Presidential Candidates Speak at NH Democratic Party Convention

The 2020 field descended on Manchester for the state Democratic Party's convention Saturday as the campaign enters a more intense phase

Nineteen of the Democrats running for president were in New Hampshire Saturday for the state party convention, an event that provides an important chance for them to woo political power brokers in the first-in-the nation primary state.

The candidates all had the opportunity to speak from the Manchester stage and make the case that they're the best Democrat to take on President Donald Trump.

They walked the halls of the Southern New Hampshire University arena, taking selfies and making their pitches. Each campaign was determined to make the most noise, hold the most signs, and generally attract the most attention, or even get some laughs.

"I am the candidate that can reassemble the Obama coalition and then take that coalition to the next level," Former Housing Secretary Julián Castro said.

"We will pass a Medicare for all single payer program," Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders said.

"I represent a different choice, one that can actually unify Americans," South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg said.

Democrats in New Hampshire have been slow to endorse so far this election system. That's due in part to the large number of candidates in the race as well as lingering tensions over the 2016 primary battle between Sanders and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

While Sens. Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., both have a core of support in the state, former Vice President Joe Biden has stirred unease among some Democratic activists mindful of the challenge that defeating President Trump poses.

As Patricia Pustell, chairwoman of the Greater Ossipee Democrats, says, it's time for "new blood and new leadership."

"I think (Biden's) coming back to save us and he doesn't need to save us," Pustell said. "We have enough people that can do this job."

Biden has praised New Hampshire lavishly in his visits since announcing his presidential run, though his events have been marked by a series of miscues, most recently when he went off script during an event in Hanover in August by raising the question of what might have happened in America if Obama had been assassinated during his presidential campaign in 2008.

The former vice president made another verbal slip while speaking at the convention Saturday, mispronouncing the president's last name.

"Limited to four years, I believe history will look back at this presidency as an aberrant moment in time. But if Donald Hump ... if Donald Trump is reelected — Freudian slip," he said.

National polls show Biden as the front-runner but other candidates did a better job Saturday electrifying the crowd and most claimed to pay no attention to the polls.

"We have never had a candidate who was ahead in the polls this far out who’s ever gone on to be president," New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker said.

"If I’d listened to the polls I would’ve never run for my first office," said Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif.

It is a field that is still wide open, with many Democrats still deciding whether one of the most progressive, or a more moderate candidate will be the best nominee to take on Trump.

"I believe anybody would beat Donald Trump," Warren said.

"I may be more moderate in tone than some of the people running for office but I’m betting that people don’t want the loudest voice anymore," Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar said.

"We’re trying to go everywhere, listen to everyone, bring everybody in. I think that’s the way to win," Beto O’Rourke, a former congressman from Texas, said.

The New Hampshire primary has a history of humbling front-runners. Walter Mondale, Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton were each denied victory in the New Hampshire primary in the years they became the eventual Democratic nominee.

Since 1976, the year Democrat Jimmy Carter won the state's primary, no New Hampshire Democratic primary winners have gone on to capture both the party nomination and the presidency. And since Carter, no non-incumbent Democrat who has won the New Hampshire primary once has been able to capture a repeat victory.

Longtime New Hampshire Democrats say endorsements for 2020 contenders have come slowly this cycle, in part because of the large field and lingering tensions from the fractious primary between Sanders and Clinton.

"The last time around there was so much of an argument between the Sanders campaign with the Clinton campaign, that I think a lot of people are being careful to not seem like they've committed too early," said Deb Bacon Nelson, chairwoman of the Hanover/Lyme town Democrats, who endorsed Clinton in 2016.

Biden has secured the backing of establishment figures like former Gov. John Lynch. But since announcing his campaign in April, Biden has made four campaign trips and hosted 19 events in the state with sometimes uneven results.

Sen. Harris regularly draws large crowds when she campaigns in the Granite State, though as of Labor Day she has spent only six days campaigning and hosted 16 events in the state. Last month in Iowa, the California Democrat dedicated five days in August alone to a bus tour.

That has left some voters in the state forming their impression of Harris largely from her first debate performance when she criticized Biden. For voters like Anne Fenn, a retired federal government worker, that left a sour taste.

For Fenn to consider Harris, the 66-year-old said "she's got to come here. She's got to talk to us, she's got to meet with people, she's got to let people see her face to face.''

Warren has focused on New Hampshire more than any of her closest rivals in terms of days spent campaigning in the state — 15 trips, 19 days since January, her campaign says. Overall, she's held 37 events, according to necn's candidate tracker. 

Sanders has found himself out-campaigned in New Hampshire by Warren, even after a Labor Day weekend campaign trip increased his total to six trips and 12 days spent in the state.

"I think there's only one candidate in the top tier with kind of consistent momentum, and that's Elizabeth Warren,'' said Dante Scala, a political science professor at the University of New Hampshire.

Another key variable is whether a candidate from the second tier can "make some noise" in the state, Scala said.

"The amount of time (Sen. Booker's) spent here, the endorsements he has already, there seems like a real disparity between the resources he's putting in and his poll numbers," Scala said.

When asked about his low poll numbers on Saturday, Booker suggested he wasn't worried.

"Thank God I’m not ahead in the polls right now," Booker said. "Those candidates never win ... I do not want to win the summer primary."

Buttigieg has also shown a focus on campaigning in the state more similar to Warren than that of Biden, Harris and Sanders. Buttigieg's campaign recently announced it is opening 12 offices across New Hampshire's 10 counties.

Despite growing support for challengers, Biden still has a solid base of support as the frontrunner.

"He is the best candidate to beat Trump," Tom Goins, a 67-year-old voter from Walpole, said of Biden. "He's moderate enough to appeal to the broad masses. I think some of the other candidates have great ideas, but I think they're a little bit too polarizing."

There is no shortage of energy among New Hampshire’s democratic activists. The question is, can Democrats elect a nominee who can energize the nation’s Independents and even some Republicans around the country.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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