AMHERST, N.H. — By late morning, after two US senators, a former congressman, and a sitting congresswoman trotted by, Brad Hutchinson looked down to find more than a half-dozen stickers dotting his shirt and palm, all from Democratic campaigns.
“I need a Beto,” the 61-year-old Republican joked, referencing the former Texas congressman who was not among the many presidential candidates marching by. “I just can’t make up my mind.”
As the top of the Democrats’ presidential field gathered in Iowa for Independence Day, many of those jostling in the middle of the crowded pack flocked here to Amherst’s storied holiday parade, hoping to lay the groundwork for their own Bill Clinton break-out moment in the Granite State.
To rise above the fray Thursday, however, they’d have had better luck if they commandeered a float.
The annual march through the southern New Hampshire town featured four Democrats — Senators Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota and Kirsten Gillibrand of New York, former Maryland congressman John Delaney, and Hawaii Representative Tulsi Gabbard.
Bill Weld, the former Massachusetts governor and a Republican, also walked the route with a contingent of supporters, while at least eight other Democratic campaigns sent varying groups of volunteers to shout chants, carry signs, and let voters know that, yes, their candidate is coming to New Hampshire and soon.
“We’ve had candidates here since January. We’re waiting for one to break through, too,” said Dan Veilleux, chair of the Amherst Democratic Town Committee. “From top to bottom, the depth of the Democratic ticket is just incredible this year. Our heads are spinning trying to figure out who’s going to rise to the top.”
Last week’s Democratic presidential debates helped inject momentum into some campaigns, elevating Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and Senator Kamala Harris of California in some voters’ minds and thickening a still-forming top tier with Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont, former vice president Joe Biden, and Mayor Pete Buttigieg of South Bend, Ind.
All but Warren were in Iowa on Thursday, where Beto O’Rourke was also scheduled to work crowds in Independence.
Each of those candidates also had a campaign presence in Amherst, but it largely left the first-in-the-nation-primary state to several other candidates still hoping to catch fire.
Escaping the specter of the field, however, sometimes proved impossible. As Klobuchar greeted parade-goers near a float commemorating Amherst’s Citizen of the Year, a man dressed as Uncle Sam and walking on stilts sidled up next to the senator, who let out a hearty chuckle.
“It’s like Beto O’Rourke to me,” she said of the height difference.
On the parade route, the army of volunteers seemed to blend together into a rainbow of brightly colored campaign shirts snaking down the road. Included was a pack of Biden supporters with a red convertible and a red-white-and-blue balloon arch. Ahead of them was Senator Cory Booker’s contingent, who walked with an RV decked out in campaign signs. A few groups back were Warren’s backers, who numbered in the dozens.
And amid the horde was Delaney, who had eight people with him. That included his wife, April, who continually pinged from one side of the road to the other to shake hands.
“The field at some point will start getting smaller. And I think it will start getting smaller fast,” said Delaney, who’s generally polled toward the bottom of the field. “You gotta show up. They want to see that you care. The one thing in life you can’t fake is showing up.”
Weld agreed. The twice-elected Massachusetts governor estimated he’s walked in 40 Fourth of July parades in his lifetime, many coming during his years in the Corner Office when he’d zip from Plymouth to Worcester to Pittsfield over a holiday stretch.
“You would lose 10 pounds,” said Weld, who dressed Thursday in a long-sleeve shirt, khakis, and boots as the temperature pushed 90 degrees.
“You can tell what people think, and how they react to you,” he said of a parade’s valuable retail politics. “There’s no substitute for being up close and personal.”
It’s something New Hampshire’s famously picky voters prize. Standing along Boston Post Road, Hutchinson, the Amherst Republican, said he’s actually leaning toward voting Democrat this year. President Trump — who did not appear to have any presence at the Amherst parade — is “in my opinion, toxic,” he said, and to be able to meet the Democratic candidates face to face just days after they appeared on national television is “kind of cool.”
“I can go either way,” he said, several campaign stickers in hand and two — for Sanders and Warren — still stuck to his shirt.
“For those who are actually here, it’s not going to swing the vote,” he said. But he appreciates them showing up. “Fourth of July, Amherst — it’s pure Americana, seeing a couple candidates sweating bricks.”
Their presence is also expected. Lauren Buchanan, another Amherst resident, said seeing nearly a half-dozen candidates in the span of 10 minutes is no novelty.
“Not for New Hampshire,” she said, a vintage “Buchanan for President” sign resting against her chair on the parade route. The Republican-turned-Democrat-turned-unenrolled-voter said she keeps the sign not because of a particular affinity for Pat Buchanan’s presidential bids in the 1990s, but simply because it bears her name.
This year, she said, she’s leaning toward Gabbard. As the Hawaii congresswoman worked the crowd along Main Street just before noon, Buchanan took her hand and told her that of all the candidates she saw in the debate, what Gabbard said “made the most sense to me.”
“I tell my friends,” Buchanan told a reporter afterward, “if you want to meet [the candidates], come here.”