CONCORD, N.H. – For Democrats, this was supposed be a moment to begin easing three years of built-up of anxieties. Instead, the launch of the 2020 presidential primary has left the party deeply unsettled and President Donald Trump gleeful about the chaos.
Party leaders are on edge over embarrassing technical issues that marred this past week's Iowa caucuses, as well as lower than expected turnout in the leadoff state. Front-runners Bernie Sanders and Pete Buttigieg face questions about their long-term political viability, while some supporters of the two leading women left in the race — Sens. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota — are raising alarms about what they view as persistent sexism.
“It’s a hard start,” said Laura Keeler, a 35-year-old from Concord, New Hampshire.
Indeed, it’s far from the 2020 launchpad most Democrats envisioned as they eagerly anticipated their opportunity to take on Trump. The turbulent start to this election year has also crystallized the challenges confronting Democrats in trying to mount a formidable challenge to an incumbent backed by an energized and united Republican Party and fortified by a soaring economy.
“We’re capable of shooting ourselves in the foot,” warned Jim Hodges, an ex-South Carolina governor who supports former Vice President Joe Biden in the 2020 race. Hodges is among those who predict that Sanders, a Vermont senator who is a self-described democratic socialist, would be a weak general election candidate.
With one primary contest complete and the second scheduled for Tuesday in New Hampshire, some sorting of the Democratic field has begun.
Though The Associated Press has been unable to declare a winner in last Monday's Iowa caucuses, Sanders and Buttigieg, a former mayor of South Bend, Indiana, emerged in an effective tie.
Biden, the longtime national front-runner, finished a distant fourth in Iowa. He's now facing a money crunch, a staff shakeup, and a looming challenge from billionaire Michael Bloomberg. The former New York City mayor isn’t competing in the early states, but is spending hundreds of millions of dollars in later contests.