On the Trail: 2020 courting of influential N.H. Democrats gets underway

  • FILE - In this Oct. 28, 2018, file photo, Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., exits the stage after speaking at a get out the vote event hosted by the NH Young Democrats at the University of New Hampshire in Durham, N.H. Even before they announce their White House intentions, New Hampshire’s ambitious neighbors are in the midst of a shadow campaign to shape the nation’s first presidential primary election of the 2020 season.(AP Photo/ Cheryl Senter, File) Cheryl Senter

For the Monitor
Published: 11/22/2018 7:48:38 PM

It may not be outwardly visible, but behind the scenes, the 2020 race for the White House is definitely underway in New Hampshire, the state that for a century has held the first presidential primary.

Potential Democratic presidential contenders are busy putting plans in place to launch likely White House campaigns. They’re also quietly courting Granite State Democratic lawmakers and rainmakers.

State House Democratic leader Steve Shurtleff, who’s all but certain to be elected the chamber’s next speaker, told the Monitor that after winning his party’s nomination for post, he received congratulatory calls from former Vice President Joe Biden, Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey and Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts.

“Being a prior Biden supporter in ’08, it’s always nice to hear from the former vice president,” added the longtime state lawmaker from Concord.

It was a similar story for state Senate Democratic leader Donna Soucy, who’s expected to win election as the chamber’s president next month. She told the Monitor that Biden, Booker, and Warren called her earlier this month to congratulate her after the now-majority Democratic caucus nominated her as Senate president.

Soucy added that she received calls from a couple of other potential White House hopefuls, including Congressman Tim Ryan of Ohio. “I went to law school with him. He’s looking at the race as well,” she said.

Likewise, longtime state senator Lou D’Allesandro says he’s been getting a lot of calls lately.

“Our phone is ringing,” shared the longtime Democratic lawmaker from Manchester who rattled off the names of a dozen potential Democratic White House hopefuls who’ve reached to him in recent weeks.

“Let’s say the lines of communication are open and obviously you’re happy that all of these people want to come to New Hampshire,” added D’Allesandro, who’s long played an influential role in the state’s presidential primary.

Booker’s return

On his trip to New Hampshire last month, Sen. Cory Booker told the Monitor that he’d “start thinking about 2020” right after this month’s midterm elections.

It appears the New Jersey Democrat’s doing more than just thinking.

The likely White House contender is returning to Granite State early next month, for his second visit in six weeks. Booker will headline the New Hampshire Democratic Party’s “Post-Election Victory Celebration.”

The event, celebrating state Democratic gains made in the midterm election, will be held Dec. 8 at 2:30pm at the New Hampshire Institute of Art in downtown Manchester.

Booker raised more than $170,000 for the state party, and along with another potential presidential contender, Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, was a top contributor to the NHDP during the 2018 cycle.

While Booker’s trip will grab plenty of national attention, he wasn’t the first 2020 Democrat to parachute into New Hampshire after the midterms. That honor went to New York based entrepreneur Andrew Yang – who declared his longshot candidacy for president earlier this year. Yang stopped in the Granite State the Monday after the midterms.

Steyer to stop in N.H.

Billionaire environmentalist and progressive activist Tom Steyer unveiled a Democratic platform this week and backed his proposals up with a six figure ad buy. Steyer, who made two stops in New Hampshire his summer, is returning in January, during his upcoming town hall tour to promote his platform.

“New Hampshire is an important stop because so much of the conversation pertaining to both the future of the Democratic Party and the future of our country is happening there,” Steyer spokeswoman Aleigha Cavalier said.

Steyer, who founded the influential organization NextGen America, has also been a leader in the movement to impeach President Donald Trump. Last year he launched the group Need to Impeach.

The case of the missing ballot box

There weren’t any hanging chads, but there was drama at Tuesday’s recount of the New Hampshire Senate District 23 battle between incumbent GOP Sen. Bill Gannon and Democratic challenger Jon Morgan.

After election officials finished re-counting the ballots, the count was below the final tally from election night by a couple of hundred votes.

The culprit – a ballot box in Exeter that had failed to be delivered to election officials in Concord. After the box arrived at the state archives building – where election officials were huddled, the recount resumed.

Longtime New Hampshire Secretary of State Bill Gardner, who was overseeing the recount, said a missing ballot box, while rare, had happened a couple of decades ago in a previous state Senate recount.

“When we have this kind of situation, we have always been able to resolve it,” he said as he waited for the missing ballots to arrive.

The recount, by the way, upheld Morgan’s narrow victory over Gannon.

Will history repeat itself?

Gardner’s fighting for his job right now.

As he runs for a 22nd two-year term as the state’s top election official, Gardner’s facing a very serious challenge from former executive councilor and 2016 Democratic gubernatorial nominee Colin Van Ostern.

Van Ostern overwhelmingly won the backing of the now majority House Democratic caucus in a non-binding vote. The vote was an abrupt wakeup call for Gardner.

All 424 re-elected and newly-elected state lawmakers are scheduled to meet on Dec. 5 to vote for secretary of state.

Concord lobbyist Bruce Berke, a managing partner of Sheehan Phinney Capital Group in Concord, and a longtime player in Republican presidential primary politics, said the current situation reminds him of 1984.

Like the Democrats this year, the GOP made major State House gains in the election that year. And state Rep. Donna Sytek – who was state Republican Party chair at the time – easily captured the GOP House caucus nomination for secretary of state.

But Sytek, who years later became the first women to serve as New Hampshire House speaker, was trounced by Gardner in the secretary of state election.

“It’s similar to 1984 in that you’ve had a big caucus vote. Now you’re heading into a secret ballot and you just don’t know what the outcome is going to be,” Berke said.

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