SALEM/ROCHESTER, N.H. – Bernie Sanders and Pete Buttigieg look to seize on their momentum as New Hampshire Democrats go to the polls on Tuesday in a heavily contested primary that could further unsettle the party’s presidential race.
For other contenders, New Hampshire offers a second chance to boost their campaigns after last week’s Iowa caucuses, where technical problems delayed the release of results for days. Buttigieg and Sanders topped the field in that contest.
U.S. Senator Amy Klobuchar, who has risen to third place in opinion polls in New Hampshire after last Friday’s debate, fellow moderate Joe Biden and progressive Senator Elizabeth Warren round out the top of the slate on Tuesday as voters consider whether to pick a progressive or a moderate to challenge Republican President Donald Trump in November’s election.
The state ballot will have a list of 33 names, including candidates who dropped out weeks ago, but will not include former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, a billionaire who entered the contest later and will face his first electoral test early next month.
The prominent role of Iowa and New Hampshire, small and rural states with predominantly white populations, has come under increased criticism this year by Democrats for poorly representing the diversity of the party and the country.
The Feb. 22 caucus in Nevada, which has a large Latino population, and the Feb. 29 primary in South Carolina, which has a large African-American population, will pose a new test for the 11 remaining candidates.
Biden in particular is banking on South Carolina, where he has enjoyed strong support among African-American voters. He was vice president under Barack Obama, the first black U.S. president.
Support for Biden, the one-time Democratic front-runner, has tumbled nationally since his fourth-place finish in Iowa and he has said he might suffer another weak finish in New Hampshire.
Ray Buckley, chairman of the New Hampshire Democratic Party, told reporters on Monday that the contest was wide open, with large numbers of voters remaining undecided.
Two undecided voters, bed-and-breakfast owners Bill and Paula Petrone, said they had seen Buttigieg on Sunday and Warren and Klobuchar on Monday, hoping it would help them make up their minds. By Monday afternoon, it had not.
“I’m not certain at this point,” said Bill Petrone, who is in his early 70s. “I’m looking for someone who can beat Trump. I’m less concerned about their policies.”
‘WORLD WILL BE WATCHING’
Sanders, a U.S. senator from neighboring Vermont, asked for the support of several dozen people squeezed into a Salem coffee shop selling bags of “Presidential Blend” coffee adorned with his face on Monday afternoon.
“The whole world will be looking here at New Hampshire,” Sanders said, adding 2020 may be the “most consequential election” in U.S. history.
“Let us go forward tomorrow and begin the process which defeats the most dangerous president in modern American history,” he said.
Sanders, a self-professed democratic socialist, and Buttigieg, a moderate, sparred in separate campaign events on Monday.
Sanders, 78, who has spent three decades in Congress, repeated an attack line on Buttigieg for raising money from “at least 40 billionaires.”
Buttigieg, 38, a former mayor of South Bend, Indiana, blasted Sanders’ signature Medicare for All proposal, which would replace private health insurance with a government-run plan, as unworkable, saying his rival did not have a good explanation for how to fund the $25 trillion program.
“Are we going to pay for it in the form of still further taxes, or are we going to pay for it in the form of broken promises?” Buttigieg said.
Warren, whose campaign has been struggling, urged Democrats to be ready to back the eventual nominee.
“We are now at a point in time where there’s great fluidity in this campaign but there’s a lot of folks shooting at other folks,” she told reporters in Rochester. “Democrats cannot do a repeat of 2016. We can’t go into a general election divided and angry with each other.”
Reporting by John Whitesides, James Oliphant, Simon Lewis and Amanda Becker in New Hampshire; Writing by Scott Malone; Editing by Peter Cooney