On the trail: What’s old is new again in the first-in-the-nation primary state

  • Senator Maggie Hassan, a member of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee, attended a White House event with President Trump on the need to end the practice of surprise medical bills. —Courtesy

For the Monitor
Published: 5/9/2019 4:52:45 PM

Every four years, we hear predictions of the demise of New Hampshire’s first-in-the-nation presidential primary.

But heavy campaign traffic in the Granite State during the 2020 White House race – as in election cycles past – is proving how wrong these doom and gloom scenarios are from mostly out-of-state prognosticators.

This weekend alone, it will once again be bumper-to-bumper with White House contenders in New Hampshire.

Starting Thursday through next Wednesday – in order of appearance – former Congressman John Delaney of Maryland, entrepreneur Andrew Yang of New York, former Congressman Beto O’Rourke of Texas, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand of New York, Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey, Sen. Michael Bennet of Colorado, former vice president Joe Biden, and Sen. Kamala Harris of California, will all stump in the state.

Many point to a nationalization of the primary – as well as the contests in the other early voting states – thanks to the rising influence of the cable news networks and the internet starting in the 1990s, and social media over the past decade.

But while a lot has changed in campaign politics over the past couple of decades – much seems to have stayed the same. That’s especially true in New Hampshire during the 2020 cycle, which has seen a renewed emphasis by the candidates and their campaigns on such tried and true types of old-school New Hampshire retail politics – from house parties and diner stops to roundtable discussions and town halls.

“With so many contenders, it is critically important that the candidates are able to connect personally with the activists and the voters,” longtime New Hampshire Democratic Party Chairman Ray Buckley said, as he pointed to a record-setting Democratic nomination field that’s topped 20 candidates.

“You are not seeing the rush to support that we saw the last couple of cycles. The activists are sitting back and they’re wanting to really think this through before they make a commitment,” noted Buckley, who’s been involved in presidential primary politics for more than four decades.

He highlighted that “the very best way of convincing voters and locking them in is really having that personal reaction.”

Terry Shumaker, a Concord-based attorney and former U.S. ambassador, is another veteran of the first-in-the-nation primary.

“It’s almost like the pendulum has swung back,” said Shumaker, a longtime friend and adviser to Bill and Hillary Clinton who played a large role in New Hampshire in their 1992, 1996, 2008 and 2016 presidential campaigns. “Social media has changed things, but people are still doing house parties, doing smaller event and it’s still about the candidates meeting with folks one-on-one.”

“To me, that’s a healthy thing,” he said.

Gov. Chris Sununu – political pundit

Gov. Chris Sununu is weighing in on the Democratic presidential primary.

New Hampshire’s popular two-term Republican governor was in New York City on Wednesday, making multiple appearances on cable news and business news networks. He called Sen. Bernie Sanders’s proposals “insane” and labeled Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts a “phony.”

The jovial Sununu also touted the Granite State’s treasured status as the state that holds the first primary, telling Fox News that “we kind of, in New Hampshire, treat it as our fifth professional sport.”

He said New Hampshire takes “the great responsibility” of holding the first primary very seriously.

Sununu’s spiciest comments came when he was asked why Sanders was performing better than Warren in the New Hampshire Democratic primary polls – since both hail from neighboring states.

“Policy aside, our first litmus test is being genuine. Do we buy into you as a person? Right. Do we connect with you at a gut level?” Sununu said. “Bernie, his policies are just insane, but at least he is what he is and he doesn’t apologize for it. Warren is just a phony and people don’t buy into any sense of genuineness there.”

Sununu went on to predict that New Hampshire’s four electoral votes are “absolutely” in play for Republican President Donald Trump in the 2020 general election.

Trump narrowly lost the state in 2016 to Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton.

“Trump’s going to win in 2020,” Sununu predicted.

Turning to former Massachusetts governor Bill Weld’s longshot primary challenge against Trump, Sununu downplayed any chances Weld could resonate in the Granite State, stating “not really.”

And he called a possible primary challenge against the president by popular Republican Gov. Larry Hogan of Maryland “a terrible idea, frankly.”

Top Granite State Trump supporters at White House

The president welcomed the 2018 World Series champion Boston Red Sox to the White House on Thursday.

Also there for the festivities were three of Trump’s biggest supporters in New Hampshire during the 2016 election.

The Monitor reported that State Reps. Al Baldasaro of Londonderry and Fred Doucette of Salem attended the ceremony. Doucette was a co-chairman of the 2016 Trump campaign in New Hampshire, and Baldasaro was a top adviser and surrogate. Also there was former state representative Steve Stepanek of Amherst, who was the other 2016 Granite State co-chairman. Stepanek is now chairman of the New Hampshire GOP.

Hassan teams up with Trump

Democratic Sen. Maggie Hassan often doesn’t see eye to eye with the president. But on Thursday, she joined a bipartisan group of congressional lawmakers to team up with Trump at the White House to spotlight the issue of surprise medical billing.

The president vowed to hold insurance companies and hospitals “totally accountable.”

Hassan and the other lawmakers who attended the White House event have been working on a bipartisan bill to end the practice of surprise medical bills.

Hassan is one of the leaders in the Senate on the issue. She introduced a bill in 2018 and brought as her guest to the State of the Union a Granite Stater who received a surprise bill.

But there was also a surprise for Hassan and the other lawmakers standing next to Trump

The bipartisan event turned quite partisan, as the president unexpectedly took questions from reporters about the war of words between the White House and the Democrats in the House of Representatives over whether special counsel Robert Mueller will testify and whether an unredacted version of Mueller’s Russian Investigation report will be released.

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