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The Democratic primary is so big, N.H. voters might only get to meet each candidate once

All in all, Democrats are poised to put up more contenders for the 2020 nomination than Republicans did in 2016, when the GOP had 17 candidates.Scott Eisen/Getty Images/Getty Images

CLAREMONT, N.H. — Primary voting is more than 10 months away, and the Democratic Party could already field a baseball team, and have players to spare, with the number of candidates who’ve jumped in the 2020 presidential race.

Put aside the challenges that poses for candidates vying for scarce resources such as money, volunteers, and ultimately votes. Forget for now the logistical gymnastics such a robust roster of would-be presidents poses for debate organizers.

Think instead about the voters on the receiving end of this stampede of senators, governors, and other politicos into the living rooms and diners and school gymnasiums of New Hampshire. For a core electorate that prides itself on meeting candidates in person multiple times before deciding whom to support, the cornucopia of candidates means more handshakes, more house parties, more rallies — and, for many, more deliberation — than recent presidential cycles.


“It’s slightly overwhelming” for New Hampshire voters, said Arnie Arnesen, a Democratic activist and talk radio host from Concord, who drove to Claremont on Friday to hear Senator Cory Booker of New Jersey speak to a crowd of 100 at a law firm. “I think they’re going to have to start to triage because they have to eat and they have to sleep and they have to put their kids on the school bus.”

Cory Booker, 2020 Democratic presidential candidate and senator, took a selfie at a house party during a campaign stop in Claremont, N.H., Friday.Charles Krupa/Associated Press/Associated Press

Eight candidates were scheduled to visit the state this weekend alone, she noted. “I mean, that’s ridiculous.”

“I’m going to try,” Mike Lopez, a former Manchester alderman, said of seeing all the Democratic candidates, “but it’s going to be very hard to do.”

The entrance of former congressman Beto O’Rourke of Texas last week officially swelled the Democratic primary field to 15 declared candidates. Several more are waiting in the wings, including former vice president Joe Biden. All in all, Democrats are poised to put up more contenders for the 2020 nomination than Republicans did in 2016, when the GOP had 17 candidates.


Arnesen and many other voters interviewed by the Globe say they welcome the large and diverse field, even if it means more effort on their part.

“It’s exciting and daunting. There’s so many attractive candidates,” said Judy Reardon, an environmental activist and longtime New Hampshire Democratic operative. Counting small private gatherings, Reardon had participated in a dozen candidate meetings already — far more than typical for this early stage of a presidential primary season, she said.

More than anything, the feeling among the state’s Democratic activists and voters that the stakes of the 2020 election are higher than ever has voters determined to take the measure of candidates competing for their attention and support.

For New Hampshire voters who have long spoken of their role in the nation’s first presidential primary as something akin to a sacred duty, their sense of obligation this primary season appears even greater because of the existential threat they feel President Trump poses to the country.

“It’s worth every second of my time, no matter how much I have to spend,” said William Shaheen, a veteran political operative and one of the state’s Democratic Committee members, who is offering advice and meetings with any 2020 aspirant who asks for his help (and many already have, he says). “I know it’s got to get done because we can’t have four more years of Trump.”


Shaheen — husband of US Senator Jeanne Shaheen — says he’ll make his evaluation of who to support sometime this summer.

Senator Elizabeth Warren attended a house party in Salem, N.H., on Friday. Barry Chin/Globe Staff/Globe Staff

During a Friday house party for Senator Elizabeth Warren in Salem, N.H., the host, Jim Smith, former ambassador to Saudi Arabia in President Obama’s administration, looked very serious when a reporter asked if it will be harder this year for New Hampshire voters to see every candidate three times — as he said some of them feel is necessary to make a decision.

“Democracy is worth the time and trouble,” he replied. “This is not a burden.”

This need to defeat Trump, combined with the number of appealing Democratic candidates, has Reardon thinking she may decide whom to support far later than she historically has. Rather than go all in for someone early and campaign for that person as she has in the past, she’s considering not deciding until next January, even. Among other activists she knows, few have picked a candidate yet either, whereas four years ago most had joined either Hillary Clinton’s or US Senator Bernie Sanders’ teams by now, Reardon said.

“I want, and I think everybody I know wants, to make a very serious decision about who we think can have the best chance of beating Donald Trump. It’s going to be hard,” she said.

Reardon wants to see how candidates handle getting attacked and how they get back on their feet when they stumble, all with an eye to judging how well he or she will be able to handle what Reardon believes will be a tough general election.


In the past, she said, she’s often picked the Democratic candidate who she believed would be the best president. “This time, given that I think there are a number of candidates who would be good presidents, it’s more important to me that the candidate can beat Donald Trump.”

For Chad Rolston, 43, of Claremont, the wide Democratic field is a “bonus,” even if it will make “it a little more challenging to do your research, and get in front of everybody and ask your questions,” he said while waiting for Booker to arrive at the event Friday. “We need to select the absolute best candidate we can in the primary to go up against the president.”

Seeing Booker marked the third candidate Rolston checked out in person, and he plans to attend events with as many as he can, then evaluate the others “virtually.”

Asked by a reporter who else he’s seen, Rolston said he attended a Warren event two weeks ago, then paused, snapping his fingers as he tried to recall the name of the other candidate.

“Why am I drawing a blank on her name?”

Kirsten Gillibrand? Amy Klobuchar? Kamala Harris?

“Harris,” he confirmed. “To your point about there being so many.”

Democratic presidential candidate Senator Kirsten Gillibrand celebrated her foosball victory at a campaign meet-and-greet Friday in Manchester, N.H.Elise Amendola/Associated Press/Associated Press

Jess Bidgood of the Globe staff contributed to this report. Victoria McGrane can be reached at victoria.mcgrane@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @vgmac.