What was U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), two-time winner of the First in the Nation Democratic presidential primary, doing in the Granite State on Saturday? To the disappointment of many local progressives, he was not kicking off another presidential campaign.
Instead, the outspoken socialist used his speech to reaffirm his support for President Joe Biden’s reelection. And he did it in front of what the New Hampshire Institute of Politics at Saint Anselm College called a “record crowd.”
“It is no secret that I want Joe Biden to be reelected president,” Sanders announced to applause, “and that he and I share the goal of beating back right-wing extremism.”
Sanders’ declaration came in a speech he otherwise could have delivered on the campaign trail when he was challenging Biden and, before that, Hillary Clinton.
“The truth is that we are where we are today because the people on top, the people with the power, are extraordinarily greedy, dishonest, arrogant, irresponsible, and could care less about the needs of ordinary Americans,” Sanders said.
“The Democrats, once and for all, must reject the corporate wing of the party and empower those who are prepared to create a grassroots, multi-racial, multi-generational working class party in every state in this country,” he added.
Sanders’ visit, along with the scheduled appearance of popular Pennsylvania Gov. Josh Shapiro for the state Democratic Party, has inspired speculation that the wall of inevitability around Biden’s bid for a second term might show a crack. Instead, it appears the purpose is to shore up support for Biden in the state that the incumbent president is currently snubbing.
U.S. Rep. Ro Khanna (D-Calif.) spoke at the New Hampshire Democratic Party’s McIntyre-Shaheen 100 Club Dinner fundraiser in May. Shapiro will be headlining the New Hampshire Democratic Party’s state convention next month. In a matter of weeks, New Hampshire Democrats will have heard both the moderate and progressive cases for supporting the absent incumbent president.
As Politico noted, “Both Shapiro and Khanna are members of the Biden campaign’s national advisory board, and Sanders is an important validator for the president among progressives and young voters.”
Rather than a progressive critique of the Biden presidency, Sanders offered overt praise for the record federal spending unleashed by the administration, including the “significant investments” in infrastructure and the “unprecedented investments in renewable energy.”
This was the fundamental theme of Sanders’s speech: pushing the Democrats further. “And never before in our history has it been more necessary for all of us, standing together, to wrest that incredible power away from the few and redistribute it to the many,” he said.
“If we are looking at bringing the American people together, we have got to take on corporate greed.”
Sanders’ message resonated with the audience, though not necessarily in Biden’s favor. NHJournal spoke with four attendees of Sanders’s speech. Interestingly, only one was a New Hampshire voter; the others were from Massachusetts and Connecticut.
When asked if she wished someone like Sanders was running for president in 2024, Sand Brim of Washington, N.H., was unequivocal. “I would love to see an alternative to Joe Biden,” she told NHJournal. “If for nothing else, I’d like to see an alternative candidate to try and push the envelope, get the Democrats to be a little bit more honest about the reality and what has to be done.”
And despite Sanders’s outspoken support of the Biden administration, some in the audience remained unconvinced. Victoria Bard of Beverly, Mass., told NHJournal she planned to go another route this primary season.
“I absolutely wish that Bernie would run again in 2024, but I also support Marianne Williamson,” she said. “If she makes it far enough, I absolutely will [vote for her].”
Those sentiments are one reason Democrats are nervous about Biden’s decision to shun the Granite State after his failed attempt to strip New Hampshire of the first primary vote of 2024. If, as expected, Biden refuses to allow his name to be placed on the ballot of an unsanctioned primary he personally kicked off the calendar, passionate progressives could turn out to back Williamson or Robert F. Kennedy Jr. and deliver an embarrassing blow to Biden’s campaign.
New Hampshire Democratic Party chair Ray Buckley told Politico he was not worried.
“Everybody knows New Hampshire will have the first primary, and Joe Biden will win it, even if he’s not on the ballot. But there will be more than just the presidential race on the ballot.”
Yet with polls showing Biden garnering just 64 percent support among Democrats against two candidates often dismissed as “fringe,” political professionals say Democrats are smart to send surrogates to New Hampshire to boost the incumbent’s standing.
“Everyone in the Democratic Party knows he’s too old,” said Washington Post columnist Henry Olsen in a recent podcast interview. “Polls show that between a third and a half of Democratic voters say he’s too old. He’s got two nobodies, and he can’t break 70 percent in the polls.”
Olsen said the Biden campaign isn’t an analog with LBJ in 1968, but rather George H.W. Bush in 1992.
“The fact is, the progressive movement doesn’t have a national leader. Progressives don’t trust [Vice President] Kamala Harris, and Sanders and [U.S. Sen.] Elizabeth Warren have aged out. So, I look at this as a huge market opportunity for an entrepreneur to make themselves either the candidate or the list broker.
“It strikes me that when you’ve got a $100 bill lying on the ground, sometimes people ignore it, and sometimes people pick it up.”