In New Hampshire, Bernie Sanders works to retain strong base of support
WOLFEBORO, N.H. — While most Democratic presidential candidates are worried about how they can build support, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders may face a different task: how to retain as many supporters as he can from last time.
In 2016, Sanders easily won the New Hampshire primary, defeating the eventual nominee, Hillary Clinton, with more than 60 percent of the vote. Given the current field of candidates, the math is clear: If he can convince just half of those voters to stick with him he could pull off another win.
This might be why attending a Sanders campaign event in 2019 in some ways mimics a Donald Trump rally: lots of media-bashing, a reprisal of popular topics from his last campaign, and a lot of preaching to the converted.
On Monday night, Sanders addressed a crowd of 350 here against a scenic backdrop of a gazebo and Lake Winnipesaukee. Of two dozen attendees who were interviewed by the Globe, almost all said they have decided to support Sanders in the New Hampshire primary in February.
Among them were Kyra Dulmage, 33, a middle school teacher from Dover whose cat’s name is Bernie.
“Sanders is the real deal,” she said. “He has been consistent in his ideas for decades. I wanted to come and show support.”
Caleb Seymour, a 23-year-old from Concord, said that coming to see Sanders was like seeing his favorite band in a concert.
“I wanted to see the whole show and cheer him on,” said Seymour, a recent college graduate.
The same was true with Paul Hough, a 69-year-old antique store owner, and his 31-year-old daughter, who both live in Meredith. They have been on the Sanders e-mail list since the last campaign, which is how they heard about the event.
“I guess there isn’t anything new that I really want to hear, but I want to hear him talk about Medicare for All,” Hough said.
Such longtime supporters, many sporting “Bernie 2016” campaign buttons, represent the campaign’s biggest strength.
A Suffolk University/Boston Globe poll released last week found Sanders in second place, with 17 percent support, four points behind former vice president Joe Biden at 21 percent.
Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts was close behind, with 14 percent.
Yet Sanders had the largest group of supporters — 48 percent — who said their mind is already made up.
By contrast, two-thirds of those who said they are currently backing Warren said they were still open to changing their minds.
On a conference call with reporters Monday morning, Sanders senior adviser Jeff Weaver said that a retention-focused approach would miss voters who just moved to the state or those who are newly eligible to vote.
“We are not organizing around a strategy of just trying to retain voters,” he said. “We are always looking to grow new voters.”
There is evidence of their efforts. In the second fund-raising quarter, the Sanders campaign said, it received contributions from more than a million people nationwide, 43 percent of whom had never given to Sanders before.
At the same time, the campaign acknowledges that its base of support is critical to building a strong campaign.
For example, during his two-day swing through New Hampshire Monday and Tuesday, which includes a pair of town hall meetings, a breakfast meet-and-greet, and an ice cream social, the campaign is primarily reaching out to those who have been in contact with the campaign via text or e-mail.
“Part of the thinking is obviously knowing who our people are and connecting with them again when it comes to events like these,” said Carli Stevenson, the campaign’s deputy N.H. director. “It helps to fire them up and maybe convince them to volunteer and with their help, reach new people.”
Word-of-mouth brought Beverly Davis, 70, a retired teacher from Wolfeboro, to hear Sanders. She backed Clinton last time and is considering Sanders among a long list of other candidates, including Warren, and South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg.
“Like a lot of Democrats, I am interested in hearing what he has to say,” Davis said. “We don’t all have our minds made up.”