NEW HAMPSHIRE—In recent years, the days leading up to Tuesday’s historic first-in-the nation primary would fill the local bars and campaign offices with the thundering hooves of local supporters and volunteers. Near the end of primary week this time, that doesn’t feel like the case.
Ever since the Tennessee Democrat Estes Kefauver showed up incumbent President Harry S. Truman in the 1952 Granite State contest, the place of influence and importance in the national presidential election process New Hampshire holds with historians and pundits has been celebrated on its own home turf more than it has been appreciated elsewhere. The 2020 race seems to be an exception; compared to 2016, or even the Obama years, this primary feels unloved and forgotten by its own people, with most of the action coming from the democratic establishment and non-native volunteers rolling in for their horse from all over the US. Even the added ground muscle for the bussed-in bodies still reeling from the caucuses-meltdown in Iowa has done very little to give a sense that the Granite State even gives a good goddamn about the whole affair.
Still, there’s a whole lot of attention on this little red dot, and attention is what candidates angle for all week, particularly the likes of latecomer Colorado Sen. Mike Bennet. At least that’s what his official bandleader, James Carville, wants to happen.
“What this man needs isn’t a ton,” Carville said, “just a look.” At a Saturday Bennet for America supporter rally on Hanover Street, the famed Democratic strategist emphasized the power that the people of New Hampshire can have on a campaign with low energy. After all, in the 1992 race, it was New Hampshire that gave Bill Clinton the resurgence needed to go all the way and the “Comeback Kid” monniker.
“We are gonna win, we just need a boost from New Hampshire,” Carville told the crowd. Earlier in the day at a stop in Plymouth, Bennet told reporters about the need for a good showing in the primary: “It’s vital for me.”
Later in Manchester, Bennet’s wife Susan made her own appeal.
“We’ve spent a lot of time with you,” she said. “Your living rooms and town halls. Bennet is the guy for this time. He needs to win this for America. He has the experience.”
Perhaps. But why is Bennet primed to trounce Trump? To find out, one only has to take a comparative peek, according to Carville. Once they do, “They’ll run away for Bernie like Satan from Holy Water,” he suggested in his Baton Rouge drawl.
A thirtysomething Bernie Sanders supporter named Jay who came up from Brooklyn has checked out Bennet’s proposed policies. With climate change a top issue for him, standing outside of the New Hampshire Democratic party McIntyre Shaheen 100 Club Dinner at the SNHU Arena on Elm Street, he told this reporter he was unimpressed.
“I’ve read and listened to so much stuff from the architects of the New Green Deal,” Jay said. “The number one thing I’d want Michael Bennet to say to someone like me is how his plan would be different [than Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders’] plan.”
Later that same evening, the NHDP dinner pageant for politicos included a special shout-out to Michael J. Fox. With throngs of campaign volunteers and stray supporters from the local electorate waiting in the wings, at one point candidate and Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren popped out on a balcony, spurring her uniform pastel t-shirt-sporting supporters to roar.
New Hampshire Sen. Jeanne Shaheen took the stage to remind everyone that this year marks a hundred years of the Granite State primary, causing some supporters from the Deval Patrick section to visibly turning to one another and giving that, “Yeah, no shit” expression. The senator then asked, “Who is from outside of New Hampshire?” Causing almost the entire Warren side to wave and cheer, along with the majority of folks in some of the other sections as well.
Sanders supporters, spread across their corner of the arena waving illuminated campaign signs, got into an overhyped booing match aimed at lead Democratic primary rival Pete Buttigieg and his supporters. Their “Medicare for all” chant was on repeat before and after Sanders took the stage, sucking air out of the room for caboose candidates Deval Patrick and Tusli Gabbard, both of whom spoke to the few bodies still left as the clean-up crew cleared tables.
Businessman Andrew Yang’s camp, on the other hand, added lots of sound and color from the rafters, svelte though their numbers were. But for a candidate who walks on stage to “Return of the Mack” and makes “Asians like math” jokes, the entertainment value comes as no surprise. Mike, a tech worker from York, Pennsylvania who was in town supporting Yang, told me he was thrilled to be outside the NHDP dinner holding signs and surviving frozen temperatures as Bernie’s brass band and interpretive dancers performed nearby.
“I see all the automation and software and what it’s doing to people’s jobs,” Mike said. “Yang has the best solution to address that problem and help everybody to benefit from technology instead of just Jeff Bezos and Bill Gates, and help us all profit from innovation.”
Citing technology and electoral reform as the leading issues he’s voting on, Mike also said he cares about poverty and living wages—both key drivers of his Yang support. He’s given the Bennet test, and a perusal of the senator’s plans from his campaign website.
“So far, he’s talking about why poverty is bad,” Mike said while reading. “Like here, he says he can cut childhood poverty, but doesn’t say what he’s actually going to do to achieve that goal.”
On Bennet’s plans for a childhood tax credit, Mike opined: “That only works if parents have money coming in to get the credit to against, is my understanding.” On Bennet’s support of a $12-an-hour minimum wage support (where others largely back $15-an-hour plans), Mike added “I don’t think that would really help for people that aren’t employed to begin with,” and called back to Yang’s $1,000 for every American tagline.
In the end, though, if Yang doesn’t go the distance, Mike may cave to Carville after all.
“Maybe I’ll give Bennet a closer look,” he said.
This article was produced by the Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism as part of its Manchester Divided coverage of political activity around New Hampshire’s first-in-the-nation primary. Follow our coverage @BINJreports on Twitter and at binjonline.org/manchesterdivided, and if you want to see more citizens agenda-driven reporting you can contribute at givetobinj.org.
Dan is a freelance journalist and has written for publications including Vice, Esquire, the Daily Beast, Fast Company, Pacific Standard, MEL, Leafly, Thrillist, and DigBoston.