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Pay close attention to New Hampshire's independent voters

First Read is your briefing from "Meet the Press" and the NBC Political Unit on the day's most important political stories and why they matter.
Image: Supporters wait in line to attend a campaign event for Democratic 2020 U.S. presidential candidate Senator Amy Klobuchar in Salem, New Hampshire
Supporters wait in line to attend a campaign event for Sen. Amy Klobuchar in Salem, N.H., on Feb. 9, 2020.Brendan McDermid / Reuters

MANCHESTER, N.H. — Arguably the most important group to watch in Tuesday night’s Democratic primary here are the state’s undeclared — or independent — voters, who make up a larger share of New Hampshire’s electorate (42 percent) than any other voting bloc.

In 2016, Bernie Sanders won a whopping 73 percent of these independent voters. But in our NBC News/Marist poll we released on Friday, Sanders was getting just 22 percent of them — compared with Buttigieg at 25 percent and Joe Biden and Elizabeth Warren at 10 percent apiece.

What’s going on here? Well, because there isn’t a competitive GOP primary this year, you not only have pro-Bernie indies, you also have the GOP-leaning independents who backed John Kasich and Jeb Bush in 2016.

And Buttigieg has been trying to win over those independents while campaigning here in New Hampshire.

“I have a vision for this country that is about moving us forward. It's about ensuring that we draw together the energies of Democrats and independents, and even some Republicans who want to cross over,” he said on “Meet the Press” yesterday.

If Buttigieg is going to pull off the upset on Tuesday against Sanders — or at least make it close — it will be due to those independents.

Ditto if Amy Klobuchar continues her momentum, especially after Friday night’s debate.

The moderates’ standoff in New Hampshire

But it’s also very possible that the independent-moderate vote needed to beat Sanders in New Hampshire gets split up three ways, giving Sanders an easy win in the Granite State.

Indeed, the action over the last 72 hours here has resembled moderates acting like the characters at the end of Quentin Tarantino’s “Reservoir Dogs.”

On Friday, Klobuchar knocked Buttigieg at the debate. “It is easy to go after Washington, because that's a popular thing to do... [it] makes you look like a cool newcomer," she said. "I don't think that's what people want right now. We have a newcomer in the White House, and look where it got us. I think having some experience is a good thing.”

The next day, Joe Biden’s campaign went after Pete Buttigieg with this digital ad.

Then the Buttigieg camp fired back.

And guess what: The latest Boston Globe/WBZ/Suffolk poll has Sanders at 27 percent, Buttigieg at 19 percent, Klobuchar at 14 percent and Biden and Warren at 12 percent each.

But before the debate, the tracking poll had it Buttigieg 25 percent, Sanders 24 percent, Warren 14 percent, Biden 11 percent and Klobuchar 6 percent.

Tweet of the day

Trump strikes back

Meanwhile, back in Washington, we saw President Trump retaliate after being acquitted in his impeachment trial.

On Friday, he fired Gordon Sondland as EU ambassador and removed Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman from his White House post — both men testified under oath in the Democrats’ impeachment inquiry.

He attacked Democrats who voted to convict Trump in the impeachment trial, like Joe Manchin and Doug Jones.

And he continued to go after Mitt Romney.

All over a matter where the president of the United States pretty clearly asked another country to investigate a political rival; where the Trump administration held up that country’s security aid; and where the White House said it wouldn’t cooperate with the House of Representatives’ investigation into it all.

2020 Vision: Buttigieg nets the most delegates out of Iowa

Nearly a week later, the Iowa Democratic Party finally released the delegate totals from the Iowa caucuses.

