Trump fuels early N.H. visits by potential 2020 Democratic White House contenders

  • Democratic presidential candidate, former Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley gestures as he speaks during a conversation with students forum at New Hampshire Technical Institute in Concord, N.H., Friday, Oct. 16, 2015. (AP Photo/Cheryl Senter) Cheryl Senter

  • Former Maryland governor and Democratic presidential candidate Martin O’Malley speaks with the Monitor editorial board on Friday, Oct. 16, 2015. ELIZABETH FRANTZ

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    Former Missouri Secretary of State Jason Kander, founder of "Let America Vote" speaks to protesters gathered outside Saint Anselm College in Manchester, N.H., on Tuesday, Sept. 12, 2017. Kander and others were protesting a meeting of the Trump administration's commission on voter fraud, which they argue is designed to suppress voting. (AP Photo/Holly Ramer) Holly Ramer

  • Vice President Joe Biden pauses between mock swearing in ceremonies in the Old Senate Chamber on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, Jan. 3, 2017, as the 115th Congress begins. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon) Alex Brandon

  • FILE- In this April 20, 2017, file photo, Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., speaks at a rally for Omaha Democratic mayoral candidate Heath Mello in Omaha, Neb. Sanders is holding rallies to focus attention on worker's rights and the minimum wage on Labor day. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall, File) Charlie Neibergall

  • FILE - In this Thursday, July 28, 2016 file photo, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti speaks during the final day of the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia. With 10 months before the vote in the race for the 2024 Summer Games, bid leaders from Los Angeles, Paris and Budapest, Hungary, have traveled to Doha, Monday Nov. 14, 2016, to pitch their case to the general assembly of the Association of National Olympic Committees. The Los Angeles presentation, which includes Mayor Eric Garcetti, a Democrat, is likely to deal head-on with the U.S. election result and seek to reassure Olympic officials that the bid represents openness, diversity and inclusiveness. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, File) J. Scott Applewhite

  • U.S. Rep. John Delaney of Maryland

  • Rep. Tim Ryan, D-Ohio, listens to a reporter's question following the House Democratic Caucus elections on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, Nov. 30, 2016, for House leadership positions. Ryan challenged House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of Calif., but lost, 134-63. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh) Susan Walsh

  • —Paul Steinhauser

For the Monitor
Published: 9/26/2017 5:26:32 PM

Martin O’Malley will be back in the Granite State on Wednesday.

The former two-term Maryland governor and 2016 Democratic presidential candidate is coming to New Hampshire ostensibly to campaign for Manchester mayoral candidate Joyce Craig; meet with Hassan Essa, a 20-year-old refugee from Kuwait who is running for alderman in the Queen City; and keynote a gathering of the Salem Democrats.

But let’s be honest, O’Malley is also making his third trip to New Hampshire this year with thoughts of 2020 on his mind.

And he’s far from alone.

Former Missouri secretary of state and 2016 U.S. Senate candidate Jason Kander, who now leads the voting rights group Let America Vote, has made a whopping five trips to the Granite State this year, with three this month alone.

Also trekking to the land of the first-in-the-nation primary so far this year are such potential 2020 Democratic contenders as former vice president Joe Biden, Sen. Bernie Sanders, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, and U.S. Reps. John Delaney of Maryland and Tim Ryan of Ohio.

Fueling these visits is the Republican president in the White House.

“There is a need from progressives in New Hampshire and across the country to hear from people who are of substance and character because it is very hard for a lot of folks to comprehend the presidency of Donald Trump,” longtime New Hampshire Democratic Party Chairman Ray Buckley said.

Trump has sparked numerous controversies during his eight months in office, and his approval ratings are far lower at this point in his presidency than any predecessor in the last 60 years other than Bill Clinton.

While 2020 is a long way away, the possibility of facing a wounded GOP president in the next election appears enticing to a growing number of Democrats.

“People think the nomination is worth having because Trump’s approval numbers are so poor,” University of New Hampshire political science professor Dante Scala said.

