On the Trail: ‘Draft Beto’ fever hits Concord

  • A group of Democratic activists and state lawmakers packed into a Concord house Wednesday evening to hear from the leaders of a political group urging former Congressman Beto O’Rourke to run for the Democratic presidential nomination. Paul Steinhauser / For the Monitor

  • A group of Democratic activists and state lawmakers packed into a Concord house on Wednesday evening to hear from the leaders of a political group that’s urging former Congressman Beto O’Rourke to run for the Democratic presidential nomination. By Paul Steinhauser—

For the Monitor
Published: 1/31/2019 11:10:57 AM

A group of Democratic activists and state lawmakers packed into a Concord home Wednesday night to hear from the leaders of a political group urging former Congressman Beto O’Rourke to run for the Democratic presidential nomination.

The house party, at the Concord home of attorney and party activist Jay Surdukowski, was the first of two events organized by the political action committee Draft Beto 2020 being held in New Hampshire – the state that for a century has held the first primary in the race for the White House.

Soon after O’Rourke narrowly lost his challenge against Republican Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas in November’s midterm elections, Surdukowski started taking to Twitter to urge O’Rourke to visit the Granite State.

“We had 30 folks co-hosting this party, including 10 legislators. It’s hard to get 10 legislators to agree on anything sometimes,” Surdukowski told the Monitor. He said the large number of co-hosts “says to me that people want to hear his voice.”

Surdukowski said that if O’Rourke runs for the White House he would be a great addition to the growing field of Democrats running for president.

“A number of you folks were part of the early Obama enthusiasm,” Surdukowski said, looking out across his crowded living room. “I hadn’t felt that in a while and watching what Beto did in Texas was pretty extraordinary.”

While the Democratic primary field has expanded in recent weeks – with Sens. Kamala Harris of California and former San Antonio mayor and former U.S. Housing secretary Julian Castro declaring their candidacies and Sens. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and Kirsten Gillibrand of New York launching presidential exploratory committees – O’Rourke traveled across the nation as he mulls a White House bid.

The lack of any announcement by O’Rourke hasn’t dampened any New Hampshire enthusiasm.

“I think if anything, this sort of unorthodox tease that he’s doing, this self-reflection, he’s taking his time,” Surdukowski said. “I think it actually has people intrigued. And I think if anything, people are more interested to know whether he’s going to make a bid or not.”

The crowd included plenty of New Hampshire Young Democrats, including state Reps. Safiya Wazir of Concord, Carlos Cardona of Laconia, Cassie Levesque of Barrington, Tim Josephson of Cannon, Garrett Muscatel of Hanover, and Matt Wilhelm of Manchester, and state Senate candidate Jen Alford-Teaster. But some older activists were there as well – including Ned Helms, and Ron and Gerri King.

“We want as many great candidates in the field as possible and seeing what Beto did down in Texas over this last cycle was pretty inspiring,” Wilhelm said.

“I think as a young person, his message could really resonate here,” he emphasized.

Draft Beto 2020 was formed in late November. Will Herberich, one of the co-chairs, said the group now has an email distribution list of just under 30,000 and is growing fast.

The group recently held high profile events in Iowa – the state that kicks off the presidential caucus and primary calendar.

“In both Iowa and New Hampshire, the goal has been to meet prominent leading activists who have been active in a lot of campaigns, who know the state, who we hope will eventually be part of Beto’s organization down the line if he decides to run,” Herberich explained.

Herberich said that he’s group coordinating with another political organization that hopes to convince O’Rourke to run, but noted there’s been no communication between the groups trying to draft O’Rourke and the potential candidate himself.

O’Rourke is scheduled to be interviewed by Oprah Winfrey on Feb. 5. Several of the activists attending the house party said they hope O’Rourke sends a signal when he speaks with Oprah.

Draft Beto 2020 holds a second event Friday at 6 p.m. at the To Share Brewery in Manchester.

Bloomberg quietly slips into Concord

Potential Democratic presidential contender Mike Bloomberg wrapped up his two-day swing in the Granite State on Tuesday evening with two events in Concord.

The former New York City mayor, billionaire media mogul and environmental and gun safety advocate dined with Democratic Executive Councilors Andru Volinsky of Concord and Debora Pignatelli of Nashua as well as Democratic state senators. The gathering at the Centennial Hotel was first reported by the Monitor.

Later, Bloomberg was the guest of honor at a house party at the Concord home of longtime activist Lew Feldstein. Some 100 people attended the event.

State Sen. Lou D’Allesandro was one of the lawmakers who met with Bloomberg at the Centennial Hotel. He also attended a speech by Bloomberg that morning at the New Hampshire Institute of Politics.

The Manchester Democrat who’s known as “the dean” of the state Senate – and who’s long enjoyed an influential role in the first-in-the-nation primary – had some advice for the potential White House contender.

“He’s got to work harder,” D’Allesandro told the Monitor.

Pointing to Bloomberg’s late start to his address at the NHIOP on climate change, D’Allesandro said “that doesn’t make a very good first impression.”

He added that he told Bloomberg’s political advisers that “you’ve got to show up on time.”

Shaheen reunited with Vlacich

Mike Vlacich is signing up for another tour of duty with Democratic Sen. Jeanne Shaheen.

Vlacich, the current president and chief executive officer of the New Hampshire College and University Council, will start in May as a senior adviser in Shaheen’s U.S. Senate office.

“I wanted to share some news with you. After a wonderful tenure with the NHCUC, I will be taking on a role later this spring as Senior Advisor to U.S. Senator Jeanne Shaheen,” Vlacich wrote in a letter this week to the presidents of the public and private colleges and universities represented by the council, which is a nonprofit consortium.

The letter was obtained Wednesday by the Monitor.

Vlacich has worked for Shaheen in many roles over the past 22 years.

He was a special assistant to Gov. Shaheen from 1997-2003, during her six years in the Corner Office. Vlacich later served as state director for Shaheen after she won election to the Senate in 2008. He stepped down from the position six years later, to manage Shaheen’s successful 2014 re-election campaign.

The move by Vlacich comes as Shaheen begins to prepare for her 2020 re-election bid for a third term in the Senate.

Shaheen has praised Vlacich numerous times over the years, calling him “a trusted advisor and a close friend. He is both a dedicated public servant and a brilliant political strategist.”

For nearly two years, Vlacich steered Hillary Clinton’s 2016 primary and general election presidential campaign in New Hampshire. And after then-governor Maggie Hassan’s 2016 election victory to the U.S. Senate, he served as Hassan’s interim state director for six months before taking over at the NHCUC.

In his letter, Vlacich wrote that he’s proud of his tenure at the council, spotlighting that “the organization is in strong financial strength now and well into the future, our influence and impact has continued to grow.”

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