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Jan 23, 2024, 12:58pm EST
politics

It’s Trump’s to lose as New Hampshire voters finally weigh in

Republican presidential candidate Nikki Haley visits a polling location at Winnacunnet High School to greet voters on Jan. 23, 2024, in Hampton, N.H.
Getty Images/Joe Raedle
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The Scene

SALEM, N.H. – At midnight, Nikki Haley swept the first six votes cast in the New Hampshire primary. At 7 a.m., dozens of Trump supporters queued up at North Salem Elementary School and washed that away.

“Trump’s always going to be followed with chaos,” said Rob Eyssi, 54, walking out of the polling place. Haley had been saying the same thing — “chaos follows him” — at nearly every stop across the state.

But Eyssi had voted for Trump, as had most of the people who showed up early to get this over with. “Everybody’s fighting him over everything that he tries to do,” Eyssi explained. “But he’s still fighting for us.”

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A few of them thanked Chuck Morse, a Trump-supporting candidate for governor, who’d brought some volunteers with MAGA signs to the polls. Walking back to their cars, and passing the invisible “no electioneering” line, two voters pulled on “TRUMP” knit caps.

Morse, who narrowly lost a 2022 U.S. Senate primary to a more pro-Trump candidate, said he endorsed Trump after traveling the state and learning how deep the former president’s support went.

“It’s pretty obvious,” Morse said. “I represent the people. I thought it was time for me to speak.”

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Trump entered primary day with a commanding poll lead over Haley, and a growing chorus of endorsers urging her to quit. Haley entered it with high hopes and an updated argument for her candidacy — “the entire political elite” wanted Trump, she said at a Monday night rally in another part of Salem.

“I don’t care how much y’all want to coronate Donald Trump,” Haley told Fox and Friends on Tuesday morning.

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David’s view

It’s rare for a competitive presidential primary to end in New Hampshire. Haley’s campaign has already bought ad time in South Carolina, where the conservative Republican electorate better reflects the party’s base.

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There’s no question anymore how GOP partisans feel: The base, after sifting through its options last year, wants a third nomination for Donald Trump. In the final pre-primary poll from CNN and the University of New Hampshire, 67% of registered Republicans here supported Trump. He won just 54% of those voters in Iowa last week.

But he did worse with independent voters, and they’ve helped Haley out-last every other Trump challenger in New Hampshire. Last week, Secretary of State David Scanlan projected turnout of around 322,000 votes today, which would break both party’s records. How will we know what happened? Here are three numbers to watch, in the Republican primary and in the Democratic race that President Biden is skipping.

322,000. Start there, because Scanlan’s projection surprised people. In 2020, a competitive year with 10 Democratic campaigns trying to turn out voters, nearly 299,000 showed up for their primary.

Where would these new voters come from? Trump’s crowds, while massive, are smaller than they were in 2016; Haley’s crowds, which have grown for months, are sprinkled with out-of-state spectators, eager to meet her but unable to vote. Eleven months ago, a political memorabilia collector from Rhode Island stopped me at Haley’s first New Hampshire stop, asking if I wanted to sell him my potentially historic press pass. Last night in Salem, I ran into the same man, who’d driven back up to cram into the overflow room of Haley’s final get-out-the-vote speech.

The X-factor: A pool of nearly 400,000 undeclared voters who can show up and vote in either party primary. Most of them voted for Joe Biden over Donald Trump. Primary Pivot, formed last year by a Democrat who wants to stop Trump, has been working on the 130,000 undeclared voters who pulled a Democratic primary ballot four years ago. The goal, founder Robert Schwartz told Semafor, is to “change the denominator.”

48%. That’s the share of non-Democrats who turned out for their 2020 primary in New Hampshire — nearly all undeclared voters, a handful who identified as Republicans and had recently changed their registration. This year, around 3,500 Democrats heeded Primary Pivot and the Chris Christie campaign and switched their status to potentially vote Republican.

To cut into Trump’s lead, or to beat him, Haley’s supporters need non-Republicans to make up a majority of the primary vote, and for her to win them decisively. There’s no precedent for this. Every winner of the Republican primary has won registered Republicans. In 2000, John McCain’s campaign finance reform crusade made him popular with New Hampshire liberals, powering him to a landslide — but he won Republicans by 8 points, too.

