Ground Game

The 2020 New Hampshire primary has begun

A voter in Manchester, N.H., marked a ballot for the New Hampshire primary inside a voting booth at a polling place on Feb. 9, 2016.
David Goldman/Associated Press
A voter in Manchester, N.H., marked a ballot for the New Hampshire primary inside a voting booth at a polling place on Feb. 9, 2016.

President Trump has yet to finish his first 100 days in office, but the 2020 presidential race is already underway in New Hampshire.

Over a week in late April, three potential 2020 candidates will be in the state that traditionally hosts the nation’s first presidential primary. Ohio Governor John Kasich, a Republican, will stop to promote his new book. Former vice president Joe Biden will address Democrats at their annual fund-raising dinner. And former Maryland governor Martin O’Malley will speak at Democratic activities in three towns.

“I mean goodness, we are 3½ years away from the next presidential election, let’s get going already,” said Paul Hodes, a Democrat and former US representative from New Hampshire.


He was only half joking.

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New Hampshire has hosted the first primary for a century, but this might be the earliest that potential candidates have visited the state. For example, it took nearly 11 months for the first potential candidate — former Minnesota governor Tim Pawlenty, a Republican — to visit the state in Barack Obama’s first term.

From interviews with nearly a dozen influential Democrats in the Granite State, it’s clear that Democrats share a sense of renewed energy in aiming to defeat Trump. There is much less consensus about which direction the party should take in 2020 — or who should lead them there.

Veterans of the Democratic Party say the anti-Trump movement has boosted local grass-roots activism in an unprecedented way. Inside the party, attendance at local events has ballooned.

Outside the party, dozens of activist groups have emerged in opposition to Trump. They range from the new (there are two “Indivisible” groups in Exeter alone) to the well-known (Hillary Clinton’s backers have banded together under the “Pantsuit Nation” banner, and there’s an especially strong organization in Manchester).


Despite this surge, the energy has not yet translated into hopes for a specific 2020 candidate, said Larry Drake, chairman of the Rockingham County Democrats, who attends many Indivisible events.

“There is this unbelievable energy, but no one is really spending time talking about Bernie Sanders or Elizabeth Warren or Andrew Cuomo,” Drake said. “Democratic activists I talk to are more concerned about what they can do right now and maybe even in 2018.”

But this could change soon. Drake said only one potential campaign has reached out to him: a representative of O’Malley’s political action committee.

Indeed, it’s typical for party elites to be courted quietly by candidates in the early stages of the presidential primary. State Senator Lou D’Allesandro, a Democrat, said that O’Malley, “e-mails me all the time, but he just doesn’t connect with people for some reason.”

D’Allesandro is currently intrigued by US Senator Mark Warner of Virginia. He spoke with him via phone last week to discuss the impact of Trump’s budget on the Granite State (D’Allesandro called Warner — not the other way around).


D’Allesandro said he has also been in contact with former New Mexico governor Bill Richardson, who ran for president in 2008.

And D’Allesandro is especially excited to hear Biden’s message in the state later in the month.

“What Joe has always understood is that we as a party have to connect to the working-class people and get them to believe that we are working for them. That did not happen in the last presidential election,” said D’Allensandro.

Terry Shumaker, a US ambassador in the Clinton administration and the former chairman of the New Hampshire Political Library, said that he wasn’t ruling out another run by Hillary Clinton. But, Shumaker added, the 2020 field could be a large one filled with younger talent in the party, such as US Senators Cory Booker, Kirsten Gillibrand, and Amy Klobuchar.

“The problem with all this talk this early is that you have no idea what the future holds,” Shumaker said. “In the spring of 1989, everyone would have thought that George H.W. Bush would likely be reelected, and no one ever thought that someone like Bill Clinton would even be the Democratic nominee.”

James Pindell can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @jamespindell or subscribe to his Ground Game newsletter on politics: