New Hampshire is emerging as a crucial battleground for Sens. Bernie SandersBernie SandersOvernight Health Care — Presented by March of Dimes — Abortion access for 65M women at stake Hospitals in underserved communities face huge cuts in reckless 'Build Back Better' plan Sanders urges Biden to delay Medicare premium hike linked to Alzheimer's drug MORE (I-Vt.) and Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth WarrenWarren calls on big banks to follow Capital One in ditching overdraft fees Crypto firm top executives to testify before Congress Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker won't seek reelection MORE (D-Mass.) in the 2020 Democratic presidential primary.
The first-in-the-nation primary state is a sort of home-state proxy for the two Democratic hopefuls, given their deep ties to New England and Sanders’s resounding victory there in his 2016 primary fight against former Secretary of State Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonRepublican Ohio Senate candidate slams JD Vance over previous Trump comments Budowsky: Why GOP donors flock to Manchin and Sinema Countering the ongoing Republican delusion MORE.
“I think there’s a very high expectation that either Elizabeth Warren or Bernie Sanders will win,” said Jim Demers, a veteran New Hampshire Democratic strategist and informal adviser to Sen. Cory BookerCory BookerMaternal and child health legislation must be prioritized now Poll: Harris, Michelle Obama lead for 2024 if Biden doesn't run Five reasons for Biden, GOP to be thankful this season MORE (D-N.J.) in the state.
“Only one of them can win, so it means problems for whichever one doesn’t.”
Warren has already traveled to New Hampshire three times this year. She will make a fourth visit to the Granite State on Friday when she’s slated to headline the New Hampshire Democratic Party’s annual McIntyre-Shaheen 100 Club Dinner.
Sanders, who announced a second bid for the White House on Tuesday, hasn’t yet made a trip to New Hampshire this year. But multiple Democratic operatives said that they expect a visit from the Vermont senator soon.
Each candidate has their own set of advantages in the state.
Sanders won the New Hampshire primary in 2016 with more than 60 percent of the vote and already has a vast network of supporters and donors in the state.
But Warren could stand to benefit from the fact that much of New Hampshire falls under the Boston media market, Demers said. That means that television coverage of Warren’s campaign by Massachusetts news stations inevitably airs in the Granite State.
“When Warren is campaigning in any state in the country, it’s covered by the Boston media market,” he said.
History also bodes well for Warren’s chances in the state.
With the exception of former Sen. Ted Kennedy’s (D-Mass.) loss to then-President Carter in 1980, a Massachusetts Democrat has won the New Hampshire presidential primary in every modern election cycle in which one is running.
New Hampshire is known for its distinct brand of intensely local and deeply personal politics — and for good reason.
With 400 members, the New Hampshire House of Representatives holds the distinction of being the fourth largest parliamentary body in the world, after the British Parliament and the U.S. House. Each member represents about 3,200 constituents.
New Hampshire also had the highest voter turnout of any state in the 2016 primaries, with more than 52 percent of the state’s registered voters casting ballots, according to data compiled by the U.S. Elections Project.
“Politics is very local and we’re all very used to having access to political leaders,” said Andru Volinsky, a New Hampshire state executive councilor who served as legal counsel for Sanders’s 2016 campaign in the state.
“We have a culture that’s been built up around the first-in-the nation presidential primary so we expect to meet the candidate that we’ll ultimately support in someone’s kitchen.”
Volinski said that the notion that a New England candidate will dominate the 2020 New Hampshire primary is less prominent now than it was in past cycles, pointing to a recent flurry of visits from other Democratic hopefuls.
Between last Friday and Monday, more than half a dozen candidates flocked to the Granite State to deliver speeches, attend house parties and hold town hall discussions.
“There is always an effort to manage expectations and so one aspect of managing it is dealing with the candidates from neighboring states,” Volinski said. But he noted that “others are clearly indicating that they’re going to spend a lot of time here to compete for New Hampshire’s votes.”
“The idea that the border state candidates have to do well is less dominant," he said. “Whoever is here has to do well.”
Recent polling suggests that there will be a more open primary field in New Hampshire. A survey from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst released on Wednesday showed neither Warren nor Sanders leading the pack in New Hampshire.
Twenty-eight percent of likely Democratic voters in the state named former Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenMarcus Garvey's descendants call for Biden to pardon civil rights leader posthumously GOP grapples with chaotic Senate primary in Pennsylvania Trump social media startup receives commitment of billion from unidentified 'diverse group' of investors MORE as their top choice, with Sanders trailing in second place at 20 percent.
Meanwhile, Warren placed fourth with 9 percent support among Democratic respondents, coming in behind Sen. Kamala HarrisKamala HarrisJoe Manchin should embrace paid leave — now The Hill's 12:30 Report: Biden defends disappointing jobs report Harris's office undergoes difficult reset MORE (D-Calif.).
Even Volinski, who was a delegate for Sanders at the 2016 Democratic National Convention, said he’s not yet committed to backing the Vermont senator again in 2020.
“My initial inclination is to support him, but I’m not closed minded as to the other candidates,” he said. “There are a number of people who are pretty good and who are talking about the same policy initiatives that Sen. Sanders championed last time.”
Kyle Kondik, the managing editor of Sabato’s Crystal Ball at the University of Virginia Center for Politics, said that poor showings in New Hampshire in 2020 could be a significant hurdle for Warren and Sanders, especially as the primary contest moves into South Carolina and Nevada.
“I think it’d be reasonable to look at it like a home game for them,” Kondik said.
“If they lose in New Hampshire to, say, Kamala Harris ... that would seem to set up Harris pretty well going into South Carolina, and you might not expect Sanders or Warren to do well in South Carolina anyway.”