WASHINGTON: Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, a self-professed Democratic socialist, narrowly won primary elections in New Hampshire in the inner-party polls on Tuesday, coming ahead of moderate Pete Buttigieg. But the headline development was the dismal fifth-place finish of former vice-president Joe Biden, the establishment favorite.
Widely seen as being the most credible challenger to President Donald Trump in the 2020 election by virtue of his experience (eight years as Obama’s vice-president) and moderate/centrist policies, Biden was pushed to fifth place after virtually giving up on New Hampshire, a mostly white state whose primary, following the Iowa caucus, sets the tone for the party nomination.
Having finished fourth in Iowa last week, Biden and his campaign fled to South Carolina, a more racially diverse state whose 27 per cent black population is expected to be more hospitable to the Obama surrogate when it holds its primary on February 29. Nearly two-thirds of Democratic primary voters in South Carolina are black
While there is despair in the Biden camp pending a possible bounce back in South Carolina, there is also a sense of gloom among followers of Elizabeth Warren, the Massachusetts Senator who finished fourth in New Hampshire with 9.23 per votes, just ahead of Biden’s 8.42 per cent. She was expected to do much better in a neighboring northeastern state.
Warren finished third in Iowa with 18 per cent votes in a shambolic caucus that embarrassed Democrats even as it threw up a surprise winner in Pete Buttigieg, a 38-year old gay mayor of a small town in Indiana who wasn’t given much a chance by political pundits who believe US may not be ready to have a homosexual as President.
But Buttigieg finished a strong second in New Hampshire with 24.44 per cent votes, just behind Sanders with 25.70 per cent, suggesting that the Democratic rank and file is not bothered with his sexuality. Amy Klobuchar, another moderate, came third with 19.82 per cent votes, ahead of both Warren and Biden, improving on her modest showing from Iowa where she finished fifth with 12.3 per cent votes.
Between 25 and 30 per cent of eligible voters vote in US primary elections aimed at allowing party faithfuls to have a voice in the nomination process, although party bosses often control the outcome. Hillary Clinton became the nominee in 2016 with support from party stalwarts, thwarting the efforts of Bernie Sanders, who appeared to have strong grassroots support from the younger generation tied of Washington’s politics-as-usual.
Sanders, who is now 78, is showing that he has not lost any of his brio and appeal among young liberal-progressive elements of the party by surging to the top of the field although the real test will come in South Carolina, whose majority black Democratic voters view the Senator from Vermont, a mostly-white state, with suspicion. The more moderate Buttigieg too has not been a hit among black voters and will be put to the test in South Carolina and other more diverse states.
While Democrats are still duking it out with the field now narrowed to about half dozen candidates (Asian American Andrew Yang was the latest to drop out from the race), President Trump serenely progressive in the Republican primaries with no significant challenge from within the party.
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