NEW HAMPSHIRE – Republican Donald Trump and Democrat Bernie Sanders cruised to early victories in the New Hampshire primary on Tuesday, while Ohio Gov. John Kasich is projected to win a tight contest for second in the GOP race.
Trump, a brash billionaire reality TV star who has never run for office, and Sanders, a self-declared democratic socialist, were both seen as long-shot outsiders when they launched their campaigns. Their victories reflect deep bipartisan discontent at professional politicians and suggest that both the Democratic and Republican races will now be long struggles that could stretch well into the spring.
Kasich, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush were battling for a runner-up finish to assume the leadership of the GOP establishment. The fight threatens to split the establishment vote and fuel the momentum of Trump and Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, who won the Iowa GOP caucuses, as the campaign heads into delegate-rich Southern states where both are running strong campaigns.
Sanders’ victory was a blow for Hillary Clinton, who won New Hampshire in 2008. Speaking from her campaign headquarters, Clinton congratulated Sanders and said, “I still love New Hampshire and I always will.”
“Here’s what we’re going to do,” she said. “Now we take this campaign to the entire country.”
A source within the Sanders campaign told CNN’s Mark Preston that the victory meant that the Vermont senator’s operation would transition into a national effort targeting multiple states beyond the next two contests in South Carolina and Nevada.
Sanders intends to draw sharp differences with Clinton on the Trans-Pacific Partnership deal and other trade issues which could play into the campaign.
‘More and more desperate’
The primary is especially important for Trump, who hopes to bolster his narrative that he is one of America’s perpetual winners after coming second in Iowa.
Rubio will find out whether his stumble under New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie’s ferocious fire at Saturday’s GOP debate will stall his momentum after he looked on track to emerge as the top establishment candidate in the state.
As he left a polling station in Derry, Rubio dismissed concerns about his debate performance as a “media thing.”
“Voters in New Hampshire are serious about, they understand what’s at stake here,” Rubio told CNN’s Dana Bash. “The future of America is at stake.”
The primary also represents a make-or-break moment for establishment candidates like Ohio Gov. John Kasich, Bush and Christie, who could find it very difficult to raise sufficient campaign cash to continue if they get a poor result.
Kasich accused Bush’s once front-running campaign of “freaking out” after it upped attacks against him.
“They’re getting more and more desperate. They need to relax a little bit. You know, it’s just an election, a campaign,” he told John Berman and Kate Bolduan on CNN’s “At This Hour.”
For their part, Democrats are waiting to assess the magnitude of Sanders’ victory over Clinton, which could offer the anti-Wall Street crusader a boost heading into less-hospitable territory in Southern states.
The former secretary of state went to a Dunkin’ Donuts with her daughter, Chelsea, and several polling locations and bumped into Frank Fiorina, the husband of Republican candidate Carly Fiorina, who has been a scorching critic of Clinton during the campaign. She asked him to send her best regards to Fiorina.
Despite his lowly position in the polls, Christie has spent the past few days basking in his debate assault on Rubio.
Under pressure from the New Jersey brawler, Rubio repeated the same line four times during the debate, exacerbating criticisms that he is overly scripted.
“When the lights get that bright, you either shine or you melt, and we can’t afford to have a president who melts,” Christie said Monday at a campaign event in Hudson, New Hampshire.
Christie, Bush and Kasich are hoping that Rubio’s rough night halts momentum he built up coming third in Iowa. A strong second place in the Granite State would enhance Rubio’s case that he is best-positioned to consolidate opposition to Trump and Cruz.
Staff shakeup for Clinton?
Only hours before the primary, new clouds gathered around the Clinton campaign following a Politico report that the candidate and her husband were disappointed with the direction of her campaign and that a staff shakeup could be in the offing.
Clinton, after a campaign stop in Manchester, responded to the reports of a campaign shakeup in an interview on MSNBC’s “The Rachel Maddow Show” on Monday, acknowledging her campaign will “take stock” of their operation.
“I have no idea what they’re talking about or who they are talking to,” Clinton said of the Politico report. “We’re going to take stock, but it’s going to be the campaign that I’ve got. I’m very confident in the people that I have. I’m very committed to them, they’re committed to doing the best we can.”
David Axelrod, a CNN senior political commentator and former top adviser to President Barack Obama, suggested that the blame lies at the top.
“When the exact same problems crop up in separate campaigns, with different staff, at what point do the principals say, ‘Hey, maybe it’s US?'” Axelrod tweeted.