Here’s the split of the 41 delegates that Iowa will be sending to the Democratic convention in Milwaukee:

  • Buttigieg 14
  • Sanders 12
  • Warren 8
  • Biden 6
  • Klobuchar 1

On the campaign trail today

One day before the New Hampshire primary, President Trump holds a rally in Manchester at 7:00 p.m. ET… Bernie Sanders stumps in Manchester, Rindge, Hudson and Durham, where he holds his rally with The Strokes… Pete Buttigieg makes stops in Plymouth, Milford and Exeter… Joe Biden visits Gilford and Manchester… Elizabeth Warren campaigns in Rochester and Portsmouth… Amy Klobuchar hits Keene, Nashua, Exeter and Rochester… Andrew Yang is in Rochester, Concord, Portsmouth, Manchester, Derry and Keene…And Michael Bennet, Deval Patrick and Tulsi Gabbard also campaign in the Granite State… Outside of New Hampshire, Tom Steyer is in South Carolina.

Dispatches from NBC’s campaign embeds

While crowd size isn't a scientific indicator of support at the polls, Amy Klobuchar is hoping it is, since she just beat her own crowd size record in the Granite State, per NBC's Amanda Golden. "Klobuchar drew over 1,100 people at a get-out-the-vote rally on Sunday. During the rally, she explained why her childhood experiences with her father's addiction would make her a good president. 'I learned what it was like not to have a perfect life, what it was like not to have your dad there on Christmas morning, and I think what I've learned from that is one, resilience, that no matter what happens to you, you gotta pick yourself up,' she said of her father’s addiction and its impact on her life. 'Good quality in a president.'"

And Pete Buttigieg is escalating his battle with Bernie Sanders, NBC's Priscilla Thompson reports. "He first hit the senator from neighboring Vermont for his 'you're either for revolution or you got to be for the status quo' language. Buttigieg said, 'that's a vision of the country that doesn't have room for most of us.' Then during the Q&A, Buttigieg continued to work in his knocks on Sanders, highlighting differences between the two. 'Some of my competition says you don't deserve an explanation on how much things are going to cost and how to add it up,' he said. 'I think you do.'"

Data Download: The number of the day is … five


That’s the number of pages of medical records that Elizabeth Warren released in December, which included results of blood work and routine lab tests.

It contradicts Bernie Sanders’ declaration on “Meet the Press” yesterday that he’s released as much medical information and documents as his rivals have.

In late December, Sanders released just four pages of letters from three doctors – containing none of the detail of Warren’s release.

And yesterday, Sanders said he would not be making any more health records public.

“I mean, you can start releasing medical records and it never ends,” he said.

The Lid: The Vermin Supreme Experience

Don’t miss a special edition of the pod from Saturday, when guest star Alex Seitz-Wald gave a glimpse at the, er, unconventional candidates also running for president here in New Hampshire.

Shameless plug: Live Free or ToddCast!

Check out Chuck’s latest podcast from Manchester, when he previewed the Granite State primary night with the state’s foremost experts.

ICYMI: News clips you shouldn’t miss

One of the most consequential New Hampshire results might actually be the battle for third place.

Warren is kicking her attacks on Pete Buttigieg up a notch.

Alex Seitz-Wald tracks Buttigieg’s improbable rise.

Amy Klobuchar’s fundraising is looking pretty good after her Friday night debate performance.

Mitt Romney is taking heat from Trump allies, but he’s still got the respect of many of his home state backers.

Now that we have Iowa results (at least according to the Iowa Democratic Party), here’s how you can keep track of the delegate race.

Trump Agenda: What’s in your wallet?

Here’s what we know about Trump’s new $4.8 trillion budget.

And here’s the effect it could have on domestic spending like food stamps and Medicaid.

Lindsey Graham is outlining what he will – and won’t – do to follow through on investigations being demanded by Trump allies.

2020: Attack of the Dems

Started, this Democratic intra-party war has. (And it’s not going to be a short one.)

POLITICO asks: Is it Bernie’s party now?

Ryan Lizza takes an in-depth look at how Buttigieg talks about his barrier-breaking candidacy.

Jonathan Allen looks at Joe Biden’s record on welfare reform.

Tom Steyer is skipping primary night in New Hampshire.

A “lying dog-faced pony soldier” is, um, what exactly?