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National Editorial & Columnists

Dems still in their first lap: Who can get across the finish line remains to be seen

The good news for democracy Tuesday was that in New Hampshire they know how to count votes. That’s especially good news for Bernie Sanders, who was denied his election night TV time in Iowa last week, but not this time as he narrowly won the Granite State. Whether that’s good news for the Democratic Party is another story.

The socialist from next-door Vermont repeated his triumph from 2016, albeit with a smaller (26%) share in a much larger field. The result showed the loyalty of Sanders’s millennial and left-wing supporters despite a heart attack and his 78 years. In poll after poll, in state after state, Sanders has retained that plurality base of more than 20%.

The New Hampshire win after his near-tie in Iowa gives him considerable momentum going into Nevada, then onto South Carolina and the Super Tuesday states on March 3. He already is leading in California, the March 3 state with the biggest delegate count. That plurality, if it holds, will keep him above the 15% threshold needed to rack up delegates all the way to the Milwaukee convention.

In a splintered field, which it may continue to be for some time, Sanders has staying power even if most Democratic voters prefer someone else. Donald Trump took similar pluralities all the way to the Republican nomination and the White House in 2016.

The other winners Tuesday night were Midwesterners Pete Buttigieg (about 24%) and, in a mild surprise, Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar at 20%. We say mild because she was the star of Friday’s debate and had risen in the weekend polls. She won a major chunk of late-deciding voters.

Klobuchar also may have benefited from the campaign implosion of Joe Biden, as she picked up his theme of electability and a “return to normalcy” after the Trump Presidency. Her challenge now will be to raise enough money to organize and compete as the race expands to more populous states. She always has struck us as a candidate with the gravitas and message to give Trump a strong race in swing states.

Buttigieg capitalized on his apparent Iowa victory and showed he can attract voters who think Sanders is too far left to beat Trump. The former South Bend mayor has enough money to compete in the next states, but he will need to show he can appeal to minority voters in addition to the white gentry liberals who like his biography and his ability to speak in Barack Obama-style aspirational tones about progressive progress. South Carolina will be a major test of his staying power.

The biggest losers were Biden (8%) and Elizabeth Warren, the senator from neighboring Massachusetts who invested heavily in New Hampshire. She fell below the delegate threshold line with about 9% and will have to rebound in Nevada and South Carolina or reconsider her campaign. The candidate with the plan for everything never has been able to supplant Sanders as the champion of the millennial progressives.

Biden’s fall to fifth place shows that voters may be concluding that his day has passed. His message that he can defeat Trump loses credibility if he can’t finish ahead of four other Democrats. He also can blame House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who tried to take out Trump with impeachment but instead gave Trump a chance to drag in Biden and his son Hunter’s actions in Ukraine. Tuesday night, Biden made an overt pitch to black and Hispanic voters to salvage his campaign in South Carolina and Nevada.

Overall, the results show an unsettled race, with Democrats still looking for the candidate they hope can beat Mr. Trump. Former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg joins the fray on Super Tuesday with the biggest checkbook in the history of politics. But as long as the field contains multiple candidates, Sanders’s socialist plurality has the advantage.

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