New Hampshire Primary Lookahead

Feb 9, 2020
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MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

We're going to begin today with a look ahead to New Hampshire, where voters will head to the polls in just two days for the second nominating contest of the 2020 presidential election. The primary there follows the tumultuous Iowa caucuses and a sharp-elbowed debate among most of the Democratic contenders on Friday night. Both events have scrambled some of the race's key storylines. NPR's Scott Detrow joins us now from Hanover, N.H.

Hi, Scott.

SCOTT DETROW, BYLINE: Hey there.

MARTIN: So for months, it seemed as if Joe Biden was the clear front-runner. At least, he was acting like it. I mean, his main focus was President Trump. But now he's lashing out at Bernie Sanders and Pete Buttigieg. What happened?

DETROW: Well, when you're the electability candidate, and you come in fourth place in Iowa, and that could repeat itself in New Hampshire, you need to change things up. What's striking to me is that the entire campaign, Joe Biden basically ignored the fact he was running in a primary and talked almost exclusively like he was already the nominee.

Then suddenly, this weekend, he shifts gears. He's running a negative attack, questioning and belittling Pete Buttigieg's experience as the mayor of South Bend and criticizing Buttigieg for comparing himself to Barack Obama. He talked about this with reporters this weekend.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

JOE BIDEN: Come on, man. You think these guys - this guy's not a Barack Obama.

DETROW: And Buttigieg had a pretty quick response to that talking to CNN today.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "STATE OF THE UNION")

PETE BUTTIGIEG: Well, he's right. I'm not, and neither is he.

DETROW: So there you go. And Buttigieg is saying that this is about the future, and Biden is dwelling on the past. And Buttigieg is seeing an uptick in the polls, drawing a lot of big, excited crowds this weekend.

MARTIN: OK. And what about the other candidate on the top of the polls in New Hampshire, Senator Bernie Sanders?

DETROW: Well, he's feeling pretty confident. This is a state that Sanders won by more than 20 points four years ago. Everyone expects that margin to be much tighter Tuesday no matter who's on top. But Sanders thinks his message about radical change to the political system plays really well here. I've been travelling with him all weekend, and he's got big - you know, you could feel the energy in the room when he's talking no matter where he goes in New Hampshire.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

BERNIE SANDERS: Can you hear the establishment saying, how do we stop Bernie Sanders and his movement? Oh, my god. The people are standing up, fighting for justice. How do we stop that? Working people want decent wages, decent trade agreements. People want health care for all. How do we stop it? Well, they ain't going to stop it.

DETROW: And one interesting thing about this weekend is that right now, most of the fire is going on between Buttigieg and Biden, and they're by and large leaving Sanders alone.

MARTIN: Of course, it's a larger field than these three men. What's at stake Tuesday for the rest of the field? I'm thinking particularly about Senator Elizabeth Warren, who seemed to have a strong start.

DETROW: She did. All of last year, she was regarded as the best-organized campaign, the one who could mobilize voters. You could argue she's the one that hits that exact middle ground the Democrats are looking for right now - that progressive message but with a track record of working with the establishment. And yet, it seems at the moment like she's being pushed to the side, that debate Friday where she didn't get much speaking time really crystallizing that.

I think Elizabeth Warren really has a lot of pressure to do better in New Hampshire than she did in Iowa. Even though she outperformed her polls, it's been a sudden focus on Buttigieg and Biden, leaving her out of the mix.

I think Amy Klobuchar is also somebody to watch. She's seen a lot of surging polls in the last few days as, I think, a lot of moderate Democratic voters weigh their choices right now. She could be someone they end up with.

MARTIN: That is NPR's Scott Detrow. He's in Hanover, N.H.

Scott, thank you so much.

DETROW: Thanks, Michel. Bye. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.