Presidential candidate Senator Elizabeth Warren acknowledges the applause as she takes the stage at the New Hampshire Democratic Party Convention, Saturday, September 7, 2019.
MANCHESTER, NEW HAMPSHIRE – It’s difficult to describe, for those who were not there, the crowd’s two-minute-long reaction to Elizabeth Warren’s entrance at the New Hampshire Democratic Party State Convention on Saturday. The crowd cheered her name so loudly that she repeatedly slapped her hands down and said, “Ok, ok,” in an effort to settle the noise. (She did have a secret weapon, of course: thundersticks that her staffers passed out to the crowd.)
The crowd erupted when Warren said she’ll call out corruption that rigs the economy and government toward the very rich, and became even louder when she said she has a plan to fix it. Upon the first hint of her wealth tax, the crowd started chanting, “Two cents,” in reference to the amount that would be taxed on each dollar after $50 million under Warren’s plan.
The contrast in particular with the relatively lackluster reception for former Vice President Joe Biden, the heir apparent according to most polls and pundits, was stark. And that carried over in talking to people in Manchester, in conversations with more than two dozen convention attendees over the weekend.
“I think she’s demonstrated again and again that she will fight for people and has a plan for the future that’s idealistic but also rooted in very real problems,” Mount Holyoke student Emma Forman said of Warren.
Forman, 19, said Warren was her first choice before convention day, but seeing her speak solidified her support. Plus, in the arena’s outer ring, Forman said she saw Warren, who immediately came over and gave her a big hug. Looking her straight in the eye, Warren said: “We can do this.”
Even before her speech, Warren was the most frequently cited first choice, although the majority of event attendees said they were undecided and placed her among a group of three or four candidates they were choosing between, often along with Pete Buttigieg, Kamala Harris, and sometimes Cory Booker. Bernie Sanders supporters were often, though not always, in a league of their own, and Biden was noticeably missing among the pack.
This isn’t necessarily reflective of the state’s electorate at large: A CBS News battleground state poll released Sunday showed Warren, Biden, and Bernie Sanders in essentially a three-way tie for first in New Hampshire. But convention-goers do tend to be prime volunteers and activists, and therefore an important group to win over.
“My strategy is to push all the way left, so that’s Bernie or Warren for me,” said Peterborough, New Hampshire, resident Steven Graves.
Graves, 52, said he and his wife first became involved in their local Democratic Party in 2016 to support Sanders, and they believe Sanders or Warren could move the party’s platform in a more progressive direction. After Warren, Sanders received the loudest applause upon his entrance to the stage.
“I like Bernie Sanders because he’s never changed his viewpoint or wavered ever since he’s been in the Senate,” said Massachusetts resident Kate Morneault, 31, who noted, like most every convention-goer interviewed, that she would support any candidate who can beat Trump.
Kim Dudzik, a 57-year-old from Alton, New Hampshire, was among the rare breed to name Biden as her top choice.
“Uncle Joe” has the experience to restore a sense of normalcy and make her feel comfortable again, Dudzik said. “My anxiety for the past three years has been over the top. I just want to breathe again. When Obama was in office, I knew he was doing his job and I could go about my life knowing everything was OK, and I want to feel that I can do that again,” said Dudzik.
Not one young person interviewed said they supported Biden, and conversely many said they explicitly did not want him.
“Joe Biden represents an old style of American politics,” said Amherst College student Hannah Karlin, citing Biden’s work with two segregationist senators in the 1970s. “He’s not the shiny new thing and not in a positive way.”
Biden didn’t help his cause of connecting with young people when, in his speech, he said, “This president has more in common with George Wallace than George Washington.” Ask anyone under 30 who George Wallace is and they might come up with the stand-up comedian before the former governor of Alabama.
Some of the attendees, coincidentally all older white men, said they prefer Warren to the other contenders, but will vote for Biden because they believe he’s the only candidate who can beat Trump.
“Biden will probably be the nominee simply because he’s already leading the pack. If I thought Warren could win, I’d vote for her, but I think there’s still misogyny out there that got Hillary down enough to lose,” said 66-year-old Paul Fedorchak, from Gilford, New Hampshire.
Samuel Bogen, 68, of Tyngsborough, Massachusetts, sat across the arena from Fedorchak, but had a nearly identical assessment of the hurdles facing Warren and other women candidates.
“I think Warren may have a chance, but there’s a lot of people who don’t want to see a woman elected, but it’s not a problem for me,” said Bogen.
Many women interviewed—young, old, and in-between—shared a different perspective, one that held that Warren, with her plans, experience, and enthusiasm, can win, in part because of the energy and desire for a female president.
“Warren has the most congealed sense of what needs to be done and how to do it. I think she’s the most dangerous to Trump. He’s targeted us women because he doesn’t know how to deal with us,” said Cape Cod resident Iris Klarer, 75.
“I’m tired of white old men. I’m so sick of them,” Klarer added.
Indeed, when Democrats retook the House of Representatives last November, it was not in spite of women, but because of them. Because they ran, because they voted, because they won.
At the end of the convention, when asked why the crowd’s popular sentiment appeared so out of step with Biden’s supposed position as the front-runner, Brendan Murray, 38, a veteran of over 50 campaigns and now a consultant, chalked it up to fear.
“It’s safety. People want to win and they’re afraid after the last election, but they have to understand any Democratic candidate in the top tier will beat Trump, and when they can get past that fear and vote with their hearts, you’ll see the polls change,” said Murray, of Melrose, Massachusetts.
Dispelling the idea that Biden is the only candidate who can win is not only politically expedient for the other contenders, but perhaps vital for any Democrat to win in 2020, because it requires focusing more on energy and less on the elusive concept of “electability.”
Warren appears to understand the importance of energy, and the dangers of anointing a candidate without this critical force behind him.
“I get it, there is a lot at stake, and people are scared, but we can’t choose a candidate we don’t believe in because we’re scared, and we can’t ask other people to vote for someone we don’t believe in,” Warren said in her speech. “I am not afraid, and for Democrats to win, you can’t be afraid either.”