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Ground Game

For Bernie Sanders, it’s New Hampshire or bust

Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders. Carlos Barria/REUTERS

With less than 12 weeks to go before the New Hampshire primary, all Bernie Sanders has is New Hampshire.

In Iowa, Hillary Clinton leads him by 18 points. In South Carolina, Clinton is ahead of Sanders by 54 points. Nationally, the latest poll had Clinton’s lead at 33 percentage points.

But in New Hampshire a poll this week showed the race tied. And last night, the state’s largest union decided to endorse him, bucking the national union which announced it was with Clinton.

Over the past month it has become clear that New Hampshire is no longer Bernie Sanders’s firewall, but it remains the only reason he has an argument that there is a contest at all. Should Clinton ever take a double-digit lead in the Granite State, there will be nothing for anyone to talk about in terms of the Democratic contest.


But so far Sanders is hanging on, even if there are some growing pains amid his campaign’s quick attempt to scale up with new campaign cash. Sanders now has more than 60 staffers, and he opened his 14th campaign office, this one in Laconia, this week.

This is more people and more infrastructure than Clinton has in the state. But there are some concerning signs for Sanders on the ground:

-- There are staffing issues. No one on his team has run a successful statewide campaign in the state. The campaign field director has moved to a different position on the national staff.

-- He has been in New Hampshire less frequently and spending more time in Iowa.

-- When he has been in the state, the few trips have been poorly planned. His trick-or-treating ended after a 15- to 20-minute photo-op and was criticized. A seniors event drew just 30 people at the Cashin Center, a Manchester institution. At the Lebanon Veterans Day parade his campaign volunteers were told they couldn’t march with political signs -- so Sanders walked alone in the rain.


-- There has less been enthusiasm in crowd sizes than there was as the campaign was taking off in August and September.

None of the items above are disqualifying. It is understandable that Sanders wants to build out a national campaign as he head into other states. But if takes his eye off the ball in New Hampshire, voters in every other state will take their eyes off of him.

Clarification: This story was updated to better reflect the change in job status of Bernie Sanders’ New Hampshire field director.