N.H. Dems Convention: 3 Takeaways

Saturday's big event drew thousands. Here's what you need to know about it.

Thousands attended the New Hampshire Democratic Party’s convention Saturday in Manchester, where party leaders aimed to build momentum with a series of fiery speeches.

Much of the energy revolved around the state’s first-in-the-nation presidential primary, which is five months away. But other federal, state, and local races are wrapped up in the party’s priorities for 2020 and beyond.

Here are three key takeaways from the event:

1. Democrats Are Rallying Against Lewandowski’s Possible Senate Bid.

Those who delivered speeches from the podium Saturday inside the SNHU Arena frequently criticized President Donald Trump and Gov. Chris Sununu by name. No surprise there: both are prominent Republican incumbents seeking reelection.

More surprising was how often speakers uttered the name of Trump’s former campaign manager, Corey Lewandowski, who has signaled a strong desire to challenge Democratic U.S. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen next year—which would place him on the ballot as Sununu and Trump seek reelection.

“About three or four weeks ago, someone came to my office and said one of Trump’s crooked cronies was thinking about running for the United States Senate in New Hampshire, and my first question was, ‘Which crooked crony?’” said Democratic National Committee Chair Tom Perez during his speech.

“When I heard it was Corey Lewandowski—oh my goodness,” Perez added, accusing Lewandowski of “cashing in on the Trump presidency by selling access to the highest bidder.”

Lewandowski hasn’t formally declared his candidacy, but several other Republicans have, including retired brigadier general Donald Bolduc, attorney Andy Martin, retired Army Ranger and trial attorney Bryant "Corky" Messner, and former New Hampshire House Speaker Bill O’Brien, whose name drew boos from the convention crowd.

Shaheen said it doesn’t matter which candidate Republicans select to challenge her because all of them oppose the Affordable Care Act, abortion rights, the Voting Rights Act, and more. The only thing they stand for, she said, is the agenda of Trump and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.

"That is not good for New Hampshire, and it's not good for America," Shaheen said.

The party even distributed mock business cards for Lewandowski describing him as a “shadow lobbyist” who lives in “The Washington Swamp.” The cards include a Russian email address and the URL for a full website the Democrats created to satirize him.

2. Democrats Are Headed for a Contested Gubernatorial Primary—Maybe.

There’s still just one Democrat officially running to challenge Sununu’s bid for a third two-year term as governor, but Saturday’s convention included speeches from two Democrats who were introduced as gubernatorial candidates.

State Senate Majority Leader Dan Feltes declared his candidacy last week. Then he spoke Saturday about how his upbringing in a union family shaped his perspective and inspired his subsequent work on behalf of middle class families.

“We've got a governor who just doesn't get it,” Feltes said. “He doesn't get what working families are going through, and it shows."“

Executive Councilor Andru Volinsky hasn’t declared his candidacy. But he spoke Saturday about his lawyering on public school funding and how investments in education are vital to New Hampshire families.

Volinsky said he and his wife, along with an exploratory committee of more than 175 members, are still weighing whether he should jump into the race.

“We'll decide if we’re going to move from the exploratory phase to an actual run in the next six weeks,” Volinsky said.

If he were to join the race, Volinsky would face off with Feltes in the primary, on Sept. 8, 2020, about two months before the general election, on Nov. 3, 2020—giving the Democrats a brief window to pivot from intra-party competition to the main event with Sununu.

And there’s still nine months left for others to jump into the race. Those who may be considering a bid include former state Sen. Molly Kelly, who lost to Sununu in 2018, and former Portsmouth Mayor Steve Marchand, who lost to Kelly in the 2018 primary and is now working for the presidential campaign of entrepreneur Andrew Yang, as WMUR’s John DiStaso reported.

3. Democratic Presidential Campaigns Jump at Chance to Cross-Pollinate.

Polls suggest there are three frontrunners for the Democratic nomination: Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, and former Vice President Joe Biden.

But that doesn’t mean the other 16 candidates were wasting their time in Manchester.

While many delegates have already settled on their preferred candidates, others are still keeping their options open, selecting three to five favorites while they wait to see how the race progresses, said Kathleen O’Donnell of Keene, a delegate for Cheshire County, who said she favors Mayor Pete Buttigieg of South Bend, Indiana.

The fact is that at least 18 of the 19 presidential campaigns represented at Saturday’s convention won’t win the Democratic nomination. As candidates drop out, many of their supporters will flock to other Democrats, which is one reason why so many speeches appealed to party unity. Presidential hopefuls who are stuck in the single digits jumped at the opportunity to appeal to all of their opponents’ supporters at once. Being second or third on a voter’s list of favorite candidates is especially valuable in such a splintered field.

After all, a significant majority of Democratic voters who say they have a preferred candidate also say they feel excited about several of the candidates, according to a Pew Research Center poll released last month.

In one standout speech that drew applause throughout the arena, Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey said Democrats have to be careful.

“I don’t care who our nominee is, but we can’t tolerate Democrats who turn against other Democrats and try and tear us down,” Booker said. “This election is not about some purity test, that if you don’t mark every box correctly then you’re not a good Democrat. We need leaders who are not going to turn against each other but turn toward each other because that’s where our strength is.”

