Potential 2020 Democratic contenders flock to N.H., but big names stay away

  • Jason Kander, former Missouri secretary of state, and Ray Buckley, New Hampshire Democratic Party chairman, appeared together Saturday, April 14, 2018, at the McIntyre-Shaheen dinner in Nashua, the party’s major spring fundraising event that was televised nationally on C-SPAN. Paul Steinhauser / Monitor staff

For the Monitor
Sunday, April 29, 2018

John Delaney is very open about his frequent stops in the first-in-the-nation primary state.

“This is my seventh trip to New Hampshire,” the three-term congressman from Maryland said.

Delaney – who last summer announced he wouldn’t run for re-election and instead declared his candidacy for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination – returned to the Granite State on Sunday.

“At this point, it’s a very personal campaign, it’s focused on meeting as many people as possible,” the long-shot White House contender explained.

Delaney is not 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 10 trips to the Granite State over the past year.

In May, former Housing and Urban Development secretary and San Antonio mayor Julian Castro, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, and congressman Tim Ryan of Ohio will all return to the Granite State to deliver commencement addresses. A few weeks later, former attorney general Eric Holder is scheduled to speak at Politics and Eggs at the New Hampshire Institute of Politics, a must-stop for White House hopefuls.

Over the past year, 12 Democratic White House hopefuls have made 36 trips to New Hampshire.

Meanwhile, two high-profile potential GOP primary challengers to President Donald Trump – Ohio Gov. John Kasich and Sen. Jeff Flake of Arizona – grabbed plenty of national media attention when they visited the Granite State earlier this year. In addition, both Trump and Vice President Mike Pence made official visits here last month.

But so far, the biggest names in the potential field of Democratic candidates have stayed away.

It’s been a year since former vice president Joe Biden trekked to New Hampshire, to headline the state party’s major fundraising gala. Former Democratic presidential candidate and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders hasn’t had any public appearances in the state since last October, when he headlined a Strafford County fundraising dinner. And Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts hasn’t visited since the 2016 campaign.

Four years ago, it was a different story because the prospect of Hillary Clinton’s candidacy kept the field, and the early visits, to a minimum. There were only seven trips by four potential White House contenders during 2013 and the first half of 2014.

But this cycle, with Clinton announcing she won’t run for public office again, and Trump’s presidency energizing Democrats in New Hampshire and across the country, the party may see its largest White House field and most wide-open race in nearly a generation.

Longtime New Hampshire Democratic Party Chairman Ray Buckley said his phone has been ringing off the hook with calls from likely White House candidates.

“There are so many potential contenders wanting to come up for our events, it’s just mind-blowing, the activity.”

So why the lack of the party’s biggest names?

Blame 2018 midterm politics for some of the absences. Some potential 2020 contenders facing re-election this November may be hesitant to make the trip to the Granite State.

“Both Bernie and Elizabeth are up for re-election this year, so we understand that,” Buckley said.

Buckley and veteran New Hampshire-based Democratic consultant Jim Demers said the 2020 cycle reminds them of the early stages of 2008 race for the Democratic nomination, when Obama outlasted Clinton in a marathon and historic battle.

“I think this is a lot like 2006. The two biggest names who ran, Obama and Clinton, did not come to New Hampshire until after the midterm elections,” said Demers, a former state representative who served as New Hampshire co-chair for Obama’s 2008 campaign.

“The candidates that were coming were the ones that were not as well-known. The two big-name candidates actually came in late,” he explained. “This looks and feels a lot like the 2008 election.”

Demers said Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey is at the top of his 2020 list. But Booker has yet to visit the Granite State this cycle.

Demers pointed out that “some candidates may truly not be decided yet, so they don’t want to come in too early.”

“If somebody shows up in New Hampshire, the speculation game begins,” he said. “I do think that is part of the consideration these potential candidates are going through. Until you’ve really made up your mind yourself, does it make sense to come into New Hampshire and have everyone thinking that you’re off and running?”

That’s not a problem for Delaney, who’s already declared.

He has compared his style of campaigning to that of former president Jimmy Carter.

Carter, a virtually unknown former Georgia governor, jumped in early in the 1976 campaign and spent as much time as possible in New Hampshire and Iowa, the state that holds the first caucus in the race for the White House. Carter ended up upsetting some much bigger names in the Democratic nomination campaign on the way to winning the presidency. Delaney said he thinks that kind of campaigning can still work in 2020.

“I am pursuing a bit of an old-fashioned strategy in some ways, which is meeting the voters,” he said.