CONCORD, New Hampshire — Hundreds of Bernie Sanders’s supporters packed into a high school gym here—after waiting outside in frigid temperatures to file through metal detectors one-by-one—to celebrate his big win. Meanwhile, about 20 miles away, a loyal crowd tried to keep its collective chin up as Hillary Clinton conceded defeat in the first Democratic primary contest.
The contrast highlights just how much damage Sanders is doing to Clinton’s campaign. Even though he’s still a long shot to snag the nomination, his candidacy is persuading young voters, women, and progressives that Clinton is in the pocket of big banks and corrupt corporations—and it’s persuading Clinton’s own supporters that they’re on the sadder side of this contest.
It remains to be seen, of course, if Sanders will actually be able to pick up any more wins. Current polls indicate that Sanders’s campaign in the other early states will be much trickier than his efforts in New Hampshire. Clinton’s double-digit leads in South Carolina and Nevada might have given a few of his supporters pause.
But those supporters weren’t in Concord tonight.
The gym his supporters packed into brimmed with unmitigated glee. An eclectic crowd danced, chanted, foot-stomped, and overall whooped it up for the democratic-socialist turned Democratic primary champion.
And the crowd’s devotion to their candidate highlighted just how much damage his candidacy is doing to Clinton’s—even if she’s the party’s ultimate nominee, which still seems all but guaranteed.
Numerous Sanders supporters flatly stated that they would under no circumstances back Clinton, citing the criticisms of her that Sanders brings up on the stump every day.
Ashley Bays of Quincy, Massachusetts, who came to New Hampshire to volunteer for Sanders, said she would “absolutely not” back Clinton, ever.
“It would be completely against my ideals,” she said.
“Hillary is obviously not thinking about the best interests of the people,” she continued. “She’s thinking about the corporations that fund her, Goldman Sachs.”
Peggie Greenough, a New Hampshire voter who came to the party along with her husband and three sons, said she wouldn’t vote for Clinton if she’s the nominee.
“I don’t trust her,” she said. “I don’t trust her at all.”
Marilyn DeLuca, of Londonderry, New Hampshire, also said Sanders is “the only candidate out there” with integrity. And she wasn’t exactly enthralled by Madeleine Albright and Gloria Steinem’s goofy arguments that women are obligated to back Clinton.
“They’re irrelevant,” DeLuca said. “Their time has come and gone.”
“I have two daughters in their twenties,” she added, “and they were so angry when they heard that.”
It’s all indicative of just how this competition may damage Clinton’s reputation and popularity. In his victory speech, Sanders said he’s braced for more opposition.
“I have been criticized during this campaign for many, many things, every single day,” he said in his slow Brooklyn accent. “That’s OK, that’s all right. They’re throwing everything at me except the kitchen sink. And I have the feeling that kitchen sink is coming pretty soon.”
But he might hope for such sink-throwing. Young women voters who spoke with The Daily Beast outside of polls shared their sentiments: that Steinem and Albright only energized the young women who back Bernie.
Clinton fought to beat back these criticisms in her speech to supporters who gathered in a gym in Hooksett, New Hampshire—and pledged to work on her pitch to young voters who supported Sanders by a whopping 83 percent, according to CNN exit polls.
“I know I have some work to do, particularly with young people,” Clinton acknowledged. “I will repeat again what I have said—even if they are not supporting me now, I support them.”
When she delivered that line, the Sanders supporters—watching her concession speech on a projector screen in the gym—started chanting, “BERNIE! BERNIE! BERNIE!”
Meanwhile, it was evident very early in the Clinton rally at Southern New Hampshire University that there wasn’t going to be much worth celebrating.
When the race was called for Sanders, the venue was just half full, and supporters were still waiting to be screened outside.
Supporters on risers inside the venue did their best to keep the crowd’s spirit up before Clinton arrived, clapping to Taylor Swift’s “Shake it Off” and periodically chanting, “I believe that she will win!”
(She, of course, did not.)
The Clinton campaign had planned for this loss—the expectations were lowered weeks ago. After all, Clinton hadn’t led Sanders in any poll since the first week of January, when a Public Policy Poll had her up by three points, 47 to 44 percent.
The message has shifted as the polling worsened. In an appearance in Manchester on Monday, former President Bill Clinton insisted that his wife was not part of the establishment—a particularly curious statement since, well, they were uttered by a Clinton about a Clinton. (An anti-establishment former president? Come on.)
Tuesday night’s talk was even Occupy-esque, full of promises to go after Wall Street and put criminal CEOs in the pokey. And therein lies a second trap: If Clinton wins the nomination by moving too far in Sanders’s direction, she may be unable to get back to the center in time for November’s general election.
Still, Clinton eked out a victory here eight years ago after a brutal loss in Iowa. It’s a fact Jennifer Palmieri, her 2016 communication director, referenced while speaking to reporters after Clinton’s defiant concession speech.
“We came in here thinking we were going to lose, she wanted to give it her all and I think that she felt that she got a lot out of this week,” Palmieri said. “Even if the outcome isn’t what she wanted, this is a place where she has come and found her voice before and felt like it was very valuable time spent with voters—particularly reaching out to some young voters... and she’ll take it from here.”
Palmieri deflected a question about whether the campaign message was the problem, telling reporters while Wall Street reform was important—Sanders’s main line of attack against Clinton—there were other important things like jobs and education that also needed to be addressed.
“What she said tonight... holding Wall Street accountable is an important thing we need to do for the economy and to make it work for everyone, but it’s not the only thing by any means,” she said.
Supporters at the rally were unfazed by their champion’s loss.
Kat Howland, 24, of Dover, New Hampshire, said the campaign here was part of a much larger picture for Clinton.
“It doesn’t really concern me that Hillary lost the race today,” she said. “It’s a bummer, I would have loved to see her speak here today while winning but two down, a bunch more to go and we’ll see what happens from here.”
And as the crowds filtered out and the music turned off, a group of Hillary supporters could be heard cheering in a room near where reporters were working. As they cheered one sentence was heard loud and clear:
“We live to fight another day!”