Politics
    Next Score View the next score

    Ground Game

    Who will win New Hampshire? Ranking the Democratic primary candidates with a month to go

    Democratic presidential hopefuls gathered during their debate on Dec. 19.
    Robyn Beck/AFP via Getty Images
    Democratic presidential hopefuls gathered during their debate on Dec. 19.

    Just a month remains until New Hampshire voters cast ballots in the first-in-the-nation primary. The result will matter.

    Historically, if Granite Staters affirm Iowa’s choice, then that candidate has always won their party’s presidential nomination.

    However, the last two times the decision was split, it led to a protracted 50-state campaign marathon through June.

    Advertisement

    From time to time this past year, the Globe has set out to answer this question: If the New Hampshire primary were held today, who would win? This week, we spoke with 20 New Hampshire activists, operatives, and insiders, who offered their unvarnished look at the race.

    RELATED | Sanders vs. Biden: Primary could narrow into battle between ‘restoring’ America and a revolution

    Get Today in Politics in your inbox:
    A digest of the top political stories from the Globe, sent to your inbox Monday-Friday.
    Thank you for signing up! Sign up for more newsletters here

    Based on their thoughts, recent polling, and an analysis of candidates’ on-the-ground operations, the list is shorter than two months ago. In early November, there were nine candidates on the list. This has been cut to just five, including the big four and Senator Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota.

    Most notably, this means that Representative Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii, businessman Tom Steyer, and entrepreneur Andrew Yang have been dropped. All have defied the odds, but with every day that passes, they seem to still be stuck at 3 percent in New Hampshire polls. None shows any signs of pulling off some dramatic Iowa surprise that would change their chances in New Hampshire.

    Also dropped from the list: Senator Cory Booker of New Jersey, who has quietly scaled back his travel to New Hampshire even as he is still announcing small local endorsements, including two this week from a state representative and a former state senator who was last elected 20 years ago.

    With all that said, here is where the race stands a month before the Feb. 11 primary:

    1. Senator Bernie Sanders

    Advertisement

    The man who won the 2016 New Hampshire primary by 22 points, the largest margin in a competitive Democratic primary since 1960, sits alone on top. In interviews with people across the Democratic political spectrum — even those who back Elizabeth Warren or Joe Biden, and Hillary Clinton loyalists who never felt the Bern — the general consensus is that if the primary were held today, Sanders would win.

    He has the name recognition. He has more money than anyone else. He entered the race with grass-roots infrastructure already in place.

    Two months ago in these rankings, he shared the top spot with Warren. Since then, the Massachusetts senator has dropped in polls and fund-raising. And her fall, more than his rise, has made Sanders the current front-runner. His top status is tenuous, and the results in Iowa could throw a monkey wrench into the whole thing for the 78-year-old.

    But for now, he is the candidate to defeat.

    2. Ex-vice president Joe Biden

    Folks, Biden isn’t lighting anyone’s hair on fire. He’s neither making anyone’s heart sing nor their dreams come true. Whatever the descriptor, his events aren’t bringing huge crowds and areusually just “low energy.” But that might not matter. Insiders are expecting record turnout for the primary. If that happens, there will be a lot of voters who really haven’t paid that much attention to the race. But they will know Biden — and maybe even buy into the idea that he is the most electable. Among those low-information Democratic primary voters, Biden could easily grab a lot of votes.

    3. Former mayor Pete Buttigieg

    Advertisement

    Buttigieg trailed only Sanders in the latest fund-raising quarter, and the most recent poll in New Hampshire found him topping the field, though in a four-way statistical tie. Voters who know him are getting behind Buttigieg at an impressive clip.

    It could be easy to lump Buttigieg in with Biden and say, who knows?

    But a lot of voters still don’t know Buttigieg, and if they do, they may not know what to make of him. This is why Biden has the slight edge today.

    Some insiders believe the heightened tensions with Iran might bolster Buttigieg, the only top-tier candidate who served in the military. Others think the troubles in the Middle East could cut the other way: Is this really the time to nominate someone who turns 38 this month and has never served in Washington?

    There is no doubt that Buttigieg is a hot ticket at the moment. But we don’t know the gap, if any, between the media buzz, great fund-raising, and top polling position and his field operation. And we won’t until voters in Iowa head into high school gymnasiums and churches on caucus night.

    4. Senator Elizabeth Warren

    Other than the shrinking number of candidates on this list, the biggest change from our November look at New Hampshire is Warren’s drop from being tied in first to fourth.

    On this point, there was no disagreement among those surveyed; the evidence shows she is at the bottom of the top tier in New Hampshire. In a tacit acknowledgment of her position, she has started doing things she had long shunned, such as appearing on Sunday political shows and even attacking some rivals. One wonders if Warren is also reevaluating her unofficial agreement with Sanders for them not to attack each other.

    To be clear, Warren is hardly out of the mix. No one wants to peak too early. The question is whether she can get back to the top in time.

    5. Senator Amy Klobuchar

    Klobuchar has long focused on doing well in her neighboring state of Iowa, but in the last month or so, she has had a little something going on in New Hampshire, as well. Two New Hampshire polls this week put her in fifth place for the first time, leapfrogging folks like Gabbard, Steyer, and Yang.

    In addition, she is getting more local endorsements, including one recently from former State House leader and Democratic National Committee member Peter Burling. Many of the insiders interviewed said she is the one to watch. Her rise, and a good showing in Iowa, could really shake up the race.

    James Pindell can be reached at james.pindell@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @jamespindell