PORTSMOUTH, N.H. — Speaking outside to hundreds of young N.H. voters, state leaders, and volunteers enjoying craft beer and a barbecue buffett, Lucas Meyer, the president of the New Hampshire Young Democrats, told the crowd it’s important to elect young people “to make sure there’s sense of urgency” behind issues like climate change and student debt.
“Young people in office will lead on those issues,” Meyer said at the group’s annual summer barbecue, at Cisco Brewers in Portsmouth. “That’s why we elect young people.”
The headliner of the event? Joe Biden, the 76-year-old former vice president who many young voters worry doesn’t share their same progressive views.
“Biden got into national politics in the 1970s. The Democratic Party was a very different animal then,” said Andy Smith, director of the University of New Hampshire Survey Center. “It’s far more progressive.”
Even before announcing his campaign for president, Joe Biden was leading polls in New Hampshire, well ahead of the field of two dozen candidates. Some younger Granite State voters, however, have expressed hesitancy.
At Friday’s event, Biden spoke about his time as a young organizer in the Democratic Party in Delaware, and repeatedly attacked President Trump.
“What you’re doing here, what you guys have done here, is happening all over the country,” Biden said, referring to the increase in N.H. Young Democrats holding office in the state. “You’ve been awakened, awakened by Donald Trump.”
His forceful opposition to Trump and his administration was well received by the crowd of more than 400.
“We shouldn’t be separating families,” Biden said of Trump’s controversial policy to crack down on illegal immigration, particularly at the US-Mexico border. “This nation is big enough that we could have absorbed every single child in this country and not in any way been negatively affected but positively affected,” Biden said to thundering applause.
For younger voters, however, that changes.
Among voters ages 18 to 49 in national polls, Biden slips to second and even fourth behind Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, California Senator Kamala Harris, and Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren.
Hailey Brown-Bloom, who said she will turn 18 soon, said climate change is a top issue for her, and she questions whether Biden is the candidate to tackle it.
“I’m really intrigued by the idea of a younger president — putting a new generation in office, I think that’s something we really need at this point, especially with the issue of climate change and some of the older presidents maybe not staying around long enough to see the full effects of what might be going on,” said Brown-Bloom, who is also undecided.
Rachel Florman, 20, said she isn’t “thrilled” about Biden’s record of “interacting with female supporters” and flipping his position on the Hyde Amendment, which bans federal funding for abortion.
Biden last month reaffirmed his support for the measure, but changed his position a day later, amid intense criticism from his Democratic rivals.
“I would love to see someone who is certain in what they believe in, also who listens to their constituents, but that seemed like a case of wishy-washiness to me,” Florman said.
Biden is the second-oldest candidate in the race behind the 77-year-old Sanders.
Young voters in New Hampshire played an increasingly influential role in the 2016 election. The Center for Information & Research on Civic Learning and Engagement at Tufts University reported that 18-to-29-year-olds represented 19 percent of the state’s Democratic voting bloc in the 2016 primary election, the highest percentage in at least 20 years. During that election, 83 percent of New Hampshire’s 18-to-29-year-olds voted for Sanders.
While candidates like Warren have made policy plans a centerpiece of their campaign, Biden has focused on rebuking Trump.
Biden used his time at the first Democratic debate to attack the president. Asked by moderator Chuck Todd what candidates would do first if elected president, Biden focused on Trump. “The first thing I would do is make sure that we defeat Donald Trump. Period,” Biden said.
Some young Granite State voters are backing the former vice president, including New Hampshire’s youngest state representative, 19-year-old Denny Ruprecht, who endorsed Biden Friday and said he is supporting him because “he’s running on values” and doesn’t see that from a lot of other candidates.
“The current occupant of the White House has defied all norms. We need somebody who is as honorable, as dignified as experienced, who has a steady hand and a cool and a level head to bring us back to a normal spot in our country,” Ruprecht said. “And there’s nobody better than Joe Biden to unify our country and bring us back to those norms and those values.”
Rebecca Sanders-DeMott — a 33-year-old scientist who studies global changes and is undecided — said she wants a candidate who has a “healthy mix of both” anti-Trump rhetoric and policy rollouts.
“I agree with all of the rhetoric against Trump . . . but I don’t know that it’s a winning message necessarily,” she said. “And I think we need to do more than just be against what’s currently happening.”
Michael Parsons, 21, president of the New Hampshire College Democrats, said Biden brings an “interesting dynamic” to the race.
“Even if his support is not as great with young people, I think it would be a disservice if we didn’t at least talk to him,” said Parsons, who is neutral due to his role as president. “And he if he didn’t listen to us.”
Following the first Democratic debate — after Harris criticized Biden for his views on school desegregation — the CNN and Quinnipiac polls showed a drop in support for Biden, who fell 10 and 8 points, respectively, from previous polls from the two groups.
Biden has continued to defend himself and has pointed to his time working in the Obama White House to defend his record on race, climate change, and other policy areas.
For some N.H. voters, that’s not enough.
“I liked him going in, but I think he kind of lives in Obama’s shadow a little bit too much,” 19-year-old Dylan King said. “I’m a little bit off Joe Biden for now.”