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N.H. Democrats jubilant, Republics optimistic – others still not yet sold

  • Trump supporter Paul Merrill of Canterbury holds up signs outside the State House on Wednesday, January 20, 2020. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • Donna and Paul Merrill of Canterbury hold up signs City Plaza in front of the State House at noontime on Wednesday, January 20, 2020. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

Monitor staff
Published: 1/20/2021 5:05:40 PM

Joe Biden hadn’t been inaugurated yet, but state Rep. Safiya Wazir already knew the impact his presidency would have on her life: her children.

On Wednesday morning, Wazir was tending to them, rushing them through at-home learning in order to get everything finished up.

“My emotion is I’m looking at the clock to see when it’s going to be noon,” she said. The goal: to clear her schedule to watch Biden assume the presidency and deliver his inaugural address.

The fact that Wazir was overseeing her children’s education, 10 months into a deadly pandemic, is itself a product of the reality Joe Biden will need to confront, she said.

“As a mom, I’m struggling,” she said. “It’s been almost a year that my kids have been e-learners. To start to have our lives back to normal – it will take a couple years to have this life back.”

The Concord Democrat said she believes Biden can deliver results. His support of a new pandemic stimulus package, a hike in the minimum wage, and a reported intended push for a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants all have inspired confidence, Wazir said.

Across the state, New Hampshire Democratic officials were jubilant Wednesday with the departure of President Donald Trump and the swearing-in of President Joseph Biden signaled a new political era – or a return to an older one.

“I think it’s really history making in many, many ways,” said Sen. Lou D’Allesandro, of Manchester. “In many, many ways.”

Chief among those, D’Allesandro argued, was the Delaware Democrat’s ability to restore trust in the United States among allies abroad.

“It’s like Roosevelt coming in at the end of the Depression,” D’Allesandro said. “When John Kennedy was installed as president of the United States, we had a great feeling of enthusiasm and change. I was in college at the time, and very excited. And that same feeling of excitement is in me today as I await his speech.”

For D’Allesandro, one of Biden’s most prominent early supporters in his primary battle, the road to the White House was not the smoothest. Biden flailed in the Granite State, finding it difficult to break through voters’ embrace of Bernie Sanders from the left and Pete Buttigieg from the center. He finished fifth, throwing his New Hampshire’s backers’ confidence – and even the fate of the primary itself – into doubt.

But Biden’s pivotal turnaround in South Carolina and his subsequent sweep of the following primary states solidified D’Allesandro’s faith in an old friend.

“It was like the flight of the phoenix,” he said. “And resurrection. You had to believe him.”

Wednesday’s inauguration brought with it a historic landmark: the first female vice president, in Kamala Harris. Rep. Annie Kuster chose to focus on that detail in a statement.

“Just over 100 years ago, the 19th Amendment was ratified, securing many women the right to vote,” Kuster said. “Just over a century later, the United States has our first female vice president. This moment brings me so much pride not only for our progress as a nation but in our potential.”

For other Democrats, the day was as much as about the departure of Trump as the arrival of Biden. Many accused the insult-prone outgoing president of lowering the quality of discourse in New Hampshire’s own legislative body, and inspiring similar division.

“The Trump presidency made it acceptable for people to act in ways that they never would have followed before,” said Rep. Marjorie Smith, a Durham Democrat serving her 11th term in the House. “They might have been thinking the same thoughts, but they didn’t have a comfort level in acting on those thoughts.”

Still, few Democrats seemed confident that Trump’s departure from the Oval Office Wednesday would bring about a reversal in that trend.

“I don’t think it’ll end immediately,” Smith added. “I can’t predict the future. . . . I can only hope that those who do not respect those rules and who don’t share my commitments, I can only hope that they will come to change the way they act. Not to change their philosophies. I don’t expect everyone to agree with me. But I expect each of us to understand the value of trying.”

Biden’s expressions of unity were reflected in reactions from some New Hampshire Republicans, to a point.

In a statement, Republican Gov. Chris Sununu embraced the change in leadership, vowing to continue what had been frequent efforts during the Trump administration to advocate for New Hampshire positions.

“I congratulate President Biden and Vice President Harris on their inauguration, and look forward to opening lines of communication with the President and his Administration in the days and weeks ahead so that New Hampshire has a seat at the table,” Sununu said.

“This is an incredibly important and uncertain time for our country, where polarization and divisions run deep. I join the people of New Hampshire in rooting for the success of the United States of America under President Biden.”

Rep. Ross Berry, a Manchester Republican starting his first term in the New Hampshire House, had more complicated feelings.

“I wish President Joe Biden success because ultimately I want our country to succeed regardless of who is in charge,” Berry wrote in a tweet. “I don’t root for the USA only when my party is in control, I wish everyone could say that. But this sums up my feelings right now.”

Below the tweet was a picture of a forlorn Bill Belichick, the New England Patriots coach, and a caption: “On to 2022.”

Not all were on board. Canterbury couple Donna and Paul Merrill staged a lonely protest in front of the State House Wednesday. They held up signs that read, “We love you president Trump” and “Stop stealing my Freedom."

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