Interviews with New Hampshire voters show Bernie, Biden the favorites
Mark Gruenberg/PW

MANCHESTER, N.H.—With two weeks to go before the key New Hampshire primary, there’s at least one certain point you can make about the Democratic presidential nomination race here: Bernie Sanders is the favorite among younger voters, Joe Biden is the favorite among older ones. But that goes only for the people who have made up their minds. There are indications that as many as half have not.

Walk around Manchester, the state’s largest city, however, and there are precious few political signs, outside of candidates’ headquarters. Political discussions, unless you’re a volunteer, a coordinator or a reporter, are not always out in the open.

Typical was a short dialog on the #5 bus: “I see you’re for Buttigieg,” the driver told a passenger who boarded sporting a button supporting former South Bend, Ind., “Mayor Pete.” “Yep,” said the passenger. “Good luck with that,” said the driver.

There are tables set up by student activists at one or another of the city’s nine college campuses, though none at the largest, the University of Southern New Hampshire. There were a few there in August, one 19-year-old student said.

There was one billboard observed for little-known Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, D-Hawaii, on the 45-minute bus ride from the airport into town and another on the edge of downtown. There was a Buttigieg sign in front of one house on Lake Avenue and a big Trump banner hanging from an apartment porch farther down that street.

And random interviews in Manchester and with other New Hampshire residents over the phone show Democratic hopefuls in the race to combat GOP incumbent Donald Trump this fall still have some questions to answer and some holes to fill.

Polls show Sanders, the senator from next-door Vermont, in the lead both here in New Hampshire and in Iowa. One New Hampshire survey, released Jan. 26, gives him 25% of the vote and a double-digit lead over Biden, the former vice president.

But the big catch here is that it says 49% of voters could switch between now and the primary on February 11.

Sanders’s results in Iowa are similar: 25% in the latest poll, leading Buttigieg (18%), Biden (17%) and Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass. (15%). In past presidential years, Democratic hopefuls who swept Iowa and New Hampshire won the party nomination.

In Iowa, though there are also many who have not made up their minds and the final outcome is anyone’s guess because at any caucus site where a candidate fails to get 15 percent that candidate’s supporters have to throw their votes behind their second choice. That could upend the current polls.

Sanders has support from five unions: National Nurses United, the United Electrical Workers, the United Teachers of Los Angeles, the National Union of Health Care Workers and the Service Employees’ New Hampshire Local 19843, with 10,000-members.

UTLA and the SEIU local are both out ahead of their parent unions, which are canvassing members. Other than the Fire Fighters, who back Biden, no other unions have endorsed.

That paucity of campaign signs doesn’t mean New Hampshire residents aren’t interested in the primary. Prompt them, and they list issues that will push them to vote – and issues they wish the candidates would cover, but sometimes don’t.

“The biggest things” that attracted him to Sanders “are climate change and domestic issues like health care and forgiveness of student loan debt,” Manchester resident Ryan Nordle said in an interview. “And in foreign affairs, we need someone with a more level-headed approach” than Trump.

But Nordle also wants the hopefuls to be more specific. Sanders on the stump “addresses climate change, but not the major factors that cause it, such as the agricultural industry, which produces large amounts of methane.”

In a telephone interview, Ben Staulcup of Rochester said he too will vote for Sanders, as “health care for all is a must and legalization of marijuana is a must.”

“Sanders would listen to the masses rather than to lobbyists, because he doesn’t take their dollars” as campaign contributions. But he wants the senator to be even more aggressive against his primary opponents.

Sanders “has been very reserved in attacking his opponents. People want a fighter,” Staulcup explained. “That’s why they elected Trump. They know he’s a crook. They know he’s a liar. But he’s their liar.”

Interviewed at a demonstration demanding Trump withdraw troops from Iraq, student Aaron Beckwith, a former Peace Corps volunteer, said he supports Sanders, as he did in 2016, “because the most important issue is campaign finance reform.”

“We want a president that represents all of us, not just the top 1%,” he added, gesturing to the group of a dozen or more at the downtown rally. He couldn’t think of other issues he’d want the candidates to tackle. Neither could Rowan Shaver, a barista from nearby Goffstown. He cited Sanders’s Medicare For All plan as his reason for supporting the senator. “The system is not sustainable and doesn’t work for too many people,” he added.

Behavioral therapist Cecilia Martins volunteered that Sanders’s stands for raising the minimum wage and for strengthening workers’ rights prompted her support. She also added making sure the “Dreamers” legally can stay in the U.S. That’s another key union cause.

And she praises Sanders for “building mass movements and bringing people into politics who are underrepresented.” Sanders talks often about crafting a political revolution in the U.S.

Martins says there’s one issue missing on the stump: Holding police accountable for shootings of unarmed African Americans. So did her brother, a Service Employees Local 1984 member who declined to give his name because he works in the nearby federal office building – and is covered by the Hatch Act ban on politics on the job.

Nordle, who just got a graduate degree, but works retail in a bicycle shop, is young, as are Beckwith, Shaver, Martins and her brother. George Arabaxhi, a grandfather who fled Albania in 1992, isn’t. He backs Biden, returning to his Democratic voting pattern of decades after abandoning the party, three years ago, to vote for Trump.

“Biden is very smart, he’s been in office for decades” and has experience “and he can be much better,” Arabaxhi said in still-heavily accented English. “Trump is bad for this country, and bad for the others.”

“I’m voting for Biden because he’s got the best chance of beating Trump. He’s kind of middle of the road. And I’m all in favor of the right to choose” – reproductive rights – said Kevin,  a sales marketer who declined to give his last name. That same cause was one reason Martins backs Sanders.

Some people were reticent about talking. Pausing briefly during deliveries, a letter carrier commented of all federal politicians in general that “I wish they’d talk about us and stop throwing bombs at each other.”

Others talked, but wouldn’t, or couldn’t vote. One man, a migrant from Central America, said he’s been waiting for his green card for a decade. So he can’t register and vote. A gray-bearded former felon said he has a lot to talk about but declined because he said, incorrectly, that New Hampshire law wouldn’t let him vote. “But there are a lot of people voting who shouldn’t” because they don’t follow issues, he added.

Mark Gruenberg/PW

Afghanistan war veteran Kiefer Howard is sour on all presidential hopefuls because, under former Democratic President Barack Obama “I wasn’t paid for a month” while on duty. “I don’t feel confident in either option,“ his wife, Sarah, added. “So I choose to let my fellow Americans decide and hope that in the next four years, the country doesn’t collapse.”

By contrast, one family on Chestnut Street made clear they’d support anyone but Trump. Nobody answered the door; a sign said they don’t want to talk politics or religion.

But there were six printed signs from various campaigns planted in their yard, catty-cornered to the house so drivers could read them from the road. The first five were from candidates: Sanders, Warren, Biden, industrialist Tom Steyer and Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., who’s dropped out of the race, in that order. The kicker was sign #6.

In red, white and blue, it read: “ANY FUNCTIONING ADULT 2020.”


Mark Gruenberg
Mark Gruenberg

Award winning journalist Mark Gruenberg is head of the Washington, D.C., bureau of People's World. He is also the editor of the union news service Press Associates Inc. (PAI). Known for his reporting skills, sharp wit, and voluminous knowledge of history, Mark is a compassionate interviewer but a holy terror when going after big corporations and their billionaire owners.