Candidates flying around New Hampshire like the snow.
Updated: Feb 25
This year, I'm taking Georgetown students on a tour of early state nomination contests. While in New Hampshire, we stopped by the debate at St. Anselm College, the McIntyre-Shaheen 100 Dinner at the SNHU arena, and a few candidate events. Here's what they saw. (We were in Iowa last week.)
Unity and Division
When it came to party unity, Friday and Saturday evenings could not have been more different.
During Friday’s debate, we saw the significant others of major candidates — from Jill Biden to Bruce Mann to Jane Sanders — sitting amiably together as their spouses cordially clashed on stage. Tom Steyer, as he is fond of doing, reminded the audience that all of the Democratic candidates are “a million times better than Donald Trump.” Bernie Sanders, infamous for his polarizing rhetoric and his Bernie-or-bust backers, said “no matter who wins this damn thing, we’re all going to stand together.”
By Saturday night, that façade was gone.That evening’s McIntyre-Shaheen dinner put a magnifying glass to the Democratic party’s differences — and Sen. Sanders’ supporters were largely to blame.
One might expect the dinner — a massive party-building exercise that brought more than 7,000 ardent supporters into Manchester’s SNHU Arena — to be a safe space for Democratic candidates. Instead, it was quite the opposite, throwing into question the ability of party to eventually coalesce around a single candidate.
Pete Buttigieg, the first candidate to speak, took the stage to raucous boos and jeers from sign-holding Sanders supporters.
If the behavior were only a few overly-rowdy Sanders fans who got out of hand, it might have been excusable. But the persistent chants — “Wall Street Pete”— were actually led and coordinated by Sanders’s official organizers.
The heckling continued as the night wore on, with Joe Biden and others finding themselves in the crosshairs. Only Amy Klobuchar’s direct acknowledgement of the dynamic — in the form of a cheerful “Hi, Bernie people!”— seemed to pacify the Sanders supporters.
Look, I understand that this is a competitive primary. Candidates will do what they can to scratch and claw for any additional bit of support — especially in a primary field that does not feature a clear frontrunner. But the behavior of Sanders supporters left me with lingering questions and a bad taste in my mouth.
Does it matter that Bernie says he stands for unity even as his surrogates and organizers attack both the party and other candidates?
What if these attacks lead to real intra-party antipathy toward the nominee come November?
What if Democrats get so bogged down in the primary fight that they take their eyes off the ultimate prize?
As it becomes increasingly clear that, Bernie, despite being the candidate to beat, may not win a majority of pledged delegates at Milwaukee’s Democratic National Convetion—and, troublingly, that only 53 percent of his supporters will definitely back the eventual Democratic nominee if it is not Sanders — these questions will only grow more pressing.
What It Means to be a New Hampshire Voter
Kwan Z. Hopkins
My home state of Pennsylvania shares a couple of similarities with the one that holds the first in the nation primary: we're a bit of a swing state, and we of course hold a primary to send delegates to the national conventions. Because of this, one would think that voters are more or less choosing politicians in the same ways. That couldn't be any further from the truth. Never have I seen so many people so carefully consider who they should vote for. As we visited campaign events throughout the Granite State, I often found myself wondering what it is that makes New Hampshire voters so special.
The most obvious explanation is that on the surface, they seem to have a certain proclivity for "independence." Over and over again, the Shaheen and Kuster figures in the state bombarded voters and our group of observers with the "40% of New Hampshire voters are undeclared" statistic. This may seem rather striking, people in political science, however, understand that in reality, "independents" are typically just as partisan as the rest of us and just refuse to admit it. The number of voters who identify this way in this state, though, still stands out. Why is it that so many people in this particular place refuse to align themselves with our country's two major parties?
The people of New Hampshire take this sacred position in the presidential nominating process very seriously. It is very much part of who they are. Everyone we talked to from event attendees to Uber drivers were either downright excited or just willing to learn more about all the candidates. This is peculiar considering so much of the country is tired of the never-ending political battles being fought everyday by elected officials. Even I, a student of political science, have found days where the news was just too much or thought to start conversations about new TV shows instead of recent 2020 polls. New Hampshire voters, however, just can't get enough.
