MANCHESTER, N.H.—Bernie Sanders laid it out for a group of his supporters here on Monday morning. “What happens in New Hampshire is enormously important,” the Vermont senator said. “The whole world is watching New Hampshire.”
As the state prepared to help select the Democratic nominee for president Tuesday in what everyone here calls the “first-in-the-nation” primary, Sanders appeared to have cemented his position as a front-runner — leading polls, drawing large crowds of high-energy supporters, and blanketing the state with door-to-door canvassers. In the town of Hudson on Sunday, while Sanders was hours away preparing for a rally in Keene, a group of his supporters could be seen waving his signs as they danced on the sidewalks.
The race is shaping up as a Bernie Sanders versus everybody contest, with the other candidates now competing to be the last-standing alternative when the Democrats choose who will face off against Donald Trump in this fall’s election.
“I’ve said all along this is anyone’s race to win,” state Democratic Party chair Ray Buckley told reporters Monday, noting polls showing more than a third of voters remain undecided. He said his party members also share a sense of satisfaction with all the candidates amid the “pretty gentle” shots they were taking at each other. “All of the candidates would be an enormous improvement over the current occupant of the White House,” Buckley said.
Pete Buttigieg, the 38-year-old former mayor of tiny South Bend, Indiana, spent the weekend trying to cement his place as the moderate alternative to Sanders.
“I don’t think we can take the risk of excluding anybody by saying that if you’re not either for a revolution or the status quo, you don’t fit,” Buttigieg told a packed school gym in Nashua on Sunday.
People had begun lining up for that event hours before it began, with the line of the supportive and the interested stretching around the block.
Were he to be elected, Buttigieg would be the youngest president in U.S. history. He speaks in polished phrases, in a cadence borrowed from Barack Obama. Opponents have attacked his slender national resume and his campaign, fuelled by big-money donors, for being too packaged and stage-managed. It’s an impression underscored by the news that his campaign had been entered in a prominent “best-branding” competition.
Still, his emerging organizational muscle was on display at an all-candidates event in Manchester on Saturday night, when what appeared to be the largest group of supporters in attendance chanted, “Boot! Edge! Edge!”
The arena was quieter when Joe Biden delivered a meandering set of anecdotes. Biden supporters were clearly outnumbered by those of other front-runners, which fits with his campaign’s lowered expectations after a fourth-place finish in Iowas. Biden has been telling crowds he doesn’t expect to do well in New Hampshire, and that he thinks the race needs to continue before a real picture of each candidate’s strength emerges.
At a rally in Hudson, there was an almost mournful air to his remarks. Among Biden’s greatest strengths as a campaigner is the empathy with which he connects to people. But in Manchester, that talent was misdirected; when he related anecdotes about the loss of his son, about an abused mother who had wound up homeless with her children, or about a father who had lost his job and didn’t know what to tell his kids, the mood became positively anxious. “Can people look their children in the eye today and say, ‘It’s going to be OK,’ and mean it?” he asked.
Amy Klobuchar, who finished fifth in Iowa, was buoyant in the wake of modest poll gains and a fundraising surge after Friday’s televised debate. Given the concerns about Buttigieg’s experience and Biden’s apparent free fall from front-runner status, Klobuchar was hoping to position herself as the last moderate standing.
“I have won every single election I’ve ever run in,” she said onstage Saturday night, citing her experience as a Minnesota senator who has won elections in traditionally Republican districts and passed legislation in Republican dominated legislatures. “We’re surging!” she told an enthusiastic crowd in Nashua on Monday morning.
Elizabeth Warren, who had briefly jockeyed for the lead in polls before finishing a disappointing third in Iowa, continued to work crowds across New Hampshire all weekend. Throughout the campaign, she seemed to be testing the observation often attributed to Kim Campbell — that a campaign is no time to talk about policy — by unveiling a detailed progressive agenda with budgets and timelines to go with an early-campaign slogan of “she’s got a plan for that.” It was after the budget numbers for her socialized health care plan were unveiled that her surge in the polls began to cool, perhaps because she’d given critics too many nitpicking points of attack.
Speaking to a crowd of about 200 in Rochester on Monday afternoon, Warren reflected on some of her supposedly “unwinnable’ fights” — becoming a teacher, winning a Senate seat, and battling Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. She won all those battles, she said, and told the crowd she intended to do it again. “We’re gonna pull in Democrats and Republicans and make this work, and we’re going to have fun doing it.”
Get more of the Star in your inbox
Never miss the latest news from the Star. Sign up for our newsletters to get today’s top stories, your favourite columnists and lots more in your inbox
Buckley said he doesn’t expect any of the confusion that marred the Iowa caucuses, noting that no apps or electronics are involved here.
And while he tempered expectations about turnout, Buckley said a visit from Trump on the eve of the primary — the president was set to host a rally in Manchester on Monday night — would remind Democrats “why it’s important to go out and vote.”