On the Trail: Sanders returns to N.H. in a position of strength

For the Monitor
Published: 3/7/2019 6:57:09 PM

Sen. Bernie Sanders is headed to the Granite State on Sunday for his first visit as a declared candidate for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination.

Conventional wisdom says the 77-year old Sanders – who will headline an event at the Grappone Conference Center in Concord at noon, followed by a gathering at the Colonial Theater in Keene – will face a much tougher time in the Granite State than in 2016.  Last cycle, the onetime long shot candidate crushed Hillary Clinton in the first in the nation primary, launching him into a marathon battle that didn’t end until he endorsed Clinton at a July event in the Granite State.

But Sanders is on a roll as he returns to New Hampshire even though he is part of a much larger Democratic primary field – 14 at last count – including many candidates who are espousing the same progressive agenda that Sanders proposed in 2016.

“I would rather be Bernie Sanders than Elizabeth Warren right now. I would rather be Bernie Sanders than Joe Biden right now,” University of New Hampshire political science professor Dante Scala said.

Sanders topped a recent University of New Hampshire Survey Center poll of the 2020 Democratic contenders.

“That doesn’t mean he has a lock on New Hampshire but perhaps the conventional wisdom blew a little too hard in the opposite direction against Sanders in saying ‘this isn’t 2016,” explained Scala, a longtime front-row observer of the first-in-the-nation presidential primary.

“They’re right, it’s not. But compared to other very well-known Democrats running in this race, I’d rather be in Sanders’ shoes right now,” he added.

Sanders still has strong organizational roots in New Hampshire and raised an eye-popping $5.9 million in fundraising in the first 24 hours after he launched his presidential campaign last month. And he drew some 25,000 people to rallies he held in the New York City borough of Brooklyn and Chicago, as he formally kicked off his campaign last weekend.

While there are plenty of examples of his Granite State backers from 2016 not ready to commit to the candidate once again – as they check out the competition – many of his top supporters remain firmly behind Sanders. He also enjoys a strong grassroots organization in the state. The steering committee of leading Sanders backers from the 2016 campaign has continued to meet monthly since the last presidential election.

Will there be another Shaheen-Sununu Senate showdown in 2020?

As Democratic Sen. Jeanne Shaheen runs for re-election next year for a third term representing New Hampshire in the U.S. Senate, the major suspense focuses on which Republicans may launch a challenge.

There’s been plenty of speculation surrounding two-term GOP Gov. Chris Sununu.

Sununu has repeatedly vowed that he has no interest in running for the U.S. Senate. The odds are much greater that the governor would run in 2020 for a third term in the corner office rather than for a full-time job in the nation’s capital.

“I have absolutely no interest,” Sununu told the Monitor last June. “I’m a manager. I love to manage.”

It’s a line he’s repeated numerous times in recent months.

But two public opinion surveys released over the past two weeks are once again firing up the rumor mill. Both polls – from Emerson College and UMass-Amherst – indicated a hypothetical matchup between the popular senator and popular governor would be all knotted up.

The surveys generated a lot of buzz with some Republican Party officials in Washington, who would love to play some offense. They are expected to mostly play defense in 2020 as they defend their 53-47 majority in the Senate.

Sununu wasn’t available for comment, but longtime Sununu political adviser Paul Collins did weigh in.

“The only Democrats Governor Sununu is focused on fighting right now are the ones in Concord proposing billions of dollars in new taxes on New Hampshire families,” said Collins, who ran Sununu’s successful 2016 run for governor and 2018 re-election.

That’s in line with how Sununu’s reacted when this reporter has tried to ask the governor about his 2020 intentions. It’s doubtful Sununu will say anything about the 2020 election until after the current legislative session is over and the state’s next two-year budget is signed, sealed, and delivered.

It’s an extreme longshot, but if Sununu ended up facing off against Shaheen, it would be the third showdown between the two political families.

Then Gov. Shaheen lost the 2002 Senate election to then-Congressman John E. Sununu, the current governor’s older brother. Shaheen defeated the incumbent Republican senator in their 2008 rematch.

2020 race – on deck

Besides Sanders, another Democratic presidential contender will be in the state this weekend. South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg spends Friday in the Granite State. Buttigieg – who at age 37 is four decades younger than Sanders – headlines ‘Politics and Eggs’ Friday morning at the New Hampshire Institute of Politics. Later in the day, he heads to Portsmouth.

Sen. Michael Bennet of Colorado, who’s mulling a White House bid, also makes the rounds in New Hampshire on Friday.

Booker is in, we say!

If you read Tuesday’s hardcopy of the Monitor, you probably witnessed a major miscue. The headline on page A2 of the continuation of this reporter’s front page story - on former Colorado governor John Hickenlooper’s entry into the 2020 presidential race and former Attorney General Eric Holder’s announcement that he wouldn’t run for the White House – contained a gaffe.

“Hickenlooper announces bid for the W.H., Booker out,” read the headline above the jump of the story on page A2.

Booker obviously refers to Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey, who last month launched his presidential campaign and is still very much in the race for the White House.

The Monitor’s editors made a correction in Wednesday’s newspaper and apologized to the Booker campaign for the error.

The campaign’s New Hampshire state director Erin Turmelle wrote that “Team Cory appreciates the Monitor’s correction, but clearly what they meant to say was Booker is out in the community and out and about campaigning the New Hampshire way.”

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