CONCORD, NH – Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders is confident he can win the first two states that vote in the primary and caucus calendar.
“I believe we stand a very good chance of winning in Iowa, and with your help we can win here in New Hampshire. And if we win here in New Hampshire, I think the path is very good,” the independent senator from Vermont told the crowd during a campaign stop in this state, site of the first primary in the White House race.
And at a town hall in Concord on Tuesday, Sanders repeated the often-used line that “our campaign is the strongest campaign to defeat the worst president in the history of the United States.”
But first things first.
Sanders needs to come out on top next February in the New Hampshire primary, where he crushed Hillary Clinton by more than 20 percentage points in the 2016 Democratic contest. That resounding victory sent the onetime longshot candidate into a marathon battle with Clinton, the eventual nominee. Because of that victory, and the continuing strong organization of his supporters, New Hampshire’s considered a must-win for him this time around.
Thus, more telling than his campaign rhetoric at the town hall was the senator’s prior stop on the schedule – a closed-door meeting with around 50 Democratic state lawmakers.
A lawmaker who attended the meeting – and who asked for anonymity in order to speak more freely — told Fox News that Sanders spoke and fielded questions from a crowd that was a mix of those who’ve already endorsed the candidate and those who remain uncommitted.
“It was a respectful, thoughtful outreach,” said the person, who added it was “clear that he didn’t have everyone in the room” on his side.
While there was nothing nefarious about an invitation-only gathering that was off-limits to reporters – candidates have met for years behind closed doors with lawmakers and rainmakers they’re trying to sway – the meeting did illustrate what’s at stake in New Hampshire for Sanders.
It was basically a two-candidate race when Sanders captured 60 percent of the vote in the 2016 New Hampshire primary. This time around, there are two dozen candidates vying for the Democratic nomination, with many of them pushing the same progressive policies that the populist senator nudged into the mainstream four years ago.
Former Vice President Joe Biden is the clear front-runner in the most recent public opinion poll in the state – a Monmouth University survey conducted earlier this month. Sanders is a distant second, followed by South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg and Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts.
Warren, who, like Sanders, is well known in New Hampshire, has been a frequent visitor to the state. Like Sanders, she's built a large campaign structure on the ground.
There’s a tradition of presidential candidates from Massachusetts winning in New Hampshire – most recently Sen. John Kerry in 2004 and former Gov. Mitt Romney in 2012 – so the pressure’s on Warren, as it is with Sanders, to come out on top in the primary.
But with eight months to go until the voting begins, a leading Granite State Democrat said no one has the upper hand right now.
“You’ve seen the other candidates who are not New England-based also investing a ton of resources and staff into the state to build legitimate operations to compete in the 2020 primary,” said the president of New Hampshire Young Democrats, Lucas Meyer. “I certainly think that’s indicative that if anyone thinks that they have New Hampshire locked up in late May, that is probably not a prudent strategy.”