Bernie Sanders. Chris Pappas. Colin Van Ostern. And now Andru Volinsky. What do all these Democrats have in common?
They all were endorsed by the SEIU Local 1984 in their competitive Democratic primaries here in New Hampshire. And while Volinsky doesn’t face the voters until September 8, all the rest have something else in common: They won.
Will Volinsky be next SEIU pick to win a Democratic primary? The union’s endorsement could be the latest sign that New Hampshire Democrats are ready to do something they rarely do: Pass over the more moderate candidate in favor of the progressive primary pick.
Yes, they’ve done it twice for Sen. Sanders (both times with the local SEIU breaking away from the national union to give him their support), but rarely for governor or Congress.
Yes, Sanders gets Granite State progressives going, “but look who wins our state elections,” Kathy Sullivan, former chair of the state Democratic Party told NHJournal when asked these trends late last year. “It’s almost never the candidate on the extreme.”
Ah, but “almost never” isn’t never. And political insiders tell NHJournal they think this could be the year New Hampshire Democrats abandon the establishment and vote for the more ideologically extreme candidate — in this case, Executive Councilor Volinsky over state Sen. Dan Feltes.
“Look at the coalition [Volinsky’s] got,” a Democratic insider told NHJournal. “State employees, teachers and environmental activists. Assuming he also does well with college students, which he should, that’s pretty much the base of the New Hampshire Democratic Party right there.”
Not the Feltes has been abandoned, far from it.
He has a long list of endorsements that includes 2018 gubernatorial nominee Molly Kelly and 14 unions. He’s also been raising more campaign cash than Volinsky and, perhaps most significantly, he’s pledged not to sign a broad-based sales or income tax while Volinsky has put the need for an alternative to property taxes — which could include an income tax– at the center of his campaign.
And in the past, that’s been a problem for Democrats.
In 2012, the SEIU backed Jackie Cilley in the gubernatorial primary against Maggie Hassan, for example. Cilley had the endorsement, but she also had a plan for an income tax. Hassan won the primary and eventually became governor.
“Democrats hear ‘support an income tax’ and they translate that into ‘lose to Sununu,’ one Democratic activist told NHJournal.
Former NHDem gubernatorial candidate Arnie Arnesen disagrees.
“This is a ‘break-the-mold’ year,” Arnie Arnesen told NHJournal. “Because of COVID-19, people are worried about their shelter. They’re worried about keeping their homes. And ask business owners about their property taxes, too. They don’t have revenue coming in, but they still have to pay. Towns need more money, but we already have the highest property taxes in the country.”
Like Volinsky, Arnesen puts the income tax conversation in the context of the need for property tax relief. As for the idea that refusing to take The Pledge is a campaign killer, Arnesen points to Jeanne Shaheen.
“When she ran for a third term in 2000, she didn’t take The Pledge, and she still won,” Arnesen said. “Because of COVID-19, people are ready for bold action.”
If so, it would be the first time since Mark Fernald in 2002 that Democrats chose the more progressive candidate in a primary for statewide office. And even former Rep. Carol Shea-Porter’s old district rejected more progressive candidates –including her own staffer Naomi Andrews — to back mild-mannered moderate Chris Pappas in 2018.
Still, it appears Volinsky could have the upper hand, and nobody is more excited about that prospect than Republicans supporting Gov. Chris Sununu for another term. They believe Volinsky’s willingness to consider an income tax and Green New Deal will be enough to doom his candidacy.
And Sununu may be contributing to a Volinsky surge, if somewhat unintentionally. With his approval close to 80 percent and 60 percent of the state saying they’re backing Sununu, Democrats could feel like it doesn’t matter who they nominate. Sununu is extremely likely to win, so why compromise? Why not cast a vote for “a choice, not an echo,” as conservative firebrand Arizona Sen. Barry Goldwater put it in 1964.
Then again, Goldwater also lost his bid for the White House by one of the largest margins in American history.
CLARIFICATION: An earlier version of this story stated directly that Councilor Volinsky supports an income tax. He has instead discussed the possibility of other revenue sources, including an income tax, in the context of providing property tax relief. He has declined to take The Pledge. NHJournal is happy to add this additional context.