Democrats are still reeling fromthat was the Iowa caucuses, which has yet to produce a clear winner in a year when their voters remain far from settled on a presidential nominee.
But the good news for Democrats, if you can call it that, is that primary voters in the nation’s next contest seem totally unfazed by Monday’s botched caucus results. As voters settled into folding chairs and bench pews Tuesday, it was business as usual in New Hampshire.
“We’ve always discounted Iowa,” Michael Rosenblum of Nashua said while waiting for a selfie with Senator Amy Klobuchar. “This is where it really happens. This is where it really starts. Iowa’s not going to determine how New Hampshire votes.”
“If you ask most New Hampshirites, they would tell you we’re first anyway,” Susan Jamback, chair of the Bow Democrats, said. “Iowa doesn’t really allow their residents to vote. The caucus is not fair and it doesn’t make sense.”
A victory in Iowa is meant to give the winning candidate momentum heading into New Hampshire’s February 11th primary and the contests that follow. But New Hampshire does have a history of ignoring the results out of the Hawkeye State.
In 2016, for example, Senator Bernie Sanders won New Hampshire handily after losing to Hillary Clinton in Iowa. In 2008, New Hampshire went for Clinton in an upset after then-Senator Barack Obama won the caucuses. The last Democratic candidate to win both contests in a contested primary was John Kerry in 2004.
Marilyn Brennan, who has been voting in the primary for the last 48 years, dismissed Iowa’s caucuses. “I think we’ve always felt the primary is our duty,” she said. “That’s what you do in New Hampshire. You vote. As best you can. Nobody ever says, ‘let’s see what Iowa does first.”
Brennan added that she has not seen as many presidential candidates as years past. “Well, they’re not here as much. Because they’re being pulled in all directions. Years ago, you met everyone by now.”
It’s true that a number of candidates are just returning to New Hampshire after a weeks-long absence. The impeachment trial benched the four senators running for president for most of January while most of their rivals for the nomination focused on Iowa. Klobuchar spent just one day in the Granite State in the lead-up to the impeachment proceedings.
“All the last few weeks, I sat in that chamber, knowing I was doing my constitutional duty, knowing how important it was,” Klobuchar told voters in Portsmouth on Tuesday. “And then seeing some of my opponents out there doing hundreds of events. Now at least, with the exception of tomorrow when I’m going back for the vote, I will be at an even playing field.”
Carol Gayman of Manchester said that her New Hampshire family and friends appeared more anxious than in previous years. Democrats like her are desperate to beat President Trump in November, and feel that the pressure is on to pick the right nominee.
“I think we’re all very, very nervous. And hopeful at the same time that our country can move forward and get back to where we were morally. Everyone is just so worried that we’ll make the wrong decision,” Gayman said. “It’s sad for Iowa. But now the onus is on New Hampshire,” she said, smiling. “Which is a good thing.”
After the meltdown in Iowa, which led to a major delay in reporting results, New Hampshire Democratic officials have been trying to reassure voters that the primary should go off without a hitch. “We have obviously a paper trail as well with paper ballots,” Ray Buckley, the Democratic state party chair, told New Hampshire Public Radio. “So people should have complete confidence in what’s happening in New Hampshire until we really hear exactly what’s going on in Iowa. I don’t think that anyone should be jumping ahead.”
Unlike the caucus in Iowa, New Hampshire’s primary is run by the state, not the party. The primary’s “protector-in-chief,” Secretary of State Bill Gardner, is overseeing his eleventh presidential primary this year. When asked about election security ahead of the 2018 midterms, Gardner noted that New Hampshire’s old-school way of conducting elections ensured their safety and reliability.
“You want to know about being hacked? You see this pencil here? Want me to give it to you and see if you can hack this pencil?” Gardner said. “We have this pencil. This is how people vote in this state. And you can’t hack this pencil.”
New Hampshire has historically guarded its position in the primary calendar, but amid criticism from progressives that the first two contests don’t reflect the party’s diversity, some Democrats have implied the nominating system needs a major overhaul. Those criticisms became especially pronounced after Monday’s fiasco in Iowa.
“The Iowa Caucus is a long and storied tradition, but traditions can and do change,” former Georgia gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams tweeted Tuesday night. “As we build a more accessible election process, we should revisit how Democrats launch our primary season.”
While New Hampshire voters willingly soak up extra attention allotted by the candidates every cycle, some admit that the tiny state of 1.3 million people, 93% of whom are white, may not be reflective of the rest of the country.
“We’re like what, ninety-something percent white?” Becky Coppola of Nottingham said. “Should the rest of the country really be listening to us?”
“We should always be first. It’s hard for me not to be biased about it,” Loretta Keefe of Merrimack admitted. “We do need to rethink the caucuses altogether. Just vote. Nice and clean.”