New Hampshire Democrats have seen a lot of Colorado Sen. Michael Bennet as he tries to move up the crowded field of presidential hopefuls.
To have any shot at the White House, he’ll need to sway the state’s first-in-the-nation primary voters. But Bennet’s weekend swing through the Granite State shows it’s not going to be easy.
State Rep. Frances Nutter-Upham knows what she’s looking for in a potential candidate — inspiration. “I mean, that’s what we need. We need a little hope.”
She was one of about three dozen Democrats crammed into a coffee shop in Nashua, New Hampshire, listening to candidates. Bennet followed New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker in the morning lineup. And many voters there said Booker’s rousing speech was a hard act to follow.
Peter Sage from Oregon is a self-described ‘political tourist;’ he’s also traveled to see candidates speak in Iowa and New Hampshire.
“[Bennet’s] an extraordinary talent. He says important things. I’m not sure he’s saying them in a way that a president who excites crowds and develops a constituency does it,” Sage said.
It was a sentiment echoed by voters throughout the day.
“I’m still getting to know him. I admire his values-based leadership and his determination,” said law professor Leah Plunkett. “He has not made my top five yet, because I want a more national presence.”
She, like many others, said the main priority is a candidate who can win against President Donald Trump.
Bennet seemed to get the warmest welcome at a picnic event in the backyard of a home in the small town of Bow, just north of Manchester. At one point, he dropped the microphone and walked over to the crowd of about 100 people sitting under yellow and white striped tents to answer questions ranging from foreign policy and education to immigration and the gridlock in politics.
For Joe Magruder, that approach made a big difference. He first saw Bennet at a house party a few months ago and the candidate didn’t make much of an impression then.
“He wasn’t quite at the level that some of them were. He’s a lot better today,” he said.
Destiny Brady, who lives across the street from the picnic, came looking for a moderate voice. “I liked that he recognizes that we need to invest in [the] education of our children. I love how he said that pre-school was more important than paying for free college. Because it truly is,” she said. But she’s not signing up for Team Bennet just yet. She still wants to hear from other voters.
This could be key to Bennet’s strategy in the state: Voters’ willingness to keep their options open.
“If history is any guide, the people that are leading the polls today will not be the people that win in Iowa and New Hampshire,” Bennet said, meaning his current back-of-the-pack polling hadn’t made him rethink his plans. He said he wouldn’t be in the race if he didn’t think he could win.
Bennet hopes for a repeat of former Colorado Sen. Gary Hart’s come-from-behind victory in New Hampshire in 1984. Bennet started his weekend New Hampshire adventure with the announcement of Hart’s endorsement.
“It's a reminder that being 1 percent in the polls at this stage is not the end of the game. We've got a long way to go,” Bennet said.
And so he’s pledged to keep doing what many residents of New Hampshire say is necessary for a presidential candidate to succeed in the state — “keep working to meet people.”
Bennet hopes that his efforts will be reflected in the polls come February 2020.