Don’t look now, but the next American presidential campaign just became the current American presidential campaign.
Senator Elizabeth Warren, the Massachusetts Democrat, is in. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand of New York is girding to join her. Senator Kamala Harris of California has a book unveiling in New York and Washington next week. The prize she is seeking is not the Pulitzer.
In his classic 1923 book New Hampshire Beautiful, Wallace Nutting – Congregational minister, photographer, essayist, curator of a flinty New England long disappeared – saluted the state, saying “her head is in the snows and her feet on the ocean marge,” adding, “She reaches her hands to all the weary children of men.”
Mr. Nutting’s use of pronouns was, like almost everything about him, antiquarian. But the point remains, strong and fresh. All the political figures – all the liberal activists, all the Trump skeptics – are weary of the 45th President, and these three women are but the leading vanguard of a battalion of Democratic presidential candidates poised to invade the state, from the snows here in the North Country to the frosty beach towns on the ocean margins. It is a small state and it will soon be a crowded state. The first primary is tentatively scheduled for Feb. 11, 2020.
“Democrats are looking forward to the circus coming to town again, but not only for the spectacle this time,” says Kassandra Ardinger of Concord, N.H., a Democratic activist and one-time state senate candidate. “We see it as a chance to take on the failed leadership we’ve had the last two years. Anybody would be better than Trump.”
Sober reminder: U.S. President Donald Trump recovered from his loss to Senator Ted Cruz of Texas with a decisive New Hampshire primary victory in the 2016 primary, and Hillary Clinton’s margin of victory here in the general election was her second smallest. Mr. Trump still retains support here, although the rules in this state permit independents to vote in the Democratic primary.
Ms. Warren is the first major candidate in, and she presents an intriguing profile. Her Massachusetts base is a benefit; Bay State candidates, the beneficiaries of an easy commute across the state boundary line and years of advance publicity from Boston television stations, tend to do well in New Hampshire. From John F. Kennedy (1960) to Michael Dukakis (1988) to Paul Tsongas (1992) to John Kerry (2004), Democratic candidates from Massachusetts have prevailed in the contest. The lone loser was Senator Edward Kennedy (1980), defeated by an incumbent president, Jimmy Carter.
The question is how well the polished progressivism of Ms. Warren, a former Harvard Law professor, will travel.
On the one hand, many of her views on business and banking, health care, tax policy and regulatory overhaul are at the extreme of the Democratic spectrum. On the other, she is perhaps the most ardent opponent of Mr. Trump, which will win her adherents. Just two weeks ago, she filmed a video for a Pittsburgh fundraiser for the families of the Tree of Life synagogue-shooting victims, and she hit just the right notes with just the right tone. She should not be underestimated, nor should the potency of this question:
Is she the Democratic populist the party wants but the country – exhausted by tribal politics and populist upheaval – doesn’t? Ms. Warren made her name as a high-profile consumer advocate in the wake of the 2008 economic crisis, and is known for her anti-Wall Street rhetoric. Mr. Trump tweeted: “I’d love to run against her.”
The other two women about to join the fray have similar appeals – and similar challenges. They have the new-face advantage that Senator Barack Obama rode to victory with in 2008, although the Illinois Democrat lost the primary here to Ms. Clinton. So, too, does Senator Cory Booker of New Jersey, who already has signed up veteran state lobbyist Jim Demers to his campaign. Mr. Demers was the first major Granite State figure to side with Mr. Obama, doing so as early as 2006, and he signed on with Mr. Booker two full years ago.
“I think the best chance of winning here is to put forth some fresh blood, a new generation of leadership,” Mr. Demers said.
That appeal of new blood is why so many Democrats – perhaps two dozen, maybe even more – are looking toward the New Hampshire starting gate. And that is why the old gospel from Senator Bernie Sanders may be stale this time around.
Mr. Sanders won an astonishing 60 per cent of the vote two years ago here; credit the good-neighbour effect for the senator from Vermont, which shares a border the length of the state with New Hampshire. But there are danger signs for Mr. Sanders, who would be 79 years old on inauguration day. Ron Abramson, a Manchester immigration lawyer who was on the Sanders steering committee two years ago, is looking elsewhere. “I’m still a big fan of Bernie,” he said. “But I just don’t think it’s his time.”
That same sentiment may work to the disadvantage of former vice-president Joe Biden, who has run for president two previous times. And it is why many New Hampshire activists, who provide the oxygen for presidential politics here, are holding back before deciding whom to support. “It’s almost as if every single candidate has the same campaign manager,” said Neil Levesque, director of the New Hampshire Institute of Politics at Saint Anselm College in Goffstown, outside Manchester, “and that campaign manager is saying: Don’t do anything until after the first of the year.”
It’s now after the first of the year. The circus is coming to town. The Democrats – at least the activists – are restless.