New Hampshire — It would be easy to mistake the feverish activity in New Hampshire over the past week for excitement. The state has been abuzz with Democratic presidential campaign events, armies of canvassers knocking on doors, curious voters from neighboring states coming to get a look at the candidates, and here in Manchester, swarms of reporters and camera crews.
But when you talk to voters, the overarching feeling isn’t excitement or optimism, but anxiety. Having gotten a close look at the candidates, Granite State Democrats are worried none of them can beat Trump.
They have good reason to worry. Between his powerful State of the Union address, the impeachment acquittal, rising approval ratings, and the Democratic debacle in Iowa, last week was arguably the best of Trump’s presidency. The economy is strong, approval of the Republican Party is the highest it’s been since 2005, and the two Democratic frontrunners are a 78-year-old avowed socialist and a gay 38-year-old former mayor of a small midwestern city.
All of this has not escaped the notice of New Hampshire primary voters, who go to the polls tomorrow in the first presidential primary election of 2020. That’s one reason so many of them I spoke to just days before the election were still undecided.
At an Elizabeth Warren campaign stop in Derry last week, I spoke with three New Hampshire women, Mary Bishop, her sister Nancy, and their friend Sue Dickinson. They were so shocked and disturbed by Trump’s election in 2016 that they decided to get involved and see as many candidates as possible this year, and they’ve seen them all. “The important thing is to pick the person who can beat Trump,” says Nancy. “It isn’t clear yet who that is.”
This was typical of what I heard again and again from voters. Whether it was concern over Bernie Sanders’ radical views, worries about Pete Buttigieg’s youth and inexperience, or misgivings about Joe Biden’s general baggage and lack of energy, everyone had qualms—even about their top choices.
It’s not just New Hampshire Democrats who feel this way. I spoke with three friends, retirees living in Connecticut, New York, and New Jersey, who traveled to New Hampshire together for a kind of candidate-scouting trip. I ask them how they feel about the Democratic field in general, after having seen all the candidates in person. There’s a pause as they glance at one another. Then one of them, Jonathan Hayes, a retired executive from Southport, Connecticut, says, “We’re nervous.”
“We haven’t seen anyone who can beat Trump,” says his friend John Stockton, a retired attorney from Harrison, New York. What about Mayor Pete? “He’s bloodless,” says Hayes. What about Joe Biden? “He’s not even here, he’s got no signs, no presence,” says Stockton. The third friend, Henry Van Kohorn from Princeton, New Jersey, nods silently in agreement. None of the candidates, says Hayes, has the kind of “rockstar” energy Obama had, and that concerns them.
Despite Media Enthusiasm, the Democratic Field Is Weak
It wasn’t supposed to be this way. The 2020 Democratic presidential field was supposed to be the most talented, diverse, and accomplished group of candidates we’d ever seen. For more than a year the media assured us that it was, even as the candidates’ manifest weaknesses became more apparent. Many of those who seemed so promising early on—Beto O’Rourke, Julian Castro, Kamala Harris, Cory Booker—dropped out one by one before Iowa, victims of their own awkward leftward lurches and woke pandering.
And then came Iowa, where the putative frontrunner, Biden, simply collapsed. Biden came in a distant fourth, earning barely 15 percent of the vote in a caucus with lower than expected turnout. It was confirmation of what should have been obvious from the beginning: Biden is a terrible candidate who might not make it through the primaries.
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