Veteran progressive U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders and first-year Pennsylvania Gov. Josh Shapiro are both making public appearances in New Hampshire in the coming weeks, inspiring political insiders to wonder if it’s coincidence — or something more.
On Saturday, Sanders will deliver a speech entitled “The Agenda America Needs” at the New Hampshire Institute of Politics (NHIOP). And next month Shapiro is scheduled to be the keynote speaker at the New Hampshire Democratic Party’s state convention, “a premier Democratic political event in the country,” according to the party’s press release.
“Every national Democratic leader in the last 50 years has spoken at a NHDP convention, attracting sitting presidents, vice presidents, potential presidential candidates, every chairman of the Democratic National Committee and other notable national leaders.”
With President Joe Biden’s poll numbers stuck at historic lows and news about his role in his son’s questionable business activities on the rise, most Democrats don’t want the 80-year-old incumbent to seek another term. Biden’s so unpopular, he’s even underwater with voters in deep-blue New York state (46 percent approve, 50 percent disapprove).
Biden’s shaky performance in Hawaii — comparing the horrific Maui fire that’s claimed more than 100 lives to a minor kitchen fire (“I almost lost my wife, my ’67 Corvette and my cat”) — didn’t help.
Meanwhile, the RealClearPolitics average shows Biden in a neck-and-neck race with Donald Trump, holding just a 1.1 percent advantage over the unpopular Republican who has been indicted four times in the past five months.
With that backdrop, it’s no surprise that the arrival of two high-profile Democrats in the Granite State in the middle of the primary campaign season is raising eyebrows.
“I have always believed that good public policy is good politics,” Sanders said in a press release announcing his New Hampshire speech. “The American people are increasingly disgusted at the growing levels of income and wealth inequality in our country and the rampant corporate greed we are seeing.”
“Now is the time to stand up to oligarchy and create a vibrant democracy which works for all, not just the few,” Sanders added.
Sanders has run for president twice before, winning New Hampshire both times, while Biden’s best performance was his fifth-place finish in 2020. Many Democrats believe Biden’s (unsuccessful) attempt to strip the Granite State of its “First in the Nation” primary is partly a reaction to his lack of support among the state’s Democrats.
While Shapiro has never run for president (he was just elected governor for the first time in November) his name is frequently mentioned as a possible 2024 backup candidate if Biden is unable to run. Also on the list are Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, California Gov. Gavin Newsom and Colorado’s Gov. Jared Polis.
Soon after his election, Pennsylvania Democrats were putting Shapiro on their White House short list.
“He’s going to be a national figure because obviously Pennsylvania is a battleground state, he won a decisive victory and carried in the ticket from Senate all the way down to the state House,” Larry Ceisler, a Democratic public affairs strategist from Philadelphia, told the Inquirer. “You’ve got to admit, the Democratic Party right now does not have too many prominent leaders under the age of 50.”
NHIOP Executive Director Neil Levesque says these events, particularly Sanders’ appearance at St. Anselm, should be on New Hampshire’s political radar.
“We invited him, but he’s coming here for a reason. And I think it opens up the door for a lot of other sorts of thoughts about whether or not Biden’s going to be the nominee, whether or not Biden is going to be running in this  election,” Levesque told New Hampshire radio host Jack Heath. “And the White House, I’m sure, is very interested in the fact that he’s coming here. It’s a national story.”
Granite State Democratic loyalists publicly insist that all is well with President Biden, predicting that if he keeps his name off the primary ballot, there will be enough voters willing to show up and write in his name to save him the embarrassment of losing to Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. or Marianne Williamson. But the lack of enthusiasm for Biden is evident in the polls and in conversations with New Hampshire Democratic voters.
“The runner-up for the Democratic nomination three years ago is coming back to New Hampshire at a time when the president is particularly weak,” Levesque noted. “It’s just fascinating. I think that this is going to be big. I think it’s a first crack in the 2024 story.”