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36 Hours in New Hampshire

It doesn't take long to reach New Hampshire from New York. Maybe two, two and a half hours from my perch just outside of Albany, and although my rural enclave is remarkably similar to New Hampshire's geography, the political significance that Granite State residents possess is an infinity more than my fellow New Yorkers. 

The C-SPAN bus was a familiar sight on our journey in New
Hampshire, as was the national media as a whole. The ratio of
New Hampshire folks to national press is too close for comfort.
With that juxtaposition in mind, me and a close friend embarked this past weekend on a thirty-six hour journey to the heart of America's 2020 Democrat Party Presidential contest in New Hampshire, where we attended Bernie Sanders, Pete Buttigieg, and Joe Biden rallies, in addition to a massive multi-candidate event in Manchester.

Albeit similar to a trip we took over four years ago to visit a series of Republican rallies and town halls, the atmosphere was completely flipped despite having a similar theme: stopping the presidency of Donald Trump.

Whereas the Lindsay Graham, Chris Christie, Jeb Bush, and Ben Carson of December 2015 were focused on presenting themselves as the party standard bearer to stop Trump's ascendancy, all seven of the Democrats we observed in New Hampshire this past weekend were trying to make the case for them even being a standard bearer.

Will New Hampshire Please Stand Up?

Set in the context of the Iowa Caucuses chaotic crash and burn early last week, the nation's attention turned ever more so to the independent minded electorate of New Hampshire's Democratic Party. My only question throughout the trip was: are there any Granite State voters actually here?
A young voter snags a video of Mayor Pete Buttigieg
speaking at a Get Out The Vote (GOTV) rally in Nashua. 

We signed up to attend what we thought was an Elizabeth Warren meet and greet on Saturday evening, but it ended up being a massive multi-candidate shin dig sponsored by the New Hampshire Democratic Party at the SNHU Arena in Manchester. All ten candidates competing in the state attended and spoke for seven minutes each.

Troublesomely, however, when one of the speakers during the rally asked how many out of state attendees were present - well over half of the 7,000 people in the crowd responded in the affirmative - including two-thirds of the Warren section. This occurred everywhere we went, including at a Buttigieg rally where NHPR couldn't even find an in-state resident to interview.

Partly fueled by the candidacy of Warren, who resides in neighboring Massachusetts, and the curiosity of Democrats within the entire New England region about folks like Buttigieg and Klobuchar, I felt like the only candidate we observed drawing actual undecided New Hampshire voters was Vice-President Biden in Hudson.

Long Lines, Limited Candidate Access 

Everywhere we went, the lines were atrocious: one hour to attend a Sanders rally in Rochester, nearly an hour and a half to attend a Buttigieg rally in Nashua, over forty-five minutes to attend a Biden Q&A four miles away from Mayor Pete's event.

This is not to say we did not enjoy the long lines, however. Surrounded by fellow political enthusiasts, most of whom came from hours away to enjoy the spectacle of democracy, the Monday morning quarter backing of everything presidential politics whilst freezing outdoors of some random school gymnasium was endlessly fascinating.
Vice-President Joe Biden interacted the most with his
audience, taking several questions from attendees of
the Hudson rally despite numerous attempts by his staff
to wrap up the Q&A. 

We stood behind folks who had come from California to see Sanders. We talked with a middle-aged couple from Massachusetts who had been for the former Vice-President, but who were now considering supporting Buttigieg's campaign. We noticed and then engaged former Fox News reporter Carl Cameron in a twenty minute chat.

The atmosphere of New Hampshire's pre-primary political extravaganza remains one of the most satisfying things in politics, regardless of party. It's just a couple hundred thousand people with political fortune trying to potentially select the country's next Commander In Chief in a fashion that most democracies probably cannot understand.

That said, it was incredibly difficult to meet candidates this time around. With only hours until the primary itself, campaigns were navigating these events and their schedules at a breakneck pace, affording voters little time to shake hands or get selfies. My buddy and I were fortunate enough to meet Vice-President Biden, however. It was cool.

The Dream for Political Relevance 

I wish New York had this opportunity every four years. Although I love the quaintness of New Hampshire more than most, it is maddeningly frustrating what you have to drive hours from my hometown to even have the opportunity of meeting a presidential candidate, let alone voters who actually have a say in the primary process.

This being my third trip to New Hampshire, I can
confidently state it is a beautiful place, and I don't
actually begrudge their First In The Nation status.
This sentiment was not my alone, as all of those out of state political enthusiasts had to be thinking the same thing. Why else drive or fly hours to have the opportunity to meet your country's next president? Why is it we decided that a state of 1.3 million gets to set the agenda for the remaining 329 million Americans who live elsewhere?

Then again, maybe it's only fair. Senators, Governors, policy makers, and populists the nation around must leave their populous enclaves (Biden and Sanders are the exceptions, of course) and trek to a snowy, independent state in New England to face the inquisitive minds of New Hampshire voters before they have to face the rest of us.

New Hampshire winnows the field and we decide from that. And besides, who wouldn't want to visit the Granite State when their evergreens are frosted by ice and decorated with fresh snow? Regardless of who wins this year's election, Democrat or Republican, I'll be heading back to New Hampshire in four years time, because even though it's the Granite State electorate who gets to vote, it's all of our democracy at stake.

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