• Paul Steinhauser

In New Hampshire, It’s Been 2020 for Months

Photo illustration by The Daily Beast

Lou D’Allesandro says he’s been getting a lot of calls lately.

“Our phone is ringing,” shared the longtime Democratic lawmaker who’s known as the ‘dean’ of the New Hampshire state Senate, as he 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 played an influential role in the state’s presidential primary.

For New Hampshire, which for a century has held the first primary in the race for the White House, the run-up to the 2018 midterms has meant a steady parade of potential presidential contenders for the next election just under two years away.   

Among those parachuting into state under the guise of helping local Democrats on the 2018 ballot were Sens. Bernie Sanders (VT), Cory Booker (NJ), Kirsten Gillibrand (NY), and Jeff Merkley (OR), Govs. Jay Inslee (WA) and John Hickenlooper (CO) and former Gov. Terry McAuliffe (VA), Reps. Tim Ryan (OH), John Delaney (MD), and Eric Swalwell (CA), former HUD Secretary Julian Castro, Michael Bloomberg, Michael Avenatti, and Tom Steyer.

Those visits may have helped—to a small degree—fuel what turned out to a true blue wave in New Hampshire. While GOP Gov. Chris Sununu won re-election, Democrats easily kept control of both of the state’s congressional districts, and flipped from red to blue both chambers of the state legislature as well as control of the five-member Executive Council.

The person who helped steer the Democratic takeover was longtime state party chairman Ray Buckley. His phone’s also been ringing off the hook since early last year when the first potential contenders ventured into the Granite State.    

Buckley predicted that there could be up to 30 eventual candidates for the nomination, because “there doesn’t seem to be any looming individual that would scare a lot of others out.”

And he joked that “there’s only so many county dinners in New Hampshire. We’ve only got 10 counties.”

Buckley explained that with the midterms moving into the rear view mirror, a new battle begins to get boots on the ground.

“What’s going to be happening over the next weeks and couple of months is you’re going to be seeing a lot of those individuals who are seriously leaning towards running start having conversations with Democratic staffers. That’s what’s will be happening behind the scenes,” Buckley said.

The timing couldn’t be better, with the 2018 campaigns winding down and the state party temporarily downsizing, there’s dozens of experienced Democratic operatives ready for new adventures.

“We have a lot of very high quality young political operatives in the state, who a lot of campaigns are going to be aggressively pursuing,” New Hampshire Young Democrats president Lucas Meyer said.

“Give the results we had on Tuesday, there are certainly some competent folks in the state who would be excellent pickups for any presidential campaign,” added Meyer, who’s built his group into one of the strongest Young Democrats organizations in the country.

Some of the courting is already underway.

“We’re in the hunt on all this stuff,” said a senior political adviser to a potential presidential candidate, who asked to remain anonymous in order to speak more freely.

The likely presidential contenders are not only courting staffers, but also activists.

Merkley, who’s made five jam-packed visits to the state this year, has cemented friendships that could pay dividends in 2020.

The progressive senator from Oregon said he’d make a decision on a presidential bid by the end of the year, explaining that “I have stayed in this conversation because I have been received so well in living rooms and porches here in New Hampshire and Iowa and Nevada and South Carolina. So that weighs on my mind.”

And for those White House hopefuls with little name recognition, the early trips help grab national attention and build name ID.

Delaney, who’s virtually unknown outside his Maryland district, has dropped into New Hampshire more than a dozen times since he announced his candidacy for president in July of last year.

“Our work coming to New Hampshire, going to Iowa, going to the early states, visiting with voters, we believe is really paying off,” he highlighted. “We’ve really made a really concerted effort in this first year to introduce ourselves to voters and I think it’s worked and when this race starts, we’re going to be in the game.”

Delaney, one of the longest of long shots for the nomination, said he’d start running TV commercials and increase staff in the state right after the midterms. And he touted  that “we’re going to run a major campaign here in New Hampshire.”

Someone who obviously doesn’t need to worry about name recognition is Sanders. The independent senator from Vermont crushed Hillary Clinton in the 2016 presidential primary, launching him into a ferocious battle with the eventual nominee that lasted to the end of the caucus and primary calendar.

Sanders dropped into the state just two days before the midterms to headline two get-out-the-youth-vote rallies.  But most telling was a private meeting he held with nearly 30 of the top Granite State supporters of his 2016 campaign.

Multiple sources who attended the gathering told The Daily Beast that Sanders thanked them for their 2016 efforts and then shared that he’s considering another White House run but hasn’t made any decisions.

If Sanders runs again, he likely won’t have the progressive lane exclusively to himself. A leading Sanders 2016 supporter in New Hampshire, who asked for anonymity to speak more freely, said Sanders “doesn’t have a lock” on his followers in the Granite State.

But the supporter added that “the default is Bernie,” and said that the other potential progressive contenders in a likely extra-large Democratic field “would have to show that they’re stronger, more viable candidates.”

Asked about Sanders, Buckley said “it would be unfair to hold him up to the numbers of 2016,” when the independent from Vermont captured 60 percent of the Democratic New Hampshire primary vote.  “It was unique.”

Sanders turned 77 in September, and his age will be an issue if he runs again.

“Perhaps age nowadays isn’t as important but if you look historically, Democrats tend to win when we have younger individuals,” Buckley explained. “The history of the last 100 years is that our nominee is roughly around 49 or 50 years old.”

The Young Democrats’ Meyer said, “obviously we’d love to see a young candidate running but I think the most important thing is making sure our next nominee for president understands the concerns of young people.”

Age would also be a factor for former Vice President Joe Biden, who’s seriously mulling another bid for the White House.

Biden has lots of friends in New Hampshire, including D’Allesandro.

“I think a lot of him. I think a lot of him,” D’Allesandro emphasized.

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