On Feb. 11, 2020, the Granite State will hold the first-in-the-nation presidential primary, as it has done since 1952. New Hampshire has been admired for its retail political environment, derided for its lack of diversity and dismissed by many for its outsized voice in the important task of picking a president.
And yet here we are. Every candidate’s campaign, save for late-entrant Mike Bloomberg, has dedicated significant time, energy and manpower on this tiny state with the vaguely belligerent motto, “Live Free or Die.”
Roughly in the center of the state on a lake called Winnipesaukee is a small city best known for hosting the World’s Oldest Motorcycle Rally. Sadly, it’s also known as the town the New York Times profiled to show the devastation of the opioid crisis on small town America. There’s a third thing we’re known for (yes, Laconia is where they reared me and where I live today): We are the bellwether for the entire state.
In 2016, James Pindell of the Boston Globe wrote the following: “Since 2000, Laconia, located in the Lakes Region, has proven to be a near-perfect reflection of the statewide vote in the presidential primaries for both parties. Not only did Laconia pick the winners in recent New Hampshire primaries, but its results mimic the second and third place finishers for both parties statewide, according to an analysis from pollster David Paleologos.”
So what do Democratic voters in Laconia think about the 2020 Democratic primary?
Well, I’m a conservative Republican, so I can’t say for sure. But I can share what the Democrats in my life – friends, family, neighbors – think about it.
Sen. Bernie Sanders from neighboring Vermont won 56.5 percent of the vote in Laconia in 2016. Today there is little visible evidence of that kind of overwhelming support. As New Hampshire Democratic National Committeewoman Kathy Sullivan has observed, at this time in the 2016 primary, Sanders was polling around 60 percent in the Granite State. Interestingly, his son Levi earned only 1.8 percent of the vote in his 2018 campaign for the Democratic nomination for Congress in New Hampshire’s 1st District in 2018.
And yet, the people I speak with who supported him last time remain fond of him and see him as the real deal. An army veteran friend and Laconia native still likes him and is deciding between him and Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-Hawaii). A recent college grad in town who backed him last time still supports him but laments the fact than none of the women candidates have taken hold.
This brings us to Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.). My in-laws are backing her (they are extremely committed to the cause of electing a woman president). They sometimes seem at least as driven by their distaste for Sanders as they do their admiration for Warren. I don’t know anyone else who publicly supports her. Essentially, there is no meaningful groundswell for Warren. One pal — a social justice warrior, to be sure — says she “sucks.” A solitary Warren sign adorns a yard on Pleasant Street, a long and prominent neighborhood leading into the center of town.
What about former Mayor Pete Buttigieg? A local doctor friend and his husband are backing him enthusiastically. They staffed his float in the Christmas parade, bearing the stinging cold to show their support for their guy. They aren’t alone in their enthusiasm, but the same-sex couple across the street has a Sanders sign on their lawn. Buttigieg has a relatively small army compared to insurgency candidacies of years past: Sanders, Trump, Buchanan. If lawn signs could vote, Mayor Peter would win the city. But not by much and it would be a low turnout election to be sure.
And what of former Vice President Joe Biden, whose polling strength has endured months longer than many predicted? The SJW friend again: “He sucks.” A lawyer who stopped speaking to Republican family members for a time after 2016: “Joe Biden isn’t going to be president.” You’d be hard-pressed to find a Biden lawn sign in town. I’m not sure he’s held any house parties within the City, as Warren and Pete have.
You know who has a fair amount of lawn signs up around Laconia (on property, not public land)? Gabbard. Again, signs don’t vote, but she has more visible support in Laconia than the other candidates.
What does all this mean? Monmouth calls the New Hampshire primary a four-way fight between Buttigieg, Sanders, Biden, and Warren. Emerson shows pretty much the same thing, but with Sanders in a slightly stronger position. No candidate has the obvious, consistent edge over the others. And that’s pretty well born out in the bellwether of Laconia, N.H. By contrast, a Trump rally at the local middle school rerouted traffic around town in 2016.
But a lack of singular enthusiasm for any specific candidate should not be confused with a lack of enthusiasm for the 2020 election as a whole. Each of these people hate – and I mean they really hate – President Donald Trump. When I asked a Democratic lawyer friend of mine in town who he supports, he replied, “anyone who gets rid of that criminal in the White House.”
Patrick Hynes is the president of Hynes Communications and previously served as an adviser to Sen. John McCain and Sen. Mitt Romney’s presidential campaigns.
Morning Consult welcomes op-ed submissions on policy, politics and business strategy in our coverage areas. Updated submission guidelines can be found here.