Haley is far less popular with non-Republicans. Here, as in Iowa, a significant share of her voters say they’re more enthusiastic about stopping Trump than about supporting their candidate. It should be clear fairly early whether a surge of anti-Trump voters surprised pollsters and dramatically changed the electorate. The Trump campaign’s omnipresent ads hitting Haley over potential Social Security cuts were designed to stop that.

5,503. Eight years ago, that was how many Republican primary ballots were cast in Rochester, one of the fastest-growing cities in New Hampshire, and one of the most competitive. Barack Obama won it twice; Trump won it easily over Hillary Clinton and narrowly over Joe Biden; in 2020, Bernie Sanders carried it by 234 votes, a sign that he would prevail over a surging Pete Buttigieg.

In the 2016 primary, Trump carried the city with 38% of the vote, a bit better than his statewide average. Every candidate fought for it this year; on Sunday, Dean Phillips rallied at the local Democratic Party headquarters as the crowd for Trump’s rally grew at the opera house down the street. It’ll be a good, early place to see whether undeclared voters have arrived for Haley, whether they’re picking the Democratic primary for a pro-Biden or protest vote, or whether they stayed home.

49.6% That was the total vote for Lyndon B. Johnson in this primary, 56 years ago, the last time an incumbent president was only available as a write-in option. Biden’s challengers have held that up as an example of what could happen, even if they get fewer votes than him today; an embarrassing showing that convinces other Democrats to get into the race, and maybe convinces Biden to step aside.

Maybe the “if” isn’t necessary. Marianne Williamson has never predicted victory for her New Hampshire campaign, as she’s drawn small crowds of progressive voters. Phillips has told Semafor, and other outlets, that he’d be happy with a result in the 20s. In his campaign office, an old “Life” magazine cover about Johnson is prominently displayed, and he has compared his campaign to the 1968 Eugene McCarthy bid that humbled Johnson.

“I think the president made a big mistake,” he told reporters in Hanover last week. “Like another Minnesotan did, back in 1968, I think I’m going to demonstrate that.” Barack Obama got 81% of the vote in New Hampshire in 2012, when he was seeking a second term, when Democrats fretted about his re-electability, and when he actually appeared on the ballot; Phillips et al would prefer that to be the baseline, confident that Biden can’t reach it.

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The View From The Haley Campaign

In a Tuesday memo for the media, Haley campaign manager Betsy Ankeny rebuked pundits who see no winnable state for her after New Hampshire. “Despite the media narrative, there is significant fertile ground for Nikki,” she wrote, highlighting next month’s open primary in Michigan and Super Tuesday primaries in “Virginia, Texas, Maine, Massachusetts, Minnesota, North Carolina, and Vermont, all with favorable demographics.” The memo did not predict a win in New Hampshire.

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The View From The Trump Campaign

The ex-president and his surrogates are calling for Haley to wrap it up as soon as possible — extending the race would be giving aid and comfort to the enemy, Joe Biden, they say. “Now is the time for the Republican Party to unify,” Trump said at his final pre-primary rally, in Laconia on Monday. True to form, he’s suggested that Haley’s hunt for non-Republican votes is illegitimate, and his campaign points down the calendar to note that no other state has such high participation from independents.

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The View From Democrats

Biden supporters just want to get out of here. Scanlan projected turnout of around 88,000, high for a primary with an incumbent president, even when he’s not on the ballot. Biden’s surrogates spent the weekend urging voters to end the primary quickly: “I think he’s gonna win. And I think that’s gonna give him a boost of momentum,” said California Rep. Ro Khanna at a house party in Concord. Meanwhile, Phillips’s supporters want a big enough showing to justify continuing into more hostile states.

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Notable

  • In Politico, Jonathan Martin travels to the end of the campaign trail with Gov John Sununu; “while he tries not to show it on the campaign trail, Sununu shares Haley’s frustration with the Trump coverage.”
  • In the Boston Globe, Jess Bidgood and Emma Platoff search in vain for the usual primary circus. They find “a creeping sense that perhaps nothing here — not the months of campaigning or the millions of dollars spent — really mattered in the face of Trump’s dominance.”
  • And in Semafor, Shelby Talcott and I have covered the push for a “ceasefire” protest vote, the growing Haleyworld attack on Trump’s age, and many reasons why Ron DeSantis isn’t competing today.
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