On a university campus in a snowbound small town the day before the New Hampshire primary, Pete Buttigieg trained his fire squarely at Bernie Sanders.
The Vermont senator, Mr. Buttigieg warned, would “force” people into a new single-payer health-care system and “risk alienating” voters that the Democrats need to wrest the White House from U.S. President Donald Trump.
“This is the moment for bringing as many people as we can into the picture – but a picture where your only choices are between a revolution or the status quo is a picture where most of us don’t see ourselves,” Mr. Buttigieg told the hall at Plymouth State.
Both the former mayor of South Bend, Ind., and the senate’s only self-described socialist are hoping Tuesday’s second contest of the marathon race for the Democratic presidential nomination will cement their places as the respective champions of the party’s two ideological wings.
And Democrats are looking to this forested, mountainous state of 1.4 million people to begin generating momentum for their party in this crucial election year.
The primary carries particular significance in 2020 after last week’s shambolic Iowa caucuses, in which a technological meltdown delayed full results by several days. Mr. Buttigieg defied expectations in that contest by fighting Mr. Sanders to a virtual draw.
Mr. Sanders leads the polls in New Hampshire, with Mr. Buttigieg surging in recent days. Former vice-president Joe Biden, once the race’s undisputed front-runner, placed fourth in Iowa and is battling for third here with Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren and Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar.
The animosity between progressives and moderates was on full display the weekend before the vote at a New Hampshire Democratic Party fundraiser in a hockey arena in Manchester, the state’s largest city.
When Mr. Buttigieg delivered a variation of his attack on “revolution,” supporters of Mr. Sanders booed him. Later, when Mr. Sanders cheered winning the popular vote in Iowa, Mr. Buttigieg’s supporters tried to drown out the senator by chanting “Boot-Edge-Edge.”
Mr. Sanders himself made a plea for unity.
“No matter who wins the Democratic nomination, we are going to come together to defeat the most dangerous President in the history of this country,” he said. “Now is the time for us to come together to end the divisiveness, the racism, the lying, the homophobia, the xenophobia, the religious bigotry of the Trump administration.”
But many in his camp say they will not vote in November if the Democrats nominate a more centrist candidate.
“What these people are offering is a slightly slower decline,” said Ben Calegari, 28, a software engineer and Sanders volunteer. “They won’t avert a climate catastrophe.”
Factoring into Tuesday’s election is New Hampshire’s famously independent streak. More than a third of voters are not registered supporters of either major party, but are still allowed to vote in their primaries.
Mr. Buttigieg has pitched himself as the best person to reach out to these voters, and particularly moderate Republicans.
One such independent is Christa Whitcomb, a 39-year-old teacher who voted Republican before 2016 and is now volunteering for Mr. Buttigieg. The former mayor, she said, is the only Democrat that her husband, who supported Mr. Trump four years ago, would consider voting for.
“He’s the most intelligent, even-keeled in his demeanour, he doesn’t get ruffled,” she said on the sidelines of the Manchester fundraiser. “Our nation is very divided at the moment and I believe Pete is the best person to bring us together.”
Michelle Kwan, the former Olympic figure skater, made a similar pitch for Mr. Biden as she campaigned for him at a coffee shop on Manchester’s main street.
“We as a campaign, as Joe Biden supporters, he has the biggest, broadest coalition and you need that to win in order to defeat Trump,” she said.
Mr. Biden still holds a national poll lead among black voters, the Democrats’ most loyal demographic. Mr. Buttigieg, by contrast, polls in the single digits. In a particularly brutal moment in last week’s Democratic debate, Mr. Buttigieg tried to dodge questions about disproportionately high arrests of black South Bend residents for marijuana possession during his mayoralty.
After hearing out Ms. Kwan, Josh Grzyb said he was still undecided about who he would support in the primary.
A lifelong Republican, the 31-year-old even worked for a time as a medical aide on the Bush family compound in Kennebunkport, Me. He voted for Mr. Trump in 2016 because he liked his business acumen. But this time around, he is going Democratic, repelled by Mr. Trump’s tendency to “rule with an iron fist.”
“This country doesn’t need authoritarian leadership. It needs someone who’s going to work together,” said Mr. Grzyb, a graduate student.
Also still weighing her options was Jennifer Hall, 57, who came to see Mr. Buttigieg speak in Plymouth. An undeclared voter who has supported candidates of both parties, Ms. Hall said she liked Mr. Sanders’s plan for tackling global warming, but was also drawn to Mr. Buttigieg’s electability.
“We’re past midnight on the climate – it’s the biggest issue,” said Ms. Hall, a university administrator. “But we can’t do anything if we don’t get Trump out of the White House.”
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