As recently as Dec. 1, Clinton was leading Sanders by more than 4% points in New Hampshire and more than 10% points in Iowa . Clinton was supposed to be inevitable, Sanders inconsequential.
The Democratic race was over the second that polls closed in New Hampshire at 8 p.m. EST Tuesday night, when Vermont independent Sen. Bernie Sanders was instantly declared the winner.
By the time all the votes had been counted, five hours later, Sanders had defeated his rival Hillary Clinton by an eye-popping 21 percentage points, the largest margin of victory in a contested Democratic primary in the Granite State since the start of the modern era.
To be sure, the chattering classes “expected” Sanders to triumph Tuesday. He had been leading in opinion surveys for months, and New Hampshire borders his home state.
Still, it’s worth stepping back for a moment to reflect on how improbable this result — a Bernie Sanders primary victory — seemed just a short time ago.
When Sanders announced his presidential bid back in April, with a ramshackle press conference in the shadow of the U.S. Capitol, almost no one in Washington, D.C., took him seriously.
At the time, Sanders was averaging 5.6 percent in the national polls; Clinton was averaging 62.2 percent.
As recently as Dec. 1, Clinton was leading Sanders by more than 4 percentage points in New Hampshire and more than 10 percentage points in Iowa.
Clinton was supposed to be inevitable; Sanders, a Democratic socialist, was supposed to be inconsequential.
“We started out at zero,” Burt Cohen, a member of Sanders’ New Hampshire steering committee and a former state senator, told Yahoo News. “Everybody knew Hillary Clinton just six months ago. We did not have any kind of home state advantage. Nobody knew Bernie Sanders.”
Yet now that the dust has settled on the first two Democratic nominating contests of 2016, the race suddenly looks very different. Last week in Iowa, Sanders came within one-quarter of one percentage point of upsetting the former secretary of state. And Tuesday in New Hampshire, Sanders clobbered Clinton among the very voters who, in 1992, transformed Hillary’s husband, Bill, into the “Comeback Kid” and who stunned pollsters and pundits 16 years later by picking her over Barack Obama.
According to one of his closest aides, Sanders pumped his “fist in the air” when the networks announced that he had won New Hampshire. Supporters cheered and danced as they awaited his victory speech in the Concord High School gymnasium.
“We were feeling good, but this is something else,” Karthik Ganapathy, Sanders’ New Hampshire communications director, told Yahoo News. “To have this margin, this moment, this energy in here…”
“Hear that?” Ganapathy asked, as the crowd chanted Sanders’ name. “That’s something.”
Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., center left, watches for results with his wife, Jane, at a primary night party at Concord High School, on Feb. 9, 2016, in Concord, N.H. (Photo: John Minchillo/AP)
Sanders, a self-described “democratic Socialist,” won the primary by focusing on income inequality, campaign finance reform, universal health care and free public college education. When he finally took to the stage, about an hour after the results were announced, Sanders characterized his victory as a message to the nation’s elites.
“Together we have sent a message that will echo from Wall Street to Washington, from Maine to California, and that is that the government of our great country belongs to all of the people, and not just a handful of wealthy campaign contributors and their super-PACs,” Sanders said.