They understand the influence their race will have on the country. Their desire to learn more and to hear different perspectives because of this tradition makes them stand out. Say what you will about voters in reality leaning into partisanship more often than not. These voters consider everything and really deserve credit for it.
Should New Hampshire be First?
New Hampshire, one of the smallest, whitest states in the union, accounts for a whopping total of four electoral votes in a general election. Democratic candidates competing in the state have averaged 32 days in the Granite State over the past year, thanks to New Hampshire’s status as the nation’s first primary. Many Granite Staters will be quick to tell you how they’ve met many of the candidates, some multiple times. Hundreds of field offices, campaign staffers, rallies, town halls, and phone calls have been invested in New Hampshire, building a monstrous infrastructure of volunteers, donors, precinct maps, and data for the broader New Hampshire Democratic Party. Meanwhile, Georgia, another potential swing state, has gone comparatively unnoticed by many of the candidates. With two Senate seats up, thirteen electoral votes (more than Iowa and New Hampshire combined), and Stacey Abrams’ working relentlessly to register more voters, Georgia offers Democrats an opportunity to win big in November — if they’re willing to invest the necessary time and organization into the state. Many argue that Georgia would be too big a state for the retail politics that winning a state like New Hampshire demands. Yet, Beto O’Rourke handily brought grassroots retail politics to the far bigger state of Texas, coloring a dark red state a little bit purple in the process. The polling leader in the past twelve polls from the state, Bernie Sanders leads despite spending nearly an entire week less than an average presidential candidate in New Hampshire. If Sanders can win despite this, maybe the degree to which New Hampshirites reward retail politics has been overstated. Having spent the last weekend in New Hampshire, I certainly understand its allure: it’s really fun. If it’s easy for a van full of political junkies to drive around the state and run into politicians in such a small area, it’s easy for journalists and voters, too. We spotted Andrew Yang shopping in a random store. The Democratic candidate for Governor of New Hampshire—who was coincidentally eating at the table next to us -- joined our dinner table after overhearing our conversation about a Biden ad that had just played on TV.
But what’s easy for journalists and political junkies might not be what’s best for the party.
Committed to Vetting the Candidates
@BymanHaley In the days leading up to the New Hampshire Democratic primary, scores of voters waited outside for hours on end in frigid temperatures for a chance to get into candidates’ rallies. However, no one was guaranteed a spot in the packed houses of middle school gyms, college sports arenas, and small theater venues. It takes true faith in the democratic process for voters to brave 11-degree wind chills and icy sidewalks to maybe get in to see a candidate. The fiasco in Iowa did not stop candidates from drawing crowds in the thousands. While many people debate the merits of a small, racially unrepresentative state maintaining immense influence in the presidential nominating process, I could tell that Granite Staters took their jobs seriously. Voters know that this may very well be the most consequential primary in New Hampshire’s history, and they are doing everything they can to feel confident in the decisions they will make; losing to Trump is not an option. I talked to several New Hampshire voters who said they planned to attend events for as many candidates as possible before primary day, and I myself recognized people I had seen at previous events. Funnily enough, one of my classmates aptly pointed out that a man who had proudly told Andrew Yang that he had won his vote during a rally on Saturday, was now attending Pete Buttigieg’s rally on Sunday. The rumors are true; many New Hampshire voters are still undecided. It is difficult to gauge how many event attendees were actually New Hampshire voters. I spoke to people who traveled from New York, Massachusetts, and Connecticut for a chance to meet the candidates in person, as they would not get the opportunity to do so in their own reliably blue states come November. Perhaps this is yet another flaw in our presidential election system, which incentivizes candidates to spend a disproportionately large amount of resources and time in only a handful of states. The interaction that stuck out to me the most was with a couple that was in line at a rally for Pete Buttigieg. The woman I spoke to told me that she had never considered herself politically active, but after the 2016 election, she began to care. Trump, who has turned many voters off from politics entirely, motivated this woman to get involved in the 2020 election. She was enthusiastic about her support for Buttigieg, which I found particularly fitting, as both her and Buttigieg are newcomers – albeit in their own ways – to presidential elections.
