In Bow, 2020 Democratic candidates offer a more moderate message

  • Colorado Sen. Michael Bennet addresses a crowd at the Merrimack County Democrats annual picnic on Sunday. Ethan Dewitt / Monitor staff

  • Colorado Sen. Michael Bennet addresses a crowd at the Merrimack County Democrats annual picnic, Sunday, Sept 8, 2019. Ethan Dewitt

  • Colorado Sen. Michael Bennet addresses a crowd at the Merrimack County Democrats annual picnic, Sunday, Sept 8, 2019. Ethan Dewitt

Monitor staff
Published: 9/8/2019 5:50:53 PM

In Manchester on Saturday, the themes from 2020 candidates at New Hampshire state Democratic convention rang loud and clear: bold speeches, bolder policies and raucous enthusiasm for both.

But a touch up the river in Bow on Sunday, a string of appearances from presidential candidates told a different story.

Over pulled pork, baked beans and coleslaw, attendees of the Merrimack County Democrats’ presidential picnic heard one thematic line from candidates showing up: moderation. Beating President Donald Trump, the candidates argued, requires winning over heartland voters with middle-ground policies, not sweeping promises.

From Maryland Rep. John Delaney, to Colorado Sen. Michael Bennet, to John Bessler – husband of Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar – a slate of more moderate candidates made the pitch Sunday that when it comes to retaking majorities, the key is to hold the center.

And many attendees were buying it.

“I’m more progressive,” said Fred Wilcox, of Bow. “But my ideal candidate would not win in the country.”

Standing before a tent of about 100 prospective voters, in the waning weekend of summer, the candidates outlined various avenues to drive forward Democratic ideals without breaking the system.

Many of the ideas came out of bills and proposals already floated by the candidates as U.S. lawmakers. And most of them stood in direct contrast to more robust overhauls offered up by Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders, two candidates at the front of the pack.

For Delaney, that means abandoning the idea of Medicare for All – which under a proposal floated by Sanders, would replace private insurance plans with a government option after four years.

Bennet and Delaney highlighted more measured steps to improving health care – a public option – and supporting low-income families through more-attainable proposals like an expansion of the earned income tax credit. And Bessler, speaking for Klobuchar, sought to highlight her reputation as an aisle-crosser, one who could win over Republicans in Washington as easily as red voters in her own state.

“Last time that she ran, in 2018, she won 42 of the counties that Donald Trump had won,” Bessler said. “So if you ask yourself, can Amy beat Donald Trump, in effect she already has.”

As the primary field narrows, evidence suggests building momentum for progressive candidates like Warren, who has proposed a wealth tax to help fund a suite of proposals. But to Carole Wilcox, the moderate path forward was music to her ears.

Hardworking representatives and senators who have achieved bipartisan wins – from campaign finance fixes to health care reforms – are more attractive as candidates, Wilcox argued.

“I like Elizabeth Warren but I think she’s too liberal,” said Wilcox. “Not for this part of the country, but for the West.”

(Ethan DeWitt can be reached at, at (603) 369-3307, or on Twitter at @edewittNH.)

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