And with Hillary Clinton announcing she won’t run again for public office, the Democrats may see their largest presidential field and most wide-open race in nearly a generation.

That wasn’t the case four years ago, when O’Malley was the only potential 2016 Democratic hopeful to pay New Hampshire a visit in 2013. The likely prospect of Clinton’s candidacy for the party’s presidential nomination kept the field, and the very early visits, to a minimum.

Four years earlier, incumbent Democratic President Barack Obama faced only a handful of minor candidates in his virtually uncontested re-nomination effort.

It’s been a dozen years since New Hampshire’s seen such a large number of potential candidates paying visits the year after a presidential election. Eight potential Democratic hopefuls traveled to the Granite State in 2005. Former senator and 2004 Democratic vice presidential nominee John Edwards was first in, in February, and made three more visits in 2005.

Twelve years is a long time in politics.

“There has been a bottleneck for nearly a generation of up-and-comers to explore their future,” Buckley explained. “I think it’s a great thing that we have this entire new generation of folks that are thinking about it, exploring it.”

While Buckley was speaking with the Monitor, his other phone rang. Placing the call was Rep. Delaney of Maryland, one of the potential 2020 contenders.

Buckley spotlighted that this year’s Manchester mayoral election, where Craig is challenging four-term incumbent GOP Mayor Ted Gatsas, is also attracting visits from possible 2020 candidates.

“We have the very hot race for mayor of Manchester, with Joyce Craig. People are very eager to be helpful and supportive of her candidacy, and that has certainly attracted some of those folks,” he said.

Add Senate Bill 3 to the list of reasons Democratic contenders are visiting. That’s the measure passed in the Republican-dominated State House and signed into law by GOP Gov. Chris Sununu that tightens voting laws in New Hampshire. Democrats have decried the measure as a voter suppression effort by Republicans.

“There is a lot of energy in the state, especially for young progressives,” New Hampshire Young Democrats President Lucas Meyer said as he touted the “historic” number of young Democrats running for political office in local elections this year.

“SB 3 has been a huge catalyst to get young people engaged. Millennial voters in New Hampshire don’t want to see any attempts to roll back their ability to vote,” Meyer added.

Meyer noted that the engagement by younger voters plays into why “so many potential 2020 candidates are coming into New Hampshire.”

“They understand there’s this excitement, and they want to start to presumably build relationships with young people in the state and capitalize on this energy that we’re seeing in New Hampshire,” he said.

One thing’s for sure: It’s still extremely early in this presidential preseason.

“There are various levels in every presidential primary campaign. I don’t think we’re at the dating level or the engagement level or the married level yet. I think right now we’re at the high school dance, just checking each other out,” Buckley explained.

But Meyer said these 2017 visits can pay dividends in 2019, when the primary battle will be in full swing.

“I think the more conversations you can have with Granite State voters, the better. So if you can start having those conversations now, I think it’s hard to argue that it doesn’t help you,” he said.

With Trump in the White House, GOP primary traffic is currently almost nonexistent. The only stop by a potential 2020 GOP primary challenger was a book tour visit in April by Ohio Gov. and 2016 Republican presidential candidate John Kasich.

Kasich came in second to Trump in the 2016 New Hampshire primary, boosting his once-longshot campaign. But Trump was the big winner in the large field in the first-in-the-nation primary, topping Kasich by 19 percentage points.

While Trump made numerous primary visits to the Granite State, he mostly held large events. Scala said Trump’s eschewing of the Granite State’s traditional smaller retail events in favor of larger rallies may have made an impact.

“I think Trump did damage to New Hampshire’s reputation for being a state where the smaller retail events are a must because New Hampshire voters demand them,” Scala said. “Clearly, that was not true for a plurality of New Hampshire Republican voters last time around.”

But he pointed out that both Clinton in 2016 and Obama eight years earlier also started out with big events early on in their campaigns.

Of course, “most politicians are not Trump, Obama or Clinton,” Scala said, adding that most candidates visiting New Hampshire will “have to do things the old-fashioned way.”

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