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Trio of national Democrats descend on N.H. in one weekend


U.S. Sen. Jeff Merkley of Oregon gets a round of applause at the Ron and Gerri King house party on Saturday. GEOFF FORESTER / Concord Monitor staff

Sen. Jeff Merkley says he hasn’t decided yet on whether he’ll launch a presidential bid, but his fourth trip since March to New Hampshire has the look and feel of a campaign swing.

Merkley, who’s officially in the first-in-the-nation primary state to help Democrats running in November’s elections, told the Monitor that he and his wife Mary will make a decision on a 2020 bid after the midterms.


“We’re going to wrestle with that right after the election and we’ll figure it out then and decide on what we’re going to do,” he said.


Merkley was one of three Democrats with potential presidential ambitions to parachute into the Granite State this weekend to assist Democrats. Washington State Gov. Jay Inslee – the chairman of the Democratic Governors Association, was in the state to lend a hand to Democratic gubernatorial nominee Molly Kelly, and Congressman John Delaney of Maryland – who declared his candidacy for president a year ago – spent the weekend helping Democrats up and down the ticket.


With New Hampshire’s state primary now in the rear view mirror, expect the already brisk pace of visits by possible 2020 White House contenders to increase during the eight-week sprint to the midterm elections. And once the midterms are over, the next presidential campaign officially begins.


Merkley, one of the most progressive members of the Senate, was the only Democrat in the chamber to endorse Sen. Bernie Sander in the 2016 presidential primary. But he said his decision to run won’t be influenced by possible 2020 White House bids by Sanders or Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, another progressive leader who’s flirting with a White House bid.


“I’ve always fought battles I believe in and right now I believe that we have to do everything we can to take our nation back,” he said. “The decision to be in the campaign will be based on whether it’s a fight that Mary and I decide that is the right moment and that I can really contribute to.”


Merkley kicked off his jam-packed four-day trip by headlining the Strafford County Democrats annual fall fundraising celebration. He also met with political activists at a house party in Concord, spoke at fundraiser in Lee for Executive Councilor Andru Volinsky, met with UNH Democrats, and held plenty of meetings with Democratic officials, candidates, and party supporters. The Senate Foreign Relations Committee member closes out his trip on Monday morning with an address to the World Affairs Council of New Hampshire at Southern New Hampshire University.


In a move that could position him for a presidential run, Merkley said that he’s hiring some political workers in New Hampshire in the coming days to help local candidates running in the 2018 contests.


“I’m not staffing up here but what I am doing is helping to hire folks to help out with some of the New Hampshire campaigns. So hopefully in addition to providing some assistance with resources, I’ll be able to provide some assistance with some people on the ground as organizers,” he explained.


Jay Inslee

Inslee, who’s making his first trip this year to the Granite State, campaigned Sunday with Kelly in Manchester, Exeter, and Portsmouth. Touting Kelly – who crushed rival candidate Steve Marchand in Tuesday’s primary – he told the Monitor that “you couldn’t design a better candidate who’s so down to earth and strong.”


“We can help financially at the right moment and we’re looking at the whole country right now of races we can potentially win and this is just getting started,” he said. “I’m glad to be here within one week of the primary.”


Speaking to activists at a canvassing kickoff in Exeter, Inslee gave remarks that sounded like the beginnings of a presidential campaign stump speech. He highlighted his progressive record as Washington State governor and added that “with all the darkness and tweets coming out of the White House, here’s a central fact – Donald Trump cannot stop us.”


Besides campaigning with Kelly, Inslee traveled to Concord to held a roundtable discussion on the environment. He also stopped North Hampton’s Throwback Brewery, which receives half of its power from solar panels. And he met in Exeter with longtime state party chairman Ray Buckley.


Rather than focus on a 2020 bid, Inslee said he’s focusing on the 2018 elections and added that he doesn’t have a timetable to make any decision on running for president.


But in a telling moment, he said that two issues he’s long fought for – health care and climate change – need to be center stage in the upcoming presidential race.


“The one thing I do know about 2020 is that we do have to have a candidate who will put our children’s health and climate change, as a central tenant of our message. We can’t make that a back-burner issue. We have to make it an offensive weapon, if you will. We need to campaign on it,” Inslee stressed. “I’ve dedicated about a decade and a half of my life this and we’re going to intend to make sure that happens in 2020. That’s what I know.”


John Delaney

Delaney was in New Hampshire for the 11th time since declaring his presidential candidacy in July of last year. He headlined the Nashua Democrats fundraising gala, canvassed for Democratic candidates from the I-93 corridor to the Seacoast, and gave a presentation at Saint Anselm College on his goals for the future of the country.


The three-term congressman, who was virtually unknown outside his district in Maryland, said his numerous trips to the early primary and caucus states are raising his name recognition.


“Our work coming to New Hampshire, going to Iowa, going to the early states, visiting with voters, we believe is really paying off,” he told the Monitor. “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.”


And Delaney who said he’ll start running TV commercials in the Granite State after the midterm elections – and increase his campaign staff here – vowed that “we’re going to run a major campaign here in New Hampshire.”

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