On the Trail: Steyer headed to N.H. as newly minted 2020 candidate

  • FILE - In this March 13, 2019, photo, billionaire investor and Democratic activist Tom Steyer speaks during a "Need to Impeach" town hall event in Agawam, Mass. Steyer claims that President Donald Trump meets the criteria for impeachment. Rising disagreement among congressional Democrats over whether to pursue impeachment of President Donald Trump has had little effect on the party’s presidential candidates, who mostly are avoiding calls to start such an inquiry. (AP Photo/Steven Senne, File) Steven Senne

For the Monitor
Published: 7/11/2019 6:30:47 PM
Modified: 7/11/2019 6:30:36 PM

Newly declared Democratic White House candidate Tom Steyer wasted no time taking aim at some of his top rivals for the party’s presidential nomination.

“The top three candidates have been in Congress and the Senate for a combined 70 years,” the billionaire progressive environmental advocate and philanthropist said Thursday in an interview with the Monitor and NHTalkRadio.com.

Steyer’s entry into the race on Tuesday – and his pledge to spend $100 million of his own money on his campaign – isn’t sitting well with some of those rivals, who’ve highlighted their push to rid big bucks from American politics.

“I like Tom, he is a good guy, he’s a friend of mine, but I’m not a great fan of billionaires getting involved in the political process,” Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont said in an interview on MSNBC hours after Steyer launched his campaign.

Sanders is mostly fueling his campaign with small-dollar donations from grassroots contributors and has eschewed fundraisers with top-dollar donors. So is Sen. Elizabeth Warren, another populist senator preaching progressive policies who’s among the top tier of Democratic White House contenders.

“The Democratic primary should not be decided by billionaires, whether they’re funding Super PACs or funding themselves,” the two-term Democratic senator from Massachusetts tweeted. “The strongest Democratic nominee in the general will have a coalition that’s powered by a grassroots movement.”

Asked about the jabs from Sanders and Warren, Steyer steered clear.

“The real question here is not about money or personality,” he said. “The real question is who has a vision for what we need to do in America and can connect with the American people.”

Instead, he characterized his rivals as D.C. insiders. “Are you going to do the reform from the outside, which is what I’ve been doing for 10 years successfully, or are you going to count on an insider to somehow reform the system that’s so badly broken?” he asked.

As one of the ringleaders in the push to impeach President Donald Trump, he headlined a “Need to Impeach” rally in Bow last summer. Steyer said the organization now has 8.2 million signatures on its impeachment petition.

He returned a month later to headline a rally and moderate a Democratic congressional debate. Both events were organized by NextGenAmerica, the grassroots advocacy organization that fueled the youth vote in 2018, helping the Democrats win back the U.S. House of Representatives.

New Hampshire was one of the states where the organization heavily devoted resources, which arguably helped the Democrats retake both chambers of the State House and hold both congressional seats.

The 62-year-old former hedge fund manager also returned to the Granite State in January, soon after he announced he wouldn’t run for the White House.

Now he’s changed his mind, joining a record-setting field that’s swelled to two-dozen candidates.

He said that when it comes to impeaching Trump, “we’ve won the argument. This is the most corrupt president in history. He is dangerous to the American people and the Constitution. He is unfit for office. We should get rid of him as fast as possible.”

But he targeted some of his rivals for the nomination and Democratic congressional leaders for dropping the ball on impeachment.

“The political establishment basically told the millions of people on our petition list ‘we don’t care what you have to say.’ They’re still saying it,” he emphasized.

Steyer’s campaign tells the Monitor the candidate will likely return to New Hampshire later this month.

But you can see him on your TV right now.

One day after announcing his White House run, Steyer went up with televised ads in New Hampshire, Iowa, South Carolina and Nevada – the first four states to vote in the presidential primary and caucus calendar, as well as nationally on two of the three cable news networks. Steyer’s spending a whopping $1.4 million overall – including around $160,000 in the Granite State – to run the spots on TV for two weeks.

All’s not well for Swalwell

Steyer’s entry into the race didn’t expand the Democratic field of contenders. That’s because hours earlier, Rep. Eric Swalwell of California ended his long-shot candidacy for the White House.

The 38-year-old congressman made several visits to New Hampshire last autumn and winter, as he mulled a presidential bid. And he came back a couple of times as a candidate.

But Swalwell didn’t resonate in the polls and struggled with fundraising.

A crucial signal that the end of his campaign was near was when the Monitor learned last week that Swalwell abruptly cancelled a two-day July 4 campaign swing in New Hampshire. Five days later – he announced he was ending his candidacy.

Staff size matters

Sen. Bernie Sanders’s campaign highlighted Thursday that they now have 45 staffers on the ground in New Hampshire. Most of those staffers focus on field and community organizing.

The campaign also plans to open offices in Manchester, Portsmouth, Dover, and West Lebanon. The new additions will bring to six the number of offices Sanders has in the state.

Sanders easily won New Hampshire’s 2016 Democratic presidential primary over eventual nominee Hillary Clinton. But that was basically a two-candidate race. This time around, it’s an extremely crowded field.

“From day one of this campaign, I have said we will take nothing for granted here in the first-in-the-nation primary. We’re building out the organization we need to talk to every Granite Stater in every corner of New Hampshire and earn their vote,” Sanders’s state director Joe Caiazzo said.

While not discussed as much as polling and fundraising, staff size does matter, especially in a small state like New Hampshire where retail politics and grassroots outreach is crucial.

Sanders isn’t the only candidate with a large team in the Granite State.

Former vice president Joe Biden’s campaign tells the Monitor they have nearly 40 staffers in New Hampshire, including 30 organizers spread out across the state. That’s not bad, considering Biden didn’t announce his candidacy until late April, months after many of his top rivals.

Sen. Cory Booker’s campaign says the New Jersey Democrat has nearly 30 staffers in the state.

“We got off to an early start building a strong team and have been talking to voters for several months already. Cory has also invested significant time here, having campaigned in all 10 counties, held nearly 40 events and met thousands of voters since becoming a presidential candidate,” Booker’s New Hampshire communications director Chris Moyer highlighted.

Sen. Kamala Harris of California’s presidential campaign told the Monitor they have 30 staffers on payroll.

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand of New York is expected to have more than 25 staffers on the ground in New Hampshire by the beginning of next month, her campaign said.

Two-dozen staffers are currently on the ground in the state for South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg.

Former Rep. Beto O’Rourke of Texas has at least 20 paid staff on the ground.

Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota’s New Hampshire team current stands at 18.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts is believed to have a large staff on the ground in the Granite State, but the campaign declined to share details.




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