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‘Nice Guy’ Dean Phillips Draws Crowd in Concord

Dean Phillips and his insurgent Minnesota Nice campaign could be a problem for President Joe Biden, based on the upstart congressman’s packed house in Concord Friday.

Phillips is the only elected Democrat running to unseat Biden in the primary, saying he got into the race out of concern for the 81-year-old incumbent’s age and poor poll numbers.

“I did not intend to be here, but I am running to be president of the United States,” Phillips told the standing-room crowd at Brothers Cortado, a downtown coffee shop.

About 150 people came out on a frigid night, squeezing into the coffee shop for a chance to hear him. At times defiant, in a nice way, Phillips said his campaign is the last thing the Democratic Party wants in the state the party tried to cancel.

The Democratic National Committee’s attempt to strip New Hampshire’s first in the nation primary in order to protect Biden appears to have backfired. Biden supporters have launched a write-in campaign to save Biden from the embarrassment of losing a primary in his own party. Phillips has been running a proactive retail campaign, and best-selling author Marianne Williamson is pushing hard as well.

“The Democrats tried to tell you this is ‘meaningless,’” Phillips said, referencing a statement from the Democratic National Committee. “There is nothing more antithetical to our democracy than telling you your votes don’t count.”

“Tell the DNC they can’t do this to you,” Phillips said.

Phillips’ message of reaching for pragmatic solutions and finding a middle ground with opponents struck a chord with the Concord crowd. Phillips said he wants a national healthcare system so that people caught in the trap of drug addiction can get care and recovery. He wants to reduce gun violence by focusing on mental health solutions and not gun bans. And he wants to shore up social security by lifting the earnings cap for wealthy Americans.

The reason the congressional Democrat is taking on his party and possibly destroying his own future in politics is the fact he does not think Biden is up to the job. Trump, who Phillips said ought to have been impeached after the Jan. 6, 2021, U.S. Capitol Riot, is too dangerous to be let back in the White House. Phillips does not think Biden can beat Trump in a matchup.

Phillips tried to deliver this theme in as nice a way as possible.

“We all love Joe Biden, but we know he’s in decline,” Phillips said.

Phillips delivered his stump speech and answered questions with his “aw shucks” demeanor. At times joking, occasionally serious, but always striving to be nice. His big idea for the White House is hosting regular Americans of all political persuasions for “common ground” dinners. 

Even with the sign of a late surge, Phillips said his campaign might be further along now if he changed his personality.

“I could have been in a much better position now if, when I started this run, I had been willing to do one thing, be a total jerk,” Phillips said.

Phillip’s campaign may not last beyond Tuesday, but he said Granite Staters have the chance to shock the DNC and the country. Phillips is making a big bet on New Hampshire, and he faces a long shot on Tuesday, almost as big a long shot as getting a nice guy into the White House.

UNH Staffer Who Threatened Ramaswamy Targeted Two Other GOP Candidates

Prosecutors say the UNH staffer charged with threatening to “blow [GOP presidential candidate Vivek Ramaswamy’s] brains out” also sent violent text messages to two other Republicans in the race. Now, he is facing three federal counts and up to 15 years in prison.

Tyler Anderson, 30, is charged with three counts of transmitting in interstate commerce a threat to injure the person of another for the messages to Ramaswamy and the two others.

Federal agents arrested Anderson on Dec. 9 after he allegedly sent grisly texts to Ramaswamy’s campaign. According to court records, Ramaswamy’s campaign team sent text invitations to a list of potential voters on the Seacoast on Dec. 8, ahead of a “Breakfast with Vivek” event slated for Dec. 11. 

Anderson got an invitation and allegedly responded with gruesome and obscene threats, according to investigators.

“‘Great, another opportunity for me to blow his brains out!’ Anderson reportedly replied. He followed up with, ‘I’m going to kill everyone who attends and then f*** their corpses.’”

When he was arrested at his Dover apartment the next day, investigators found threatening texts targeting two other presidential candidates on his cell phone, according to court records.

The charging documents allege Anderson sent a series of threatening text messages to three separate presidential campaigns going back to November. In one, Anderson threatened to “impale” and “disembowel” a candidate. In another, Anderson threatened to blow the head off a different candidate and conduct a “mass shooting.” 

Each charge carries a potential sentence of up to five years in prison, up to three years of supervised release, and a fine of up to $250,000.

Anderson is currently free on personal recognizance bail with the condition that he remains employed and continues receiving mental health care treatment. His roommate is also required to remove his guns from their shared apartment.

A 2018 UNH graduate, Anderson recently started a new job as an administrative assistant at the UNH College of Life Sciences and Agriculture. UNH administrative assistants typically earn between $35,000 and $45,000 a year.

UNH did not respond to NHJournal’s request for comment on Thursday.

Judge Orders NH House Dem Accused of Stalking to Remain Behind Bars

State Rep. Stacie Laughton (D-Nashua) will remain in jail as her attorney negotiates a plea agreement in the criminal case alleging she serially harassed a Hudson woman. 

Laughton, New Hampshire’s first elected transgender state representative, is not leaving Valley Street Jail in Manchester until at least Dec. 22, the date of her next hearing. Her attorney, Elliot Friedman, told Judge John Curran he hoped to have a resolution to the numerous criminal charges worked out with prosecutors in the coming weeks.

“We are negotiating a resolution,” Friedman said.

Laughton’s continued custody complicates Democratic hopes of wresting control of the House of Representatives from the GOP. With a razor-thin 201-198 GOP majority in the House, control of the body and the outcome of the secretary of state election on Organization Day (December 7) will come down to attendance.