The sense of camaraderie on display at this year’s convention stood in stark contrast to 2016, when there was a clear division between the camp that supported Sanders and the camp that supported eventual nominee Hillary Clinton, O’Donnell said.

Ken Cohen of Kensington, a delegate for Rockingham County, similarly noted commonalities among the presidential candidates. All of them are decent people and invested in the party’s traditional principles, including fighting climate change, supporting labor unions, and making government work for the common good, he said.

Cohen had been waiting for the field to narrow before hitching himself to a single candidate. But that changed in recent weeks, when he saw Warren in person and decided she had won his support.

“My initial reservations with Warren focused around her wonky and professorial demeanor,” he said. “I felt she was very appealing to us New England intellectuals which would most likely fall flat with the general electorate.”

Now that he sees how engaging and likable Warren is with voters, Cohen said he’s confident her populist appeal will translate beyond the progressive wing of the Democratic party and lead to victory in the general election.


Quick note: Know someone who's into New Hampshire politics? Do me a favor and forward this newsletter to them. I'm just getting Granite Memo off the ground and could use your help to let others know. It's free to subscribe.

I'm a Portsmouth-based journalist keeping tabs not only on our first-in-the-nation primary but also on the other races, scandals, and stories that are sure to keep Granite State politics interesting even after the national spotlight moves on. I hope you'll join me. —Steven Porter

Coverage Worth Your Time

Trent Spiner and Holly Otterbein for Politico: “We asked 100 New Hampshire insiders about the Democratic field. Here’s who they favor.

Dozens of state representatives, party leaders, operatives and volunteers said they weren’t planning to vote for the former vice president in the nomination contest — and many publicly aired concerns about his age, energy and gender. […]

Elizabeth Warren led the way among the surveyed delegates who had made up their minds, followed by Bernie Sanders in second and Biden in third.

Ken Thomas and Jesse Naranjo for The Wall Street Journal: “In New Hampshire, Democrats Urge Activists to Pick a New Face

The former vice president, who has displayed a penchant for committing miscues on the campaign trail, referred to the president at one point as, “Donald Hump,” before correcting himself as the crowd laughed. “Freudian slip,” he said.

The convention in the nation’s first presidential primary state came five months before New Hampshire’s early-voting contest and as the field has begun to crystallize around the three leading contenders.

The others in the race fighting for a spot in that top tier of candidates argued that the primary is still a long way off and the party needed a fresh face—all without mentioning Mr. Biden by name.

Katie Glueck for The New York Times: “Elizabeth Warren Stands Out at New Hampshire Democratic Party Convention

The Massachusetts senator took the stage to a standing ovation that lasted around two minutes, and the thunderous applause that frequently interrupted her speech was amplified by the inflatable noisemakers that had been distributed to the crowd. “Win with Warren!” attendees yelled.

Annie Linskey and Chelsea Janes for The Washington Post: “Warren, Sanders draw enthusiastic responses as candidates make their cases at New Hampshire Democratic Party convention

While Sanders and Warren, who are the most liberal in the field, don’t lead in early polls, the overwhelming response suggested some blend of superior organization from the campaigns and untapped excitement from the most plugged-in voters and party activists who attended Saturday’s event. It also doesn’t hurt that both are from states that border New Hampshire.

Both are potent forces who are likely to continue to matter as the massive Democratic field narrows over the next few months.

Paul Steinhauser for Fox News: “Kamala Harris insists she’s still a ‘top tier’ 2020 contender; claims Trump has ‘debased’ the presidency

In late June, Harris saw her poll numbers surge after what was regarded as a strong performance in the first round of Democratic presidential primary debates in Miami, when she knocked former Vice President and 2020 frontrunner Joe Biden on his heels over his opposition to federally mandated school busing integration.

But Harris has seen a slight deterioration of her poll numbers in recent weeks. She currently registers in the upper single digits in most polling in the race for the Democratic nomination.

Did I leave out a story I should have included? Leave a comment or drop me a line: granitememo@gmail.com.


How Candidates Used Their Podium Time

Each of the 19 presidential candidates were given about 10 minutes to address delegates and other attendees from the podium. Thanks to WMUR, there are clips of each speech on YouTube. Here they are in the order the candidates appeared:

  1. Former Vice President Joe Biden

  2. Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey

  3. South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg

  4. Former HUD Secretary Julián Castro

  5. Former Rep. John Delaney of Maryland

  6. Sen. Kamala Harris of California

  7. Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota

  8. Former Rep. Beto O’Rourke of Texas

  9. Rep. Tim Ryan of Ohio

  10. Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont

  11. Businessman Tom Steyer

  12. Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts

  13. Sen. Michael Bennet of Colorado

  14. Montana Gov. Steve Bullock

  15. New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio

  16. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii

  17. Former Rep. Joe Sestak of Pennsylvania

  18. Author Marianne Williamson

  19. Entrepreneur Andrew Yang

The only noteworthy Democratic presidential candidate who didn’t attend Saturday’s convention was Wayne Messam, a former football player and current mayor of Miramar, Florida. Messam’s campaign “appears to be in near-total disarray,” with staffers saying they haven’t been fully paid for their work or reimbursed for campaign expenses, according to a BuzzFeed News report published Friday.

—Granite Memo is published by Portsmouth-based journalist Steven Porter.