NASHUA — Two 2020 presidential candidates whose campaigns could use a boost reached out to LGBTQ voters in New Hampshire on Saturday, seeking support among a group that holds increasing influence in national Democratic politics.
Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders and Massachusetts Representative Seth Moulton came to the Nashua Pride Festival to meet voters and make a highly photographed show of support for the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer community, after a week in which both men saw their campaigns outshined by others among the two dozen Democrats seeking the nomination.
When most of those candidates took the stage in Miami on Wednesday and Thursday nights for a pair of highly anticipated debates, Moulton was watching from a rented condo, shut out of the forums after he registered at 0 percent in 20 of the deciding polls.
Sanders faced criticism from his fellow candidates in Thursday’s debate for his Medicare for All proposal, and he found himself upstaged by some, notably California Senator Kamala Harris, who had breakout moments.
But there was plenty of admiration for the Burlington independent along Nashua’s Main Street on Saturday, as Sanders marched the parade route surrounded by dozens of supporters.
Sanders declined to take questions from reporters but warmly greeted his admirers, making time for hugging, taking cellphone selfies, and signing a little girl’s copy of a children’s book about him.
As they marched with Sanders, an enthusiastic crowd chanted, “Bernie! Bernie!”, “Equal rights for all!”, and “Hey hey, ho ho, transphobia’s got to go!” Supporters watching from the sidewalk shouted, “Good luck, Bernie!” and the senator called back, “Thank you!”
New Hampshire state Representative Mark King, a Nashua Democrat who marched with Sanders on Saturday, said he is excited to see the party’s move to the left — which brings many candidates and voters in line with policies Sanders has long supported.
“If you look at what people are talking about now, they are the things that Senator Sanders put on the table,” said King, 57. “I got to march with the guy who’s been espousing these values and living these values for [many decades]. Seeing him getting arrested standing up for folks, for people of color in the ’60s.”
Moulton, who entered the race late and hasn’t achieved the kind of icon status Sanders has among certain voters, didn’t march in the parade Saturday but he met with LGBTQ Democrats in Nashua at a roundtable earlier and worked the crowd during the festival.
In conversation with voters from New Hampshire Stonewall Democrats at the roundtable, Moulton sought common ground, reflecting on his younger brother, who is gay. He spoke about how his brother worked to accept his sexual identity.
Moulton also talked about struggles with post-traumatic stress after serving four tours as a Marine in Iraq.
Moulton went public with his struggle in May, while advocating mandatory counseling for combat veterans that would include annual checkups for mental health, much like annual physical exams.
Asked about issues affecting the LGBTQ community, Moulton offered enthusiastic support for adding a third gender marker on federal documents for those who identify outside the male/female binary, and for a ban on so-called conversion therapy that seeks to turn same-sex desires into opposite-sex desires and has been compared to torture.
The congressman also offered praise for LGBTQ Marines he had served alongside before the military’s “Don’t ask, don’t tell” policy was revoked, including a close friend named Joe, who he said began living openly as a gay man after serving in Iraq and faced a dilemma when he and Moulton were recalled to active duty.
“All Joe had to do was to pick up the phone and tell the Department of Defense, tell the Marine Corps two words — ‘I’m gay’ — and he wouldn’t have had to go back. . . . Ultimately, he decided to go back in the closet just so he could serve again and no one had to go in his place,” Moulton said.
“What a contrast,” he added later, “to a president who lied about his medical condition — literally made something up — so that he wouldn’t have to go to Vietnam. One thing that Joe understands and Donald Trump does not is that someone went in Donald Trump’s place.”
In 1968, Trump was diagnosed with bone spurs in the heels of his feet, which exempted him from military service.
Members of the Stonewall Democrats group said they appreciated Moulton’s openness to discussing complex subjects and his willingness to ask questions about issues that are new to him.
“It was inspiring to hear him want to do better and to ask for advice and help,” said Molly Cowan, 37, who is acting treasurer of New Hampshire Stonewall Democrats and vice chair of the Exeter, N.H., select board. “I think that’s something that needs to happen with more candidates, so it’s really encouraging.”