NASHUA, N.H. – English professor Barry Brown will probably vote for Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren in Tuesday’s primary, although he hasn’t ruled out Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar and he’s impressed by Pete Buttigieg.
“I like Andrew Yang, too,” he mused.
No reason to decide for sure too soon, he said. After all, the New Hampshire polls wouldn’t open for another 72 hours.
The volatility in the New Hampshire electorate and the high stakes of its primary fueled an escalation in political attack and counterattack during a fierce final weekend of campaigning. Whatever happens Tuesday, the results are likely to clarify the contest, streamline the field and signal the Democratic message ahead.
Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders on Sunday predicted victory – he won here by double digits in the primary four years ago – but was still on the attack against Buttigieg as the candidate favored by billionaire contributors. The former mayor of South Bend, Indiana, said he expected “a big night” but was still targeting Joe Biden as part of the old Washington establishment that has led the nation astray.
And the former vice president, once the front-runner, acknowledged he had “taken a hit” with a fourth-place finish in the Iowa caucuses and would take another here, a sort of preemptive concession. But he made the toughest attacks to date on his rivals in hopes of holding on for a comeback in friendlier territory in the next two contests, in Nevada on Feb. 22 and South Carolina on Feb. 29.
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At a rally Saturday in the historic Rex Theater in downtown Manchester, Biden was at times a poignant figure, at 77 and after a lifetime in politics making his third and presumably final bid for the White House. No longer having the luxury of staying above the Democratic fray, he blasted Sanders and Buttigieg as risky nominees – Sanders for his ideology, Buttigieg for his inexperience.
Defeating Trump is the imperative, he told a standing-room-only crowd.
“I’ve lost a lot in my life, as a lot of you have,” he said, his voice rising, mentioning the car crash that killed his wife and daughter and the brain cancer that took a son’s life. “But I’ll be damned if I’m going to stand by and lose my country, too, period. Not going to let it happen.”
Flirting with someone new?
Sitting in the audience, Bob Baines nodded in agreement. “I’m a centrist, and that’s where most people in the country are,” he said, expressing skepticism that Sanders, who describes himself as a Democratic socialist, could defeat Trump. “I don’t think Democrats can nominate someone far to the left in our party and win.”
But Baines, a former mayor of Manchester and a Biden supporter, was worried about the sinking support for his candidate in the polls. “Sometimes voters in the early primaries like to flirt with a new candidate,” he said, a selling point for Buttigieg and for Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar. “People start doing the comparisons; they start shopping around.”
For his part, Biden expressed frustration at Buttigieg’s surge. “Come on, man, this guy’s not a Barack Obama,” he said with exasperation at a news conference Saturday.
“He’s right,” Buttigieg shot back Sunday on CNN’s State of the Union. “I’m not, and neither is he.”
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In the Suffolk survey, the possibility of last-minute shifts, even seismic ones, were apparent. A majority of likely Democratic primary voters said they either hadn’t made up their minds (12%) or that they might change them (45%).
Klobuchar could be a wild card in New Hampshire, especially after what was seen as a strong performance in the ABC News/WMUR debate Friday night. The Suffolk University tracking poll put her at 9%, just 1 percentage point below Biden and 4 points below Warren, who has seen her support ebb. For the Minnesota senator, finishing ahead of Biden would be a boost.
Sanders was at 24%, a narrow lead over Buttigieg, at 22%. Warren was at 13% and Biden at 10%.
For some of the presidential hopefuls, New Hampshire may live up to a revised version of its state motto: Do well or die.
The official candidates whose support continues to be measured in single digits, including activist Tom Steyer, Hawaii Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, Colorado Sen. Michael Bennet and Yang, may find it difficult to continue their campaigns without a breakthrough here.
‘Ready for a win’
At candidate forums and town hall meetings, even Democratic voters with strong preferences said they planned to vote for whomever the party’s nominee turned out to be so Trump could be defeated. Trump is scheduled to address a rally of his supporters in Manchester Monday night, in the same cavernous arena where all the Democratic candidates spoke Sunday at a glitzy party fundraising dinner.
“Anybody’s better than Trump,” said Celia Botto, 29, a Montessori teacher in Manchester who voted for Sanders in the Democratic primary in 2016, when he was running against Hillary Clinton. She was looking over the candidates as they spoke Saturday at a forum in Concord sponsored by NARAL and other liberal organizations. “I still really like Bernie Sanders, but I’m ready for a win in the White House.”
“Are they nervous?” Sanders replied good-naturedly on NBC’s “Meet the Press” when asked about concerns among the Democratic establishment about having him head the ticket.
He predicted he could both increase turnout among young people and win back some voters in swing states who backed Trump in 2016. “I think a lot of working people understand that Trump is a fraud, that our campaign is in fact prepared to take on the billionaire class when Trump is part of the billionaire class. And I think we’re going to win a lot of those districts.”
Trump’s impeachment acquittal and other signs of his political strength were on everyone’s mind, said Nancy Loschiavo, 56, a hospice nurse from Nashua.
“Everybody’s worried right now because we can’t believe he’s been able to do what he has,” she said. “The stakes are incredibly high.”