Upcoming 2016 states hold rewards, perils for leading candidates

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump gestures as a protestor is removed from the arena during a campaign stop at the Tsongas Center in Lowell, Mass., Monday, Jan. 4, 2016. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)

WASHINGTON (MEDIA GENERAL) – Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders were the obvious winners in New Hampshire’s first-in-the-nation primary. But, up and down the leader board, candidates got important clues as to their prospects going forward.

To prep a proactive ground game, campaigns toss aside a simple winner-loser rundown, and focus on current rankings, candidate strengths, and voter composition.

That’s where it gets interesting – and complex.

Dems in NH

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) trounced Hillary Clinton in New Hampshire, beating the former secretary of state 60%-38%.

Clinton acknowledged, “I know I have some work to do particularly with young people.” But, the problem actually goes far deeper when you look closely at the numbers.

Murphy’s (Electoral) Law hit Clinton hard in the Granite State.

Real Clear Politics writes, “Young people, middle-aged voters, Independents, Democrats, men, as well as women helped hand Sanders what could turn out to be his happiest night in national politics, according to exit polls completed around the state.”

Dems Look Ahead

The next races in South Carolina and Nevada could hold starkly different fortunes for Sanders, a Democratic Socialist whose primary message is leveling the playing field through campaign finance reform and breaking up big banks.

The likely problem for Sanders – and blessing for Clinton – is minorities.

The Clintons have longstanding ties to black and Latino communities, enjoying personal and political support from such voters in the past. Conversely, Sanders has experienced a rough go of winning over large numbers of minority groups.

That’s a big deal for a Democrat in the South.

South Carolina’s population is nearly 28% black, more than double the Unites States average, according to the Census Bureau. Within the overall S.C. population, 39% of voters identify as Democrats.

Bernie Sanders, Hillary Clinton
(AP Photo/Stephen B. Morton)

Democratic rolls draw heavily on the state’s substantial pool of black voters, meaning Clinton’s past efforts on minority issues and current advocacy for Flint, Michigan, will likely play a powerful role in motivating her supporters to turn out on February 27. Sanders hasn’t had the time to shore up the same levels of backing.

Nevada is the other key race quickly approaching, where Dems caucus on February 20.

The Southwest state is home to 738,000 Hispanics, making it the nation’s fifth highest concentrated population of Latinos according to Pew Research Center. With few exceptions, Hispanics have been a reliable and enthusiastic Democratic-leaning group in previous elections.

Democrats heavily outnumber Republicans in Nevada (46%-37%), making it a prime target for candidates on the left.

Before declaring Clinton the winner of both contests, consider this survey surprise. A recent Public Policy Polling (PPP) national study found that while Clinton has substantially more black support than Sanders (82%-8%), her lead shrank significantly among Hispanic voters (48%-36%).

What’s more, PPP found that Sanders actually has higher approval ratings among Hispanics than Clinton (71%-66%), so there’s room to grow.

Expect to see more overtures to minority voters, like Sanders’s breakfast with Al Sharpton the morning after his New Hampshire win.

GOP in NH

The top six Republican finishers in New Hampshire were: Trump (35%), Gov. John Kasich (16%), Sen. Ted Cruz (12%), Jeb Bush (11%), Sen. Marco Rubio (10%), and Gov. Chris Christie (7%).

Trump rejoiced, hugged family, thanked allies, and even called a man named Al – bedecked in ‘Make America Great Again’ gear – onto the cramped stage for a handshake.

Kasich reveled in his come from behind second-place victory, touting the virtues and victories produced by his positive campaign, saying, “I think we’re really onto something here.”

Marco Rubio
Republican presidential candidate, Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla. listens to a question from the crowd during a rally, Saturday, Jan. 16, 2016, in Johnston, Iowa. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

Cruz overcame low expectations, finishing a respectable third in a state known to be less conservative and minimally religious.

Marco Rubio didn’t do so well, and he knew it. The freshman Florida senator came in fifth, blowing a wealth of goodwill and momentum following his strong finish in Iowa. Rubio acknowledged the role of his less-than-lauded debate performance and promised “it will never happen again.”

Despite a fourth-place finish, Jeb Bush vowed to continue his fight in South Carolina, where former President George W. Bush will join him on the campaign trail.

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie put a lot of stock in his straight-talk appeal with New Hampshire residents, but it never materialized, prompting Christie to announce a return to his Garden State home to take a deep breath and reassess. As of this post, Christie allies suggest he will discontinue his campaign. Carly Fiorina has already announced she will suspend her campaign.

GOP Look Ahead

First of all, Trump is well ahead of his competitors in the upcoming 2016 races.

And now, the rest of the story.

Kasich goes into the upcoming races with more juice and expanded media coverage. That could help and/or hurt the Ohio governor who’s known to speak his mind. If he utilizes the buzz the right way, Independents and GOP voters might give him a second look when shopping for a moderate pick.

Once the races move into the Midwest, Kasich’s campaign argues his name recognition and home court advantage will translate into wins.

Concentration of American Evangelicals in South. (Source: Pew Research Center)
Concentration of American Evangelicals in South. (Source: Pew Research Center)

Until then, all eyes are on Cruz and Rubio.

Conventional wisdom posits that both 40-something senators – who are of Hispanic descent and eagerly advertise their faith — feel at home wooing right-leaning voters and will play well in places like South Carolina where Pew found 78% of the population is Christian and 47% attend church services at least once a week.

Immigration could create the most significant divide in states like Nevada, where Latinos feel passionately about immigration reform. Many are directly affected by such policies, since Pew finds only 59% of Nevada Hispanics were born in the United States.

Rubio has supported a pathway to legalization for undocumented immigrants, but Cruz says he blanketly opposes both legalization and citizenship.

Super Tuesday is still a month away, March 1-March 6 brings with it primaries and caucuses in nearly 20 states.

In the intervening time, any number of factors could shift the races, including a clear establishment front-runner to pose the first real challenge to Trump’s national lead.

Follow Chance Seales on Twitter: @ChanceSeales

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