Based on my interaction with voters in New Hampshire, I think both Buttigieg and Klobuchar stand a good chance to exceed expectations. Several moderates I spoke with were going back and forth between Klobuchar and Buttigieg, notably leaving out Joe Biden. Experience in office mattered to a lot of the undecided voters I spoke with, leading me to think Klobuchar will do exceptionally well.
Biden presented a paradox for me. When I got my photo taken with him in a small Mexican restaurant in Manchester, he excelled at retail politics, making everyone he shook hands with feel special. However, at the McIntyre-Shaheen dinner later that night, he gave a lackluster, meandering speech. He struggled to translate the winning personality I saw earlier in the day to the big stage.
Yang drew a larger-than-normal crowd in Nashua on Saturday, and voters seemed to have liked what they heard. Warren had an impressive showing at both the McIntyre-Shaheen dinner and at a canvass launch on Saturday afternoon, where we and hundreds of others were kicked out by the fire marshal who explained that the venue was at capacity. Her supporters were enthusiastic and could not wait to canvass for her – even on a freezing cold day. It is possible that the zeal I witnessed from her supporters will propel her to a greater showing in New Hampshire than the one she had in Iowa. Whatever ends up happening, my interactions with voters in New Hampshire gave me confidence in our presidential nomination system. The voters I talked to were committed to vetting the candidates thoroughly. Some are first-time voters, newly recognizing the importance of elections; others are lifelong voters who make it their goal to speak with every candidate. Let’s just keep our fingers crossed that unlike in Iowa, we will actually get some definitive results this time.
Worth the Cold
New Hampshire totes a Dunkin’ Donuts on almost every street corner. Our hotel in Manchester was about 500 feet from the nearest Dunkin’. On a balmy 15 degree morning walking from Dunkin’ back to the hotel, I was frozen to the bone. I thought, “I could never live in New England, I can’t even walk 500 feet without thinking about how cold I am.”
The people I saw advocating for their candidates in New Hampshire didn't seem to mind. I couldn’t believe that people believed in someone so much that they would sacrifice their sleep, comfort, and free time to persuade others to vote for their candidate.
The word I would use to describe Granite Staters, especially the canvassers, is “grit.” It takes
more than voting to count as participating in the election process. Participation requires the
courage to proudly display your opinion without fear of ridicule; strength of character to
advocate for people who unjustly cannot speak up for themselves; and the boldness to brace sub-freezing weather in the dead of winter to encourage one's' neighbors to exercise their right to vote.
For such a small state, people in New Hampshire go miles beyond their civic duty in politics.
Granted, the state only gets major political attention once every four years, which means
citizens have to put on the jets to make sure they’re heard.
My personal highlight of visiting New Hampshire wasn’t meeting the presidential candidates.
Although as fortunate as I was to witness the candidates in all their celebrity, what struck me the most was the citizens’ dedication to improving the lives of other Americans. There are no longer smoke-filled rooms where the presidential nomination process occurs. It happens with the dedicated Pete supporters who receive a packet of hand warmers with their canvassing packets. It happens with the Firefighters for Biden who stand frozen outside St. Anselm College for almost 24 hours before the presidential debate. And it happens with dedicated Warren supporters who are turned away from her rally due to capacity, even though they waited in the cold for hours beforehand.
New Hampshire is a call to duty, putting the onus on dedicated voters to show up and vocally support the person and policies they believe in. No matter how far they must travel, regardless of the temperature, they understand that civic duty requires more than just showing up at the polls. And now, after witnessing the unbelievable grit of Granite Staters, I will never complain about my walk to get coffee again.