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What Democrats Want To See Happen During The New Hampshire Primary


And I'm Ari Shapiro in Manchester, N.H., where people have been voting all day in the first primary contest of 2020. For more on what to watch for tonight here in New Hampshire - other than whether we will actually get results - we are joined by NPR's Mara Liasson.

Hi, Mara.


SHAPIRO: OK. So we have to remind people once again - just like in Iowa, there's not a lot of delegates on the line tonight. Nobody is coming close to getting the nomination yet. So what is important as we watch this race and the results that are going to be coming in?

LIASSON: One thing that's important is turnout. That's pretty basic. Overall turnout was about 250,000 votes for Democrats in the 2016 primary, and turnout is a measure of enthusiasm. And it's also Bernie Sanders' electability argument. He says that he can turn out - bring millions of new voters into the process. He couldn't do that in Iowa, where turnout was disappointingly flat; it was about the same as 2016. He managed to get a tiny uptick in the 18-to-29-year-old vote - about 30% - but they're only 1% of the electorate. So we'll see if he can do that tonight.

We'll also find out if Bernie Sanders is a strong front-runner. He did the same in Iowa as he did in 2016. He tied for first place. But in New Hampshire, he has a tough act to follow - his own - because he beat Hillary Clinton by 22 points in 2016, and he's been leading in the polls all along. So one question tonight is, how close will Mayor Pete Buttigieg finish behind Sanders, who has clearly consolidated the left wing of his party?

SHAPIRO: If Sanders has clearly consolidated the left wing of his party, the center-left of the party is a little less clear. What are you looking for there?

LIASSON: A lot less clear. Ever since the guy who was supposed to be the most electable, Joe Biden, came in a disappointing fourth in Iowa, the big question is whether Democrats would consolidate around a center-left candidate - an alternative to Bernie Sanders - and who would that be? Right now Buttigieg is the strongest competitor against Sanders. But he appeared to lose some ground in recent days to Amy Klobuchar since the last debate, but Klobuchar has a lot of ground to make up. And Elizabeth Warren, who was trying to present herself as a kind of unifying balance between the center-left and the left, has made just enough big strategic errors to slip into a battle for third place. And that's not good for a senator from next-door Massachusetts.

So the bottom line question is - will we get more clarity after tonight, or will a lot of candidates continue slogging forward? And that really worries Democrats because they are desperate to unify and get going in the battle against Trump.

SHAPIRO: I want to ask you about another candidate slogging forward who has not competed in these first two states but who has spent a lot of money. Former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg is facing some fresh scrutiny today. What's going on?

LIASSON: Yes, a lot of scrutiny. There's tape of him saying that, back in the '90s, we put cops in minority neighborhoods because that's where all the crime was. Of course, black leaders will tell you that's also where the victims of crime were. But that policy had the unintended consequence of arresting more black kids for marijuana than white kids. And that is going to be a real issue for him in this primary.

SHAPIRO: So given how fractured the race is, who's going to take advantage of this, do you think?

LIASSON: Well, Bloomberg's relationship with the black community is clearly going to be part of the big battle in the primary, especially when you get to Super Tuesday states with large numbers of African American voters. His competitors will draw attention to it. But right now, the person really working this is Donald Trump. He tweeted that Bloomberg is a total racist, kind of just like he used the 1994 crime bill against Hillary Clinton to great effect. He is now trying to use it against Bloomberg.

He's not just tearing Democrats down; he's also trying to boost Bernie Sanders. Here's what he said about the muddled Iowa results at a rally he held last night in New Hampshire.


PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: I think they're trying to take it away from Bernie again. I think Bernie came in second. Can you believe it? They're doing it to you again, Bernie. They're doing it to you again.

LIASSON: So he's clearly trying to appeal to Sanders voters. A lot of them are in his white working-class demographic. He wants them to be upset and angry at the Democratic establishment. He's trying to create as much discord and disarray within the Democratic primary as he can, at the same time, undermining whoever might emerge as a threat to him.

SHAPIRO: NPR national political correspondent Mara Liasson on this day of the New Hampshire primaries.

Thanks, Mara.

LIASSON: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Mara Liasson is a national political correspondent for NPR. Her reports can be heard regularly on NPR's award-winning newsmagazine programs Morning Edition and All Things Considered. Liasson provides extensive coverage of politics and policy from Washington, DC — focusing on the White House and Congress — and also reports on political trends beyond the Beltway.
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