The Georgetown Institute of Politics and Public Service hosted an election results watch party for the New Hampshire primary election on Tuesday in Old North, drawing around 30 students and staff members to discuss the decisive victories of presidential candidates Sen. Bernie Sanders (D-Vt.) and Donald Trump.
IPPS Executive Director Mo Elleithee (SFS ’94) and America Rising Super PAC Executive Director Colin Reed facilitated the discussion and shared observations about the race. Elleithee served as former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s senior spokesperson during her 2008 campaign, while Reed directs a nonaffiliated conservative organization that exclusively targets Clinton.
The intimate contest in the small state of New Hampshire holds a unique status as the nation’s first primary election, while the Feb. 1 Iowa caucuses consisted solely of a selection of delegates. After a record turnout of over 550,000 people, the primary followed the expectations of polls with Trump outperforming the other Republican candidates with 35.3 percent of the vote and Sanders beating Clinton with 60.4 percent of the vote.
Elleithee said Sanders’ victory in New Hampshire, which included overwhelming support from the youth vote and a surprising victory in the demographic of women voters, exposes weaknesses in Clinton’s campaign, which in turn, could allow Sanders to win the nomination.
“Bernie Sanders has an opportunity now to seize upon this incredibly decisive victory among some demographics that are part of the bedrock of the Democratic coalition: women and young voters, which he won decisively,” Elleithee said. “He has an opportunity to build on that and create momentum for himself.”
Reed attributed Clinton’s loss to her support base, noting her ties to New York and the financial sector of the population.
“The Dems are going further to the left. There’s a real passion against the banking industry, the financial service industry, Wall Street that Sanders is tapping into eloquently,” Reed said. “Clinton was a senator from New York; obviously, she has a different relationship with them than if she was a fire-breathing populist from Vermont.”
On the Republican side, Elleithee expressed skepticism at the apparent dominance of the Trump campaign, crediting his success to a divided electoral field.
“Thirty-four percent. A third of Republicans support him. You know what that tells you? And maybe I’m sugarcoating it because I haven’t come to terms with this yet, but two-thirds of Republicans don’t support him,” Elleithee said. “Give him credit for 34 percent — that’s impressive. But it still tells me that the majority of Republicans aren’t comfortable with this guy as their standard bearer.”
Governor John Kasich (R-Ohio) finished higher than expected in second place with 15.8 percent of the vote. Kasich was one of four moderate, establishment Republicans who vied for second in New Hampshire, along with former Governor of Florida Jeb Bush, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and Governor Chris Christie (R-N.J.). Christie dropped out of the race after finishing sixth in the primary, along with former Hewlett-Packard executive Carly Fiorina.
Elleithee attributes Kasich’s success to staying out of the fray and rising above the negativity that has defined the race.
“Kasich worked the hell out of this race. He just worked it and worked it, and there isn’t a single person running for president in either party who was just so relentlessly optimistic and positive,” Elleithee said. “I think he’s going to run straight into a brick wall in South Carolina, but he beat conventional wisdom.”
Lauren Zelt (COL ’09), press secretary for Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.), teleconferenced into the event, relaying her observations from the ground in Dixville Notch, a small town containing nine votes where voting occurs at midnight and where Kasich won three Republican votes to Trump’s two.
“There was a lot of energy for Kasich today. I was at Dixville Notch last night, and it’s a small town, but everybody was talking about it all morning,” Zelt said.
Once the poll results were finalized, the discussion at the event quickly turned to speculation about who would win the eventual nomination.
Demographically, New Hampshire consists of 94 percent white voters, causing students at the watch party to question its accuracy at predicting the rest of the primaries.
Elleithee said the anti-establishment messages of Sanders and Trump have given them the advantage among voters.
“The average American believes that they are getting screwed,” Elleithee said. “What they want is a champion. Someone who will wake up every day and fight for them.”
Rubio, who came in fifth with 10.5 percent of the vote, had around six supporters at the watch party. Hunter Estes (COL ’18) remained unfazed despite the defeat, believing that Rubio would do well in the upcoming primaries and the general election.
“I think looking between other establishment candidates, he brings the most energy to the game, his rhetorical skills are phenomenal and what it comes down to is the most optimistic and hopeful message for the future of the U.S.,” Estes said.
Sanders supporter Aditya Pande (SFS ’18) said he was excited by the implications of his candidate’s victory for the future of the Democratic Party, even if he does not end up winning the nomination.
“Even if he doesn’t win, it’s definitely a win for the agenda and for the appeal of the Democratic party to Independents and Reagan Democrats. It’s a broader based appeal than the Democratic Party has had for a long time,” Pande said. “If he doesn’t win, he’s moved the agenda and the perception of the party to where I think it should be going.”