Voters in Iowa and New Hampshire cast their votes for Democratic and Republican nominees earlier this month, and Rice students were paying attention. Leaders of campus political groups weighed in with their analysis.
In the Democratic races, former Secretary of State and Democratic frontrunner Hillary Clinton won by a razor-thin margin in Iowa, and Sen. Bernie Sanders, Vt., won by over 20 percentage points in New Hampshire.
In the Republican races, Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas won in Iowa, besting Republican frontrunner and businessman Donald Trump by three percentage points. Sen. Marco Rubio, Fla., came in third, behind Trump by one percentage point.
Trump won by a significant margin in New Hampshire, with a cluster of candidates vying for second. Gov. John Kasich of Ohio placed second, and Cruz, former Gov. Jeb Bus, Fla., and Rubio came in third, fourth and fifth, respectively, finishing within 1 percent of each other.
The once-crowded Republican field has thinned from a record-breaking 17 candidates to six: Trump, Cruz, Rubio, Kasich, Bush and retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson.
Rice Young Democrats’ communications director and Clinton supporter David Cirillo called Clinton’s narrow 0.3 percent win in Iowa a victory and said he thought that the demographics in Iowa favored Sanders.
“By all circumstances, Bernie should have won Iowa because his base is very homogenous in being very liberal and white,” Cirillo, a Sid Richardson College sophomore, said. “The fact that Hillary still won is a signifier of her strength.”
Rice Students for Bernie President Alex Amari said he attributed Sanders’ success in Iowa to Sanders’ appeal to voters frustrated with the current state of politics and to the turnout of young voters at the caucuses.
“I think Bernie’s sincerity resonated with a lot of Iowans who feel frustrated and alienated from the establishment politics of Washington, D.C.” Amaria, a Jones College sophomore, said. “Young people played a huge role in him getting so many delegates; 80 percent of people voting in the caucus aged 17 to 29 supported Bernie.”
Cirillo said he was unsurprised by Sanders’ win in New Hampshire and pointed to a number of factors that may have helped the senator.
“The trend of being from New England really lends to winning New Hampshire, as does the large homogenous white population and young liberals in the state,” Cirillo said.
Amari said Sanders’ win does not necessarily equate to an advantage in securing the 2,382 delegates needed to clinch the party nomination due to the imbalance between superdelegates who have pledged to support Clinton and those who have done so for Sanders.
“Bernie and Hillary may be walking away from New Hampshire with the same number of delegates, despite the 20-point difference in the vote,” Amari said. “Clinton has around 360 pledged superdelegates across the country, while Bernie has just eight.”
The GOP contest seemed to be Trump’s to win, but the real estate mogul’s last-minute decision to skip the Republican debate to hold his own rally may have hurt him in Iowa, according to Rice College Republicans President Sam Herrera.
“[Moderator] Megyn Kelly put Trump in an uncomfortable position, and he didn’t want to be there again,” Herrera, a Duncan College junior, said. “But if you can’t face a reporter at a debate, how are you going to lead the United States? I think Iowa voters picked up on that weakness.”
Cruz campaign staffers contacted Iowa precinct leaders before and during the caucuses to announce that Ben Carson was dropping out of the race. Carson said he did not have plans to leave the race and later denounced the action as “blatant lying” on CNN.
Many, including Herrera, believe that it was an objectionable move that may have tipped the scales in Cruz’s favor.
“What they did was deplorable, and it shows that Senator Cruz’s campaign will compromise its principles for political gain,” Herrera said. “I think that did detract from Ben Carson, who a lot of people thought would be third in Iowa.”
Herrera had predicted that a clear establishment-lane candidate would emerge from the New Hampshire primary, but the results seemed to proved otherwise.
“I think Marco Rubio’s performance in last Saturday’s debate in his crossfire with [Republican candidate] Chris Christie totally destroyed his chances of getting second or even third in New Hampshire,” Herrera said.
College Republicans outreach coordinator and Rubio supporter Gary Dreyer agreed.
“Iowa seemed to make everything clearer, then New Hampshire seemed to muddle everything up,” Dreyer, a Hanszen College freshman, said.
Both Herrera and Dreyer said they expect the Feb. 20 Republican primary in South Carolina to provide a definitive alternative to Trump.
“South Carolina is going to knock one or two candidates out,” Herrera said. “I think Ted Cruz could get second and I think Marco will get third.”
Dreyer said he believes establishment candidates Kasich and Bush will eventually drop out.
“Kasich is going to try to stick around, but Super Tuesday will not be good to him,” Dreyer said.
On the Democratic side, Wiess College sophomore and Clinton supporter Alex Bergin dismissed Sanders’ New Hampshire win as inconsequential.
“South Carolina is definitely not going to be a narrow win like Iowa,” Bergin said. “South Carolina has her beating Sanders by an even wider margin that he beat her in New Hampshire. Nevada might be a closer margin, but I still think she’s going to win that.”
Amari said he predicted close races in Nevada and South Carolina.
“I expect an extremely tight race between Sanders and Clinton [in Nevada],” Amari said. “If enough young voters come out, the race will be very close in South Carolina as well.”