NEW HAMPSHIRE—We have spent a lot of time this past week watching other people watch television. And we haven’t been alone in doing that, which means we couldn’t possibly be insane.
In fact, we can tell you that members of the media attending debate watch parties Friday night for US senators Bernie Sanders (D-VT) and Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) perhaps equalled the number of voters in their respective rooms. You heard that right—there were just as many members of the public watching the scrum—the final verbal slobberknocker before New Hampshire’s first-in-the-nation primary on Tuesday—as there were people like us, charged with watching the watchers.
None of this should register as an indication of either candidate’s popularity. With the disastrous Iowa caucuses yielding such contentious results, on the ground it seems that members of the press are extra invested and present ahead of this coming week’s results. This is the new first one, or the next one Bernie hasn’t won yet, depending on how one cares to spin these things.
For some voters who consider themselves left-of-center, the pair of New England senators have been their only two serious options since the 2020 discourse began. A few weeks ago, Warren called malarky on Bernie supporters for pointing to her supposed “educated class” base as a possible general election liability. But to compare and contrast the Bernie watch party crew at the Ultimate Sports Academy with Warren’s congregation at the Great North Aleworks brewery, the latter’s attendees really do better match the conventional idea of suburbanite. But there might be more to it than that.
At the Sanders event, we met a biker-ish dude who referred to his hometown as Manch-Vegas, and praised the Vermont Senator’s “40-year track record of being right.” He certainly appeared more working class than, let’s say, the sort of person we’d expect to find at a microbrewery. For that matter, so does Michael Moore. The wealthy filmmaker has more than enough coin to fit in with the Warren set. But despite his many, many sacks of cash, the Bowling For Columbine auteur routinely raises hell on behalf of the Vermont senator.
“This week, it was reported that the Democratic candidate with the largest number of campaign contributions from active duty service members is Bernie Sanders,” Moore told the crowd at Ultimate Sports, where he encored following a group of stoked-as-hell pre-debate speakers including Rep. Mark Pocan (D-WI) and former Ohio state Sen. Nina Turner.
Moore went on to denounce Bush’s Iraq War; like a classic ’90s band that still tours, he knows his audience will be extremely disappointed if he doesn’t play the hits.
“They know what they were set off to do had nothing to do with protecting us,” Moore said. “It had to do with oil. It had to do with lies. It had to do with a whole bunch of things that had nothing to do with protecting the United States of America. They know! And that’s why they have put their money where their hearts are, and that’s for Bernie Sanders!”
At the risk of sparking a discussion about whether famous people should have money or whether rich people are allowed to agree with poor people about politics—those discussions are dumb and boring—it’s worth noting that Moore probably has more money than everyone in town this week save for businessman hopeful Tom Steyer. Amidst a presidential race that’s fairly obsessed with class, there is something deliciously ironic about that.
Whereas the Bernie party embraced imagery we’ve all been brainwashed into associating with right wingery—plastic furniture designed for outdoor use, a concession selling hot dogs to cover costs for a traveling little league baseball team—the Warren watch party looked like a casting call for an L.L. Bean commercial. I dunno how much that actually says about Warren or her supporters, because a lot of people in New Hampshire dress like that. It’s really cold! But some of the Bernie people looked like they could have ridden choppers in from Laconia. Warren’s party definitely didn’t have these sorts of gentlemen or ladies in attendance, and also lacked the caliber of celebrity that sampled the pizza at Ultimate Sports. Rep. Jim McGovern (D-MA) is well and good, but he’s not as famous as Michael Moore, nor as charismatic as Congresswoman Turner.
Warren’s shindig provided fancier food and beverages, but nothing, y’know, super fancy. Just the sort of healthy snacks that will not impress or alienate anyone.
“I think Warren people really like that she has a plan for everything,” Noah Stevens, a youngish dude from Massachusetts, told us at the Warren party. Stevens said he liked Bernie in 2016, but had some reservations about the Vermont senator. Today, he feels better about Warren than he used to about her progressive rival.
“With Bernie people, it’s a big movement type of thing,” he added. “I’m in college. A lot of it is almost like a trendy type of thing. Warren is less like that. Warren is a politician. She knows what she’s doing. She doesn’t advertise herself as a democratic socialist.”
Someone, possibly a volunteer, shushed the omnipresent chatter whenever their candidate was granted time to talk. Onlookers burst into polite rounds of applause for Warren’s answers on domestic violence and abortion, and of course it is plausible that people clapped for other stuff she said when I wasn’t listening. I observed no equivalent shushing at the Bernie bash, nor did I hear the kind of cheering that sounds like a clap trap. The occasional cacophony at Ultimate Sports was more sporadic, less automatic.
Did some things about these watch parties reinforce stereotypes that some people already have about these campaigns—that Warren backers are wealthier than those behind Sanders? Sure, in some ways, but they also challenged others; haters won’t believe it, but the crowd at Ultimate Sports was hardly an army of Bernie Bros.
You have to show up to find out, though I suppose that doesn’t always do the trick either.
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.
Barry Thompson lives next to a highway in the Allston/Brighton vicinity. He has written for a whole bunch of places, enjoys caffeine, and appreciates a good, hearty anxiety attack every now and again.