Draft Warren backers flock to Sanders campaign

Democracy for America Vermont executive director Charles Chamberlain takes a selfie with supporters in the background at an Elizabeth Warren Rally.
Democracy for America Vermont executive director Charles Chamberlain takes a selfie with supporters in the background at an Elizabeth Warren Rally.(Cheryl Senter\The Boston Globe)

PORTSMOUTH, N.H. — The Elizabeth Warren bumper sticker on Burt Cohen’s car is gone — and he’s replaced it with one touting Senator Bernie Sanders for president.

“The thing was Liz Warren made it absolutely clear she was not going to run,” said Cohen, a former state senator from New Castle. “I always liked Bernie, so that made it easy.”

Some progressive Democrats in New Hampshire are on the hunt for a new candidate to support for president in 2016. Run Warren Run, a grass-roots campaign aimed at drafting the senator from Massachusetts into the presidential race, officially suspended its efforts last week. The draft campaign had recruited more than 200 volunteers in New Hampshire, according to officials, and its closure is expected to drive an influx of Warren supporters to other Democratic candidates seeking an alternative to Hillary Rodham Clinton.


“I suspect a good number of them will end up supporting Bernie Sanders,” said Larry Drake, who chairs the Portsmouth Democratic Committee and the Rockingham County Democratic Committee. “Their positions on a lot of things are the same or pretty close.”

Sanders recently drew scores of people to a campaign stop at South Church in Portsmouth, and he had an even bigger showing last weekend at the Keene Recreation Center.

“I think the reason he draws such big crowds is that he has been involved in politics for 40 some years,” said Cohen, who introduced Sanders at the Portsmouth event. “He is talking to the real issues people want to talk about. He is not poll driven. Unlike others, he is a populist. The other candidates are going to stay away from populism because they will upset their big donors.”

Drake said while many Democrats he knows are already backing Clinton, some voters in his party are still shopping around.


“My feeling is that there is definitely a group of Democrats that were with Hillary from the start,” said Drake, who is not supporting a candidate during the primary. “There was no question of it. If she was going to run, they were going to support her. But there is definitely a sector out there of people who weren’t completely with her and are looking around.”

Drake believes Sanders is getting a stronger response than many expected, making him a powerful draw for the undecided voters within his party.

Kurt Ehrenberg , a veteran political organizer, was the most visible departure from the Run Warren Run effort when he left his post as New Hampshire director on May 20 to become a state coordinator for the Sanders campaign.

“We’ve been talking about it for months,” Ehrenberg said of the move. “They just weren’t ready to start staffing up in the state until last month.”

Ehrenberg said he is preparing to hire more staff for the Sanders campaign, but could not say whether he would hire people who had been working on the Warren effort. He said throughout the Run Warren Run campaign, he met people who were enthusiastic about potential presidential bids from either Warren or Sanders.

“Since Bernie got into the race, I think people have gravitated toward his campaign pretty quickly and strongly because he is a candidate and she is not,” Ehrenberg said. “The more she adamantly was saying she is not running for president, the less enthusiastic people were to support a noncandidate.”


Ehrenberg said volunteers are organizing house parties across New Hampshire for Sanders, making $40 donations on his website, and offering to knock on doors to drum up support.

“Bernie has really touched a nerve here in New Hampshire. Our job is to manage it and move forward,” Ehrenberg said.

Cohen said a number of issues, including government spying at home, economic fairness, and the direction of foreign policy, have been among the things that drove his choice to support Sanders.

“It’s really getting to the root of problems and not putting one finger to the wind and seeing where the wind is blowing,” he said.

Jerry Curran, an Amherst resident and Warren-for-presidential supporter, said he believes progressive Democrats are looking for a candidate who reflects Warren’s values.

“For me, getting money out of politics is the way to winning back our democracy,” said Curran, director of the New Hampshire Sierra Club. (His organization has not officially backed a candidate.)

Curran said he recently attended a Sanders appearance in Concord and had trouble getting inside, but the audience was more than just baby boomer progressives like himself.

“It was young, old, racially diverse,” he said. “It was pretty amazing. That’s the crowd I want to see.”