Dems turn an un­con­ven­tional cold shoul­der to New Hamp­shire

The Saline Courier - - OPINION -

The re­frig­er­a­tor is al­most empty. It’s not that the re­porters and ed­i­tors at the Con­way Daily Sun are go­ing hun­gry. Like every news­pa­per of­fice, this one al­ways has plenty of food around. But one of the lesser-known but more re­veal­ing tra­di­tions of pres­i­den­tial pol­i­tics is that when White House can­di­dates travel to the North Coun­try, they stop in at the pa­per, dis­cuss their cam­paigns with the staff and then, with a thick Sharpie pen and of­ten with a flour­ish, sign the re­frig­er­a­tor.

In the last elec­tion cy­cle, 10 can­di­dates af­fixed their sig­na­tures to the Sun’s re­frig­er­a­tor. This time, only four have done so -- and not one of them is re­motely a top-tier con­tender.

That news­room re­frig­er­a­tor is an un­sci­en­tific but im­por­tant in­di­ca­tor of a new devel­op­ment in pres­i­den­tial pol­i­tics. While New Hamp­shire prizes its pos­ses­sion of the first-inthe-na­tion pri­mary, in this elec­tion cy­cle it is in dan­ger of be­ing over­shad­owed by its po­lit­i­cal ri­val Iowa, which holds the first cau­cus of the pres­i­den­tial race eight days be­fore Gran­ite State vot­ers go to the polls.

It is not that

New Hamp­shire is be­ing ig­nored; the

Demo­cratic can­di­dates sched­uled some 16 events here last week, a re­mark­able num­ber for a state with a pop­u­la­tion of 1.4 mil­lion, about the size of the

Bronx. In­deed, with­out much ef­fort on

Sun­day you could have seen Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Min­nesota open her of­fice in Manch­ester at 10 a.m. and then scoot over to Stratham (30 min­utes away on Route 101 east) to see Mar­i­anne Wil­liamson and for­mer Rep. Joe Ses­tak of Penn­syl­va­nia at the Stratham Demo­cratic Har­vest Fest. There are worse ways to spend a day, par­tic­u­larly since you’d be driv­ing through the spec­tac­u­lar New Hamp­shire au­tumn fo­liage, a week or so from its color­ful au­tumn peak.

Even so, with a field as big as this one, can­di­dates are wor­ry­ing that if they do not per­form well in Iowa, where more than 25 Demo­cratic events were sched­uled last week -- about half again as many as in New Hamp­shire -- their cam­paigns might not even sur­vive long enough to get here dur­ing the rau­cous Fe­bru­ary week be­tween the two events.

“If they’re not in the top five in Iowa -- and that’s maybe gen­er­ous -- then they’re done,” says Me­lanie Muns, the vice chair of the Hamp­ton Demo­cratic town com­mit­tee and a mem­ber of the party’s Rock­ing­ham County ex­ec­u­tive com­mit­tee.

She and her hus­band, Chris Muns, the chair of the town com­mit­tee, fear the New Hamp­shire pri­mary is be­ing eclipsed by the Iowa cau­cuses.

“We’re not see­ing them as much as Iowans are,” he says. “And of the sup­posed top con­tenders, the one who jumps out for not be­ing here is Ka­mala Har­ris.”

“She’s spend­ing the least amount of time here,” Ms. Muns says of the Cal­i­for­nia sen­a­tor, “and it’s been no­ticed.”

The gap be­tween the two early po­lit­i­cal states is re­flected in Face­book ad­ver­tis­ing spend­ing, one of the mea­sures of the new pol­i­tics. Mayor Pete But­tigieg of South Bend, In­di­ana, and Sen. Bernie San­ders of Ver­mont each have spent about twice as much on Face­book ads in Iowa as in New Hamp­shire, ac­cord­ing to fig­ures com­piled by the Demo­cratic po­lit­i­cal firm Bully Pul­pit In­ter­ac­tive. Sen. El­iz­a­beth War­ren of Mas­sachusetts spent $83,500 on Face­book ad­ver­tis­ing here -- but $109,400 in Iowa.

Klobuchar of Min­nesota has vis­ited Iowa 20 times and New Hamp­shire only 14, but she bought air­time in both states when she un­veiled her first tele­vi­sion ad last week. Her em­pha­sis on Iowa has a clear ra­tio­nale. She has the sup­port of only 1 per­cent na­tion­ally, ac­cord­ing to the Mon­mouth Univer­sity Polling In­sti­tute sur­vey. More­over, her na­tive state bor­ders Iowa. And if she can­not pro­duce a break­through there, where she is at 3 per­cent in the Des Moines Reg­is­ter/cnn Poll, her nom­i­na­tion will likely fade fast, per­haps even be­fore reach­ing New Hamp­shire, where she also draws the sup­port of 3 per­cent, ac­cord­ing to a poll con­ducted by the St. Anselm Col­lege Sur­vey Cen­ter.

Be­sides the em­pha­sis on Iowa, two im­por­tant dif­fer­ences in cam­paign­ing are emerg­ing here.

One is in the na­ture of cam­paign­ing. For decades, pres­i­den­tial can­di­dates flew into New Hamp­shire, tar­geted a town, booked the gym­na­sium for a speech and rally, sent post­cards to every party mem­ber in the com­mu­nity, and hoped for the best. Sen. Barack Obama of Illi­nois did that on Me­mo­rial Day week­end in 2007 here and pro­duced an enor­mous crowd in Ken­nett High School.

But that is old-school.

“Now,” ac­cord­ing to Neil Levesque, the re­spected ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the New Hamp­shire In­sti­tute of Pol­i­tics at St. Anselm Col­lege, “the can­di­dates are mi­cro­tar­get­ing and fig­ur­ing out who the po­ten­tial sup­port­ers are in the area and invit­ing them to house par­ties.”

The sec­ond devel­op­ment is the hes­i­ta­tion of po­lit­i­cal ac­tivists here to align them­selves with a can­di­date.

A dozen years ago, as the 2008 elec­tion ap­proached, the ros­ters of ac­tivists sid­ing with Obama,

Sen. Hil­lary Rod­ham Clin­ton of

New York and for­mer Sen. John Ed­wards of North Carolina were full. Now, with the pri­mary only four months away, many of the ac­tivists who or­di­nar­ily would be work­ing hard at phone banks, can­vass­ing neigh­bor­hoods and dis­tribut­ing hand­bills and lawn signs are hold­ing back, ex­am­in­ing the un­usu­ally large field of can­di­dates and await­ing more vis­its from the lead­ing con­tenders.

“It feels like there are more peo­ple on the fence than there are peo­ple who have com­mit­ted,” said Mr. Muns. “It is al­most as if ev­ery­body is in a wait-and-see mode, wait­ing to see who is go­ing to break loose.”

The ex­cep­tion is War­ren, who has de­ployed a for­mi­da­ble op­er­a­tion here, is fa­mil­iar to vot­ers be­cause she is from neigh­bor­ing Mas­sachusetts, and has de­voted enor­mous time to the state. She’s now in a sta­tis­ti­cal tie with Bi­den but, Levesque points out, is the top sec­ond choice for vot­ers who now sup­port another can­di­date. If some of those White House as­pi­rants drop out, she would pre­sum­ably gain their sup­port. San­ders has only half the sup­port of War­ren and Bi­den in the Gran­ite State, but if his re­cent heart at­tack prompts his back­ers to aban­don his cam­paign, War­ren would surely be the ben­e­fi­ciary.

Mean­while, some of Bi­den’s sup­port­ers in South Carolina, where he is well-po­si­tioned, are con­tem­plat­ing a trip to Iowa to ex­plain why they back the en­dan­gered fron­trun­ner. They might con­sider a trip here. •••

David M. Shrib­man is the for­mer ex­ec­u­tive edi­tor of the Pitts­burgh Post-gazette. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at Shrib­manpg.

DAVID SHRIB­MAN NA­TIONAL PER­SPEC­TIVE

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