breath of life after her disappointing finish in Iowa. The exit polls from New Hampshire showed her pushing aside Biden, capturing the largest share of seniors, and nudging past Buttigieg to win white voters with a college degree. With Warren’s decline potentially allowing Klobuchar to emerge as the most viable female candidate, “she’s the biggest wild card in the race right now,” Rosenberg said. Yet she, too, faces uncertain prospects in more diverse states—and the reality that a third-place New Hampshire finish has not provided a lasting burst of momentum for previous candidates in that position.
Both Warren and Biden faced a catastrophic collapse of their support, even among the groups that are supposed to provide the foundation of their candidacies. Sanders bested Warren about three to one among voters who identified as very liberal; among those who called themselves somewhat liberal, Warren tied with Biden for a distant fourth, behind Sanders, Buttigieg, and Klobuchar. Among women, Warren likewise only roughly tied Biden for fourth.
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Biden’s implosion was every bit as thorough. He captured only about 10 percent each of whites without a college degree, white seniors, and white moderates—three groups he’s relying on. Biden ran even more poorly than in Iowa among college-educated white voters, capturing only about one in 20, the exit polls found. And, as in Iowa, younger voters almost completely rejected him: He won fewer than one in 10 of those younger than 45.
Even Sanders faced as many questions as answers in the results. The win established him as the nominal front-runner in the unsettled Democratic race, in part because he has demonstrated so much more capacity to raise money than any of the candidates who are not self-funding. “You’d rather be playing Sanders’s cards than anybody else’s at this stage,” Garin said. “He has the prospect of continuing to win, albeit not with large majorities. But in this process, if you pile wins on top of each other, that gives you an awful lot of strength going into the home stretch.”
Yet others note that the results in the first two states show Sanders struggling to build the surging movement that he’s promised to inspire. “The question of how low Bernie’s ceiling is is a big question in this race right now,” Rosenberg said. “Bernie’s got good-news bad news. He’s doing well, but he’s not doing well enough to win.”
In 2016, New Hampshire was Sanders’s best state, aside from his neighboring home of Vermont. He crushed Hillary Clinton with a commanding 60 percent of the total vote and built his broadest coalition in any state beyond Vermont. This time, Sanders’s coalition was both more narrow and more shallow. He dominated among younger voters, the biggest liberals, whites without a college degree, and men. But Sanders lost moderates (to Klobuchar and Buttigieg), adults ages 45 to 64 (to Buttigieg), and seniors (to Klobuchar). After comfortably winning somewhat liberal voters here four years ago, he split them about evenly with Buttigieg this time. Rather than expanding his coalition, Sanders depended on his most ardent constituencies.