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Wake Up To Politics - February 12, 2020

I'm Gabe Fleisher, reporting live from WUTP world headquarters in my bedroom. It’s Wednesday, February 12, 2020. 10 days until the Nevada caucuses. 265 days until Election Day. Have questions, comments, or tips? Email me.

Bernie Sanders ekes out New Hampshire primary win

Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders claimed a narrow victory in the New Hampshire primary on Tuesday, consolidating the progressive wing of the Democratic Party behind him while the moderate vote remained splintered.

With about 97% of precincts reporting, Sanders is currently hanging on to a lead of about 4,000 votes, or 1.5%, over former South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg. Sanders stands at 25.9%, to Buttigieg's 24.4%. The biggest surprise of the night came from Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar, who skyrocketed to third place with 19.8%. Both Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren and former Vice President Joe Biden delivered disappointing results, landing at 9.3% and 8.4%, respectively.

"Let me say tonight that this victory here is the beginning of the end for Donald Trump," Sanders declared in his celebratory remarks to supporters. Dismissed by the party establishment in 2016 and in the run-up to this cycle, Sanders' New Hampshire win established him once again as a dominant force within the Democratic Party.

A self-described democratic socialist, many of his policy ideas have become standard fare among Democratic voters: exit polls show that large majorities of the New Hampshire electorate backed single-payer health care and free tuition at public colleges.

But New Hampshire will yield an equal number of delegates (nine each) for Sanders and Buttigieg, giving the two contenders — divided by age, style, and ideology, but bonded by a long-ago essay contest — something akin to another split finish.

Buttigieg, the openly gay, millennial, former mayor of a small Indiana city, eluded to his thin résumé on Tuesday night, seeking to create an advantage where others have spied a vulnerability. “A middle-class mayor and a veteran from the industrial Midwest was the right choice to take on this president, not in spite of that experience, but because of it," he said.

After a muddled caucus process in Iowa, the New Hampshire results provided the first clear picture of the state of the Democratic field — and led to the winnowing that normally would have come after the Iowa caucuses. Colorado Sen. Michael Bennet and entrepreneur Andrew Yang both ended their presidential campaigns on Tuesday night; former Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick is expected to join them today.

Now eight candidates strong, the Democratic field will travel next to Nevada (which holds caucuses on February 22) and South Carolina (which holds a primary on February 29) before the 2020 race goes national in the marathon month of March.

With the first two key contests over, here is where the Democratic presidential race stands:

Bernie Sanders is in the driver's seat. Having won the most raw votes in both Iowa and New Hampshire, Sanders has emerged as the unquestioned leader of the Democrats' left flank. For the first time, he has overtaken Joe Biden in the RealClearPolitics national polling average, a sign of his new frontrunner status. (Biden didn't even watch the primary results from New Hampshire, instead skipping to South Carolina, where he is hoping to rebound from his fourth- and fifth-place finishes.)

But Sanders certainly doesn't have anything sewn up. A win is a win, but the margin in New Hampshire could be a cause for concern for Sanders. In his neighboring state, which he won by more than 20% against Hillary Clinton in 2016, Sanders only barely edged out Buttigieg on Tuesday. In such a volatile race, it is far too early to declare anything wrapped up in his favor — even if his fortunes are currently on the rise.

There is no clear centrist alternative to Sanders. On the moderate side, the success stories of the night were Pete Buttigieg and Amy Klobuchar, who both had better-than-expected finishes in New Hampshire and were in a tight cluster for second and third place. However, they now face a steep challenge in expanding their support into the next states on the Democratic primary calendar, which have much more diverse electorates than Iowa or New Hampshire.

Thus far, Biden has maintained a strong polling lead among minority voters: does that change after his collapse in the first two contests? And are Buttigieg or Klobuchar, whose bases of support are both mostly white, able to capitalize off of it? Or will the beneficiary be former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who has turned his bottomless war chest towards building support in the delegate-rich states that vote later in the primary process?

In short: with two states down, the Democratic race remains deeply unsettled. The FiveThirtyEight model gives Sanders the best odds of winning the nomination (37%), but the scenario in second place is no candidate winning a majority of pledged delegates (34%). Buttigieg and Sanders — the Iowa and New Hampshire victors — will soon head to their more vulnerable territory in the South, where Bloomberg may be able to pick off enough delegates to deny anyone a majority and usher in a contested convention.

Or not. Almost every candidate in this race has seen their fortunes change on a dime, and there will certainly be quite a few more twist and turns before the winding road to the Milwaukee convention ends in about five months.

Prosecutors quit as DOJ changes Trump ally's recommended sentence

From the Washington Post:

"All four career prosecutors handling the case against Roger Stone withdrew from the legal proceedings Tuesday — and one quit his job entirely — after the Justice Department signaled it planned to undercut their sentencing recommendation for President Trump’s longtime friend and confidant."

"The sudden and dramatic moves came after prosecutors and their superiors had argued for days over the appropriate penalty for Stone, and exposed what some career Justice Department employees say is a continuing pattern of the historically independent law enforcement institution being bent to Trump’s political will."

"Almost simultaneously, Trump decided to revoke the nomination to a top Treasury Department post of his former U.S. attorney in the District of Columbia, who had supervised the Stone case when it went to trial."

--- The timeline of events: The line prosecutors issued their sentencing memo (recommending seven to nine years in prison) for Stone on Monday. President Trump sent a tweet calling their recommendation "horrible and very unfair" early Tuesday. A few hours later, Fox News reported that the top brass at the Justice Department was planning on scaling back Stone's recommended sentence. By the end of the day, the DOJ had released a new sentencing memo taking back its earlier recommendation — and the four career prosecutors involved in the case had withdrawn in protest. President Trump applauded the move this morning, as congressional Democrats called for investigations.

--- Related reading: "Barr takes control of legal matters of interest to Trump, including Stone sentencing" (NBC News)

"Trump’s War Against 'the Deep State' Enters a New Stage" (New York Times)

"Trump says military may consider disciplinary action against Vindman" (Politico)

"Barr acknowledges Justice Dept. has created 'intake process' to vet Giuliani’s information on Bidens" (Washington Post)


President Donald Trump will have lunch with Vice President Mike Pence, meet with President Lenín Moreno of Ecuador, and attend a campaign fundraiser at the Trump Hotel.

The Senate will vote on confirmation of four district judge nominees and begin consideration of a bipartisan resolution that would limit President Trump's authority to launch military operations against Iran.

The House will consider H.R. 2546, the Protecting America’s Wilderness Act.

Michael Bloomberg will campaign in Tennessee. Tulsi Gabbard will campaign in South Carolina. Amy Klobuchar will hold a fundraiser in New York. Tom Steyer will campaign in Nevada.

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