Politics
Analysis

As a long race beckons, Tuesday winners Trump and Sanders face challenges

With a roar of discontent toward the political establishment, New Hampshire voters sent the presidential contest into what seems likely to be an extended march that will quickly move to territory far less hospitable to Tuesday night’s big winners, Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump.

After a riotous eight days that ended with the first successful Democratic insurgent win here since 1984 and the first Republican win ever by a TV host and real estate entrepreneur, the races now diverge. Tuesday marked the end of regional contests and the beginning of a national campaign, with all the financial and logistical demands that entails.

On Feb. 20, Democrats in Nevada and Republicans in South Carolina will vote. On Feb. 23, Nevada Republicans will make their picks, and four days later Democrats will compete in South Carolina. Then the race widens to more than a dozen states, many in the South, that vote on March 1.

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"And here’s what we’re gonna do," Hillary Clinton said after her loss in New Hampshire, speaking for all the candidates Tuesday night. "Now we take this campaign to the entire country."

The Republican electorate ahead will be mostly white, as it was in New Hampshire, but different from the suburban Northeasterners who controlled Tuesday’s vote. Southern voters care about social issues, meaning the next rounds will mostly be fought on favorable ground for Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, the Iowa caucuses winner, and, perhaps, Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida.

In Nevada, about half the Republican voters are Mormons or evangelicals, a different face of religion than in the South and the opposite of New Hampshire’s extremely secular electorate.

Trump has led convincingly in early polls in both South Carolina and Nevada, although arguably it is only in the last two weeks that most of the other candidates in the race became more broadly known.

Surprisingly, given that his vote tally in Iowa was significantly lower than polls had projected, Trump if anything overperformed on Tuesday, suggesting that he won last-minute converts.

Trump has shown considerable strength in some parts of the South. The question for him will be whether he can expand his support beyond his core supporters. He won in New Hampshire by gaining about one-third of the GOP vote. That works well in a field with many candidates, not so well as the list grows shorter.

Often, New Hampshire serves as the contest that causes the list to shrink. Not this time, however. That "should concern the establishment," nonpartisan analyst Charlie Cook said. "While the results were great for [Ohio Gov. John] Kasich, they weren't that great for the establishment that badly needed resolution."

Indeed, the biggest problem for all of the non-Trump candidates is all of the non-Trump candidates. With three — Cruz, Rubio and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush — bunched just a few points behind second-place finisher Kasich, none has an incentive to get out now. (Only New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie appeared Tuesday to be considering a departure.)

Kasich is aiming at later spring primaries in the industrial Midwest, Bush and Rubio are looking toward Florida’s mammoth March 15 primary, and Cruz has his eye on March 1 primaries that include his home state.

The most interesting fight in the next weeks may be between two men trying to recapture their mojo, Rubio and Cruz.

In Nevada, Rubio has tried to claim family status because he lived in the state during his childhood. Both there and in South Carolina, he will be under pressure to prove he can win somewhere in order to maintain his flow of money and support.

Rubio and Cruz both have conservative positions on issues such as abortion and same-sex marriage and have done well in the sort of evangelical-heavy areas common in the South. But in South Carolina, they will come up against a resuscitated Bush, who will be under the wing of the state’s longtime, and popular, Sen. Lindsay Graham. Bush also will have the help of his brother, former President George W. Bush, who won a brutal South Carolina primary in 2000.

Kasich will try to build momentum but will face challenges. The Ohio governor put all his resources into New Hampshire. While he will certainly gain attention and money from Tuesday’s results, the move to a more conservative electorate means positions he has taken, including acceptance of some Obamacare programs, will get more attention. He campaigned in New Hampshire as a supporter of a path to legalization for immigrants in the country illegally, a position opposed by the party’s conservative base.

Democrats have a simpler race ahead. The ethnic makeup of the electorate will change radically from overwhelmingly white Iowa and New Hampshire. South Carolina is 28% black. In Nevada, almost 30% are Latino. In both states those groups represent the key element of the Democratic base.

Clinton’s campaign has expressed confidence -- publicly, at least -- that she would weather tough races in Iowa and New Hampshire and reassert her dominance as the contest turned to Southern and Southwestern states with more diverse electorates. But the results on Tuesday were a difficult turn. One Clinton campaign concern is that Sanders will benefit from the same primary dynamic that aided Barack Obama in 2008: a cascade of support that fell toward him as voters realized that he might actually win the nomination.

The situations are different: Obama was a breakout African American candidate trying to appeal to black voters. He never did yank Latinos from Clinton in the Southwest, despite much effort.

As a senator from Vermont, Sanders has not had to forge the relationships that would come in handy now with black and Latino voters. But as the New Hampshire contest wore on, he became more adept at expressing concern about issues important to those voters. On Wednesday he is headed to New York to meet with African American leaders.

Clinton has been building such relationships for years, and keeping black and Latino voters aboard will be a high priority for her. She also has wielded Sanders’ past opposition to gun control measures, a subject that may resonate in a state that suffered through the Charleston church massacre last year.  

For now, Sanders must sell his message of revolution in states that are less liberal ideologically, in addition to being more ethnically diverse.

Clinton must calm supporters and blunt defections. And, as she noted in her concession speech Tuesday night, she must seek some way to speak to young voters, including women, that is more successful than what she tried in New Hampshire.

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Before the voting was finished here, Clinton's campaign announced that the mothers of several slain young black men would campaign for her in South Carolina. Her Sunday visit to Flint, a majority-black city in Michigan whose water supply has poisoned residents, was aimed in part at African Americans in South Carolina.

But, as if to lower expectations further on a bleak night, her campaign manager, Robby Mook, released a memo asserting that the road to victory would be long.

"At the same time as we are competing aggressively in Nevada and South Carolina, it's important to understand why the campaign is investing so much time, energy and resources in states with primaries and caucuses in March," he wrote. "The reason is simple: While important, the first four states represent just 4% of the delegates needed to secure the nomination; the 28 states that vote (or caucus) in March will award 56% of the delegates needed to win."

In other words, as Kasich said in a memorable Tuesday night speech: If you don’t have a seat belt, buy one.

cathleen.decker@latimes.com

For political news and analysis, follow me on Twitter: @cathleendecker . For more on politics, go to latimes.com/decker.

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