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The last debate was crucial for the New Hampshire primary results

The last debate seemed to push New Hampshire voters to Amy Klobuchar and Pete Buttigieg.

Sen. Amy Klobuchar celebrates with her supporters in Concord, New Hampshire, after a strong third-place finish in the state’s primary on February 11, 2020.
Barcroft Media via Getty Images

Former South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg and Sen. Amy Klobuchar had big nights in New Hampshire’s Democratic primary election on Tuesday, with stronger-than-expected finishes — even if they both ultimately lost to Sen. Bernie Sanders.

One big reason for that: last Friday’s debate.

According to an NBC News exit poll, the majority of New Hampshire voters who decided on their candidate in the last few days went to Buttigieg or Klobuchar. Separately, the majority of New Hampshire voters who said last Friday’s debate was an “important factor,” went to Klobuchar or Buttigieg.

Sanders, by comparison, didn’t do badly in either of these categories. He still got 16 percent of people who picked a candidate in the last few days, and 20 percent of people who said the debate was an important factor.

But the past few days and the debate were simply better for Klobuchar and Buttigieg.

These were a lot of voters. Half of New Hampshire Democratic primary voters said they waited until the last few days to decide, and 49 percent said the debate was the most important factor or among several important factors, according to NBC News’s exit poll.

Without more data, it’s hard to say why the last couple days and the debate broke for Klobuchar and Buttigieg. I personally thought that Klobuchar did well at the debate, but Buttigieg didn’t impress me. It seems voters in New Hampshire disagreed with me, at least about Buttigieg.

Another possibility is that the debate may have led some supporters or possible supporters of former Vice President Joe Biden to jump ship. Biden, after all, began Friday’s debate by declaring himself a loser in New Hampshire, saying, “I took a hit in Iowa, and I’ll probably take a hit here.”

When even the candidate is telling New Hampshire voters to give up hope, it’s unsurprising if those voters — especially more conservative and moderate voters skeptical of Sanders’s more radical message — went for the alternatives. And Buttigieg, who won the most delegates in Iowa, even if he lost the popular vote to Sanders, and Klobuchar, a standout at the debate, were there for those who’d lost confidence in Biden’s chances.

Whatever the case may be, the data is clear that the presidential candidates shouldn’t take the last few days of campaigns or the debates for granted. They really can make or break their runs for president.