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Bernie Sanders will use proximity to N.H. to his favor

Bernie Sanders used a megaphone to speak to a crowd at a campaign event at New England College in Concord, N.H., on May 27.
Bernie Sanders used a megaphone to speak to a crowd at a campaign event at New England College in Concord, N.H., on May 27.Win McNamee/Getty Images/File

CORNISH, N.H. — On Friday, Senator Bernie Sanders was at home in Vermont, where he spent the day on constituent work before turning in for a good night’s sleep. The next morning, he had no problem getting to New Hampshire for a 10:30 a.m. campaign event.

As Sanders begins to surge in early polls, one of his inherent advantages is that it takes him nearly no time or money to get to neighboring New Hampshire, the state that holds the nation’s first presidential primary. And once there, the voters, issues, and culture are not foreign to him.

Since the 2012 presidential election, no Democratic presidential hopeful has spent more time campaigning in New Hampshire than Sanders, who has spent 15 days in the state.


It’s paying off. Sanders trails Hillary Rodham Clinton by just 8 points in New Hampshire, according to a University of New Hampshire poll last week. And everywhere Sanders goes there, he draws large crowds.

Sanders’ first campaign trip to the state, in April 2014, came about when his staff learned the conservative Koch brothers were funding an event in Manchester featuring several potential Republican presidential candidates. As a counterpoint, Sanders announced his own event in the same city on the same day. Getting him there was not difficult.

For some presidential candidates who already hold public office, spending time in New Hampshire can leave their constituents at home feeling underserved and neglected. A poll showed that 70 percent of New Jersey residents believed their governor, Chris Christie, should resign if he ran for president.

The geographical closeness of Vermont and New Hampshire means this isn’t much of a problem for Sanders. On a Saturday early in June, Sanders milked cows in Vermont at Brattleboro’s “Strolling of the Heifers” event — and then traveled a half-hour to Keene, N.H., where he held a town hall meeting.


The proximity “allows me to spend time with my family and serve the people of Vermont and on the presidential campaign,” Sanders said in an interview.

Sanders also stressed the shared cultural experiences of the neighboring states.

“Those in New Hampshire and Vermont have close relationships,” Sanders said. “Our kids sometimes go to the same schools.”

Among those who could vouch for that is Clinton’s national campaign manager, Robby Mook. He grew up in Norwich, Vt., but attended Hanover (N.H.) High School, and both of his parents worked in New Hampshire.

Sanders, who was raised in Brooklyn and has lived in Vermont since the 1960s, uses his local Vermont roots on the campaign trail in the Granite State. While campaigning in the state last weekend, he noted that three of his grandchildren live in Claremont, N.H. He also explained that when it came to gun control laws, New Hampshire and Vermont have shared rural traditions.

How much Sanders will be able to draw on the cultural overlap will be tested in the months before the February presidential primary.

“Politically, the first thing you need to know is that Vermont is not New Hampshire, period,” University of Vermont political science professor Garrison Nelson said. “There are people elected in New Hampshire that would never see the light of day in Vermont and vice versa.”

Still, Nelson noted that Vermont does share a media market with much of western New Hampshire, and that helps with Sanders’ name recognition.


There is also a shared culture of town hall meetings, and most decisions are made on the local level — not at their small state capitals. The pair are the only states in the nation with two-year terms for governor. They rank first and second as the least religious states in the country. Politicians from both political parties tout their environmental credentials. And economically, both states are heavily reliant on tourism.

Sanders is hardly the first person from New England who was able to spend a lot of time running for president in New Hampshire. So did Massachusetts presidential candidates John F. Kennedy, Michael Dukakis, Paul Tsongas, John Kerry, and Mitt Romney — and have several New Hampshire primary victories to show for it. This year, former Rhode Island governor Lincoln Chafee has shot YouTube videos of himself simply getting into his car and driving to New Hampshire for an evening event.

Former Vermont governor Howard Dean knows a thing or two about running for president from Vermont. Dean, who has endorsed Clinton in the presidential primary, said his memories of crossing the Connecticut River into New Hampshire were “just delightful experiences.”

“In just two hours, you could be off and running in New Hampshire. That is a huge advantage,” Dean said.

Still, Dean says that the real advantage for Sanders isn’t how close he is to New Hampshire, but that he’s a natural politician for New Hampshire’s style of politics.

“Bernie’s real advantage is that he will answer every question and shake every hand,” Dean said.


Bernie Sanders spoke at a town meeting at the South Church in Portsmouth, N.H., on May 27.
Bernie Sanders spoke at a town meeting at the South Church in Portsmouth, N.H., on May 27.Win McNamee/Getty Images/File

James Pindell can be reached at James.Pindell@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @jamespindell.