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On the trail: As Feb. 11 primary nears, still no clear favorite

  • Democratic presidential candidate former Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick talks to patrons at The Works Cafe in Concord, N.H., Monday, Nov. 25, 2019: (AP Photo/ Cheryl Senter) Cheryl Senter

  • Democratic presidential candidate former Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick walks to his next campaign stop in Concord on Monday. AP

  • Democratic presidential candidate former Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick exits The Works Cafe after talking with customers in Concord, N.H. Monday, Nov. 25, 2019: (AP Photo/ Cheryl Senter) Cheryl Senter

  • Democratic presidential hopeful Senator Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) held a town hall at the Hillsborough American Legion as part of his Worker Appreciation Tour on Sunday.  Staff photo by Ben Conant

Published: 11/28/2019 4:55:10 PM

Democratic presidential candidate Deval Patrick has maintained that the battle for his party’s nomination is “a wide-open race.”

The former two-term Massachusetts governor – who made a very late entry into the campaign when he announced his candidacy just two weeks ago – may have a point.

“The path we knew was there is wider than I fully appreciated,” Patrick optimistically insisted as he talked to reporters after headlining “Politics and Eggs” at the New Hampshire Institute of Politics earlier this week.

The latest public opinion poll in the state that holds the first primary in the race for the White House appears to back up Patrick’s claim.

The Suffolk University survey for the Boston Globe released Tuesday indicates no clear front-runner for the Democratic nomination – with the top four contenders for the nomination all in the mid-teens.

Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont – who crushed eventual nominee Hillary Clinton in the 2016 Democratic presidential primary in the Granite State, stands at 16%, with Sen. Elizabeth Warren from Massachusetts grabbing the support of 14% of those questioned. South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg is backed by 13% of likely Democratic presidential primary voters, with former vice president Joe Biden at 12%.

Everyone else in the large field of Democratic White House hopefuls is in the single digits, with just over two months to go until the state’s Feb. 11 primary. Patrick himself stands at 1% in the survey.

“This race is still up for grabs,” emphasized Suffolk University Political Research Center director David Paleologos.

The survey’s far from an outlier. A Real Clear Politics average of the four most recent polls in New Hampshire puts Warren at 19%, Biden and Buttigieg at 17%, and Sanders at 15%, with the rest of the candidates in single digits.

The polls also dispel the thought that Sanders and Warren would have clear advantage over the rest of their rivals thanks to their proximity to the Granite State.

“Any candidate that is thinking of skipping New Hampshire because of all the local candidates would be making a major mistake,” Paleologos noted.

Patrick, who like Warren can make the short drive from Massachusetts to campaign in New Hampshire, acknowledged that “as a practical matter, we’re going to try to spend a lot of time here in New Hampshire and in South Carolina.”

Patrick, the first black governor of Massachusetts, also hopes to build support in South Carolina, where black voters make up a majority of the state’s Democratic electorate.

But it’s not just the jumbled horse race with no clear front-runner in the new Suffolk University poll and other recent surveys in New Hampshire that helps make Patrick’s case.

New Hampshire voters are traditionally late deciders, and that’s reflected in the recent surveys. Just over 21% of those questioned in the Suffolk poll said they were completely undecided. And of those currently backing a particular candidate, a whopping 53% said they could change their mind before the February primary.

“There still is one in five undecided,” Paleologos highlighted.

He noted that a majority of those backing Sanders, Warren and Buttigieg said it was too late for Patrick to get into the nomination race, but that a majority of voters supporting Biden said they would be open to considering Patrick.

Pointing to those voters supporting the former vice president, Paleologos noted, “that’s who the former Massachusetts governor needs to go after ... and that’s an even more encouraging sign for Patrick.”

Sanders ‘taking nothing for granted’

New Hampshire was “Bernie Country” in the 2016 Democratic presidential primary. Sanders’s 22-point victory over Clinton launched the one-time long-shot populist lawmaker into a marathon battle with the eventual nominee.

But the progressive senator acknowledges that it’s a very different Democratic nomination race in 2020. And in an interview Monday with the Monitor, Sanders spotlighted that “we’re taking nothing for granted.”

And he’s been upping his game this time around. One way he’s been stepping things up from four years ago is taking more questions from the crowds and greeting and taking photos with those who attend his rallies.

“I think in terms of selfies, it is clear as you can see that people like that, they like the idea of coming up to candidate and doing the photographs, so we’ve been doing that on a number of occasions,” he shared as he was wrapping up a three-day swing in the first-in-the-nation presidential primary state.

But Sanders refused to play political pundit, demurring when asked if he needs to win or place second in the New Hampshire’s primary.

Instead, he said that “no one denies that states like New Hampshire and Iowa, Nevada and South Carolina and California are enormously important. And that’s why so many candidates are here in New Hampshire. So to my mind, it is terribly important that we do well, that we win this thing and we’re going to work as hard as we can to do just that.”

He emphasized that if he wins, it won’t be “because of the TV ads. We have TV ads, we have radio ads. It’s because we have a very strong volunteer organization that’s going to be knocking on a lot of doors and talking to a lot of people.”

That seemed to be a criticism of Mike Bloomberg, the former New York City mayor and multi-billionaire business and media mogul who on Sunday declared his candidacy for Democratic presidential nomination.

As Sanders was campaigning across New Hampshire on Monday, Bloomberg launched TV commercials in media markets across the country that are backed up by a massive ad buy topping $30 million.

Sanders pointed to Bloomberg’s strategy not to campaign in the four early voting primary and caucus states that hold contests in February and instead concentrate his firepower on the delegate-rich states that vote on Super Tuesday in early March and beyond.

He argued that Bloomberg has “not come to New Hampshire to do the town meetings that I and other candidates have done. Not gone to Iowa, not gone to South Carolina, not gone to Nevada. What I think a campaign is about is sitting down, talking to people, hearing their experiences, letting them know you.”

Sanders bristled at the money Bloomberg was pouring into the race.

“What he is doing is taking a billion dollars out of his $55 billion and saying ‘you know what, I want to buy this election.’ ” Sanders said. “He is bombarding the airwaves in an unprecedented way, spending tens of millions of dollars on commercials all over this country. I don’t think that’s what American democracy is supposed to be about. I don’t think billionaires should be able to buy elections.”

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