Laughton is accused of repeatedly violating orders to leave a Hudson woman alone as well as charges of stalking, criminal defamation, and making false 911 calls. Laughton is already facing jail time after she pleaded no contest this summer to charges of making false 911 calls about the same victim. Prosecutors have told the court they plan to ask for the imposition of the suspended nine-month sentence brought in that case.

Laughton is being held without bail on the grounds she presents an ongoing danger to the community and the alleged victim. She was under court orders to leave the woman alone when she allegedly continued her campaign of harassment that stretches back to 2019.

Laughton’s status hearing, held in the Nashua District Court on Thursday, left the troubled state representative in jail pending the plea negotiations. Laughton appeared in court via video feed from Valley Street Jail. Laughton offered little comment during the brief hearing other than to object to the presence of media in the courtroom.

“I object to the press,” Laughton told Curran. “I will give interviews, but I figure right now this is a personal matter I need to deal with without the pressures of the press.”

Curran denied her objection, stating there is no reason to keep the press out of an open court proceeding.

Laughton could technically still travel to Concord for Organization Day, legislative sources said. New Hampshire’s Constitution bars police from stopping representatives from attending sessions at the State House. The question is, how badly do Democrats want her there?

Democratic Caucus leader, progressive Rep. Matt Wilhelm (D-Manchester), declined to respond to repeated requests for comment.

Laughton’s disturbed behavior has been apparent for years before she won office as a state representative in 2020. She was convicted in 2008 of credit card fraud for stealing from a person in Laconia. Laughton was then charged in 2015 for calling in a bomb threat at the Southern New Hampshire Medical Center hospital in Nashua. Those charges were later dropped as Laughton claimed she was suffering from a mental health crisis at the time.

Laughton won a seat for state representative in 2012 but was forced to resign soon after her 2008 credit card fraud arrest became public. Despite pressure from the Democratic Party, Laughton tried to run again to fill the seat in a special election after her resignation; that bid was cut short when it was deemed she was legally ineligible for office at the time since she was still technically serving her suspended sentence for the felony credit card fraud case.

Are NH Democrats Too ‘Racist’ To Support Candidates of Color?

When Sen. Kamala Harris dropped out of the Democratic presidential primary, she blamed it on her inability to raise money. Some pundits, both left and right, said her lack of a clear message was the problem.

But others saw a more disturbing force at work: White people. In particular, the white Democratic primary voters in Iowa and New Hampshire.

“Iowa is 91 percent white. New Hampshire is 94 percent white,” Rolling Stone senior writer Tim Dickinson tweeted in reaction to Harris’s exit from the 2020 field. “These states are off the charts white, and yet the Democratic Party gives the electorates in these states effective veto power over the nomination process.”

“It’s structural racism masquerading as tradition,” Dickinson said.

Nate Silver of the left-leaning website FiveThirtyEight wrote, “If the Democratic Party wants a field that’s representative of its members and its voters, it probably shouldn’t have two states as white as Iowa and New Hampshire vote first every year.”

“Having two super white states go first is a big disadvantage to nonwhite candidates,” Silver added.

Defenders of the New Hampshire #FITN primary are used to hearing the “too white” complaint. “You go to New Hampshire. There are not any minorities there. Nobody lives there,” then-Senator Harry Reid (D-Nev.) told the Washington Post back in 2015.

What’s new is the more overt suggestion that white New Hampshire Democrats are rejecting candidates of color out of bigotry. That they’re participants in the “structural racism.”

“I’ve seen the bile, the anger, from my family members, to people in the Congressional Black Caucus, to leaders of color across this country who just don’t understand how we’ve gotten to a point now where there’s more billionaires in the 2020 race than there are black people,” Sen. Cory Booker said in response to Harris dropping out of the race.

Progressive writer Lauren Duca was more direct, telling her nearly 500,000 Twitter followers:

“Kamala Harris officially ended her campaign today, which means that all of the candidates who currently qualify for the December Democratic debate are white. White supremacy is not just a Fox News problem, folks.”

So is it a New Hampshire Democratic Party problem?

“I have heard all the arguments and don’t buy any of them,” former Democratic National Committeeman and longtime New Hampshire strategist Terry Shumaker told NHJournal. “They certainly don’t explain Govs. Inslee, Hickenlooper and Bullock dropping out — as well as Beto and others dropping out even earlier — they are all white.”

Shumaker notes that “an African American has won our primary, as has a woman and a Mormon.  Jesse Jackson ran competitively here in the 1980s. He didn’t blame not winning on the voters.”

True, but progressives are. Their argument isn’t just that “New Hampshire voters are too white,” but rather this whiteness prevents them from supporting candidates of color. Call it “racism,” “bigotry” or “lack of wokeness”–it’s a commentary on New Hampshire Democratic primary voters.

“I don’t agree that they are saying Iowa and New Hampshire are racist,” New Hampshire Democratic Committeewoman Kathy Sullivan told NHJournal. “They are saying that having more diversity among voters would better reflect the Democratic electorate. I think the DNC addressed that by having Nevada and South Carolina added to the calendar.”

“I would also add that Barack Obama came very close to winning the New Hampshire primary in ’08, and he won the general election here twice.”

Then there are the New Hampshire polling averages for Castro, Booker and Harris, which are similar to their numbers nationally. Yes, when she dropped out Harris’s RealClearPolitics average was about half a point lower in the Granite State (2.7 percent) compared to her national numbers (3.4 percent), but both Booker and Castro are actually outperforming their nationwide average in New Hampshire.

Even in her racially-diverse home state of California, Harris had been stuck in single digits and well out of the top tier. Are white voters to blame?

And yet it remains the case that the top six Republican frontrunners in 2016 were more racially diverse (one African American and two Hispanic candidates) than the Democrats today. And many on the left see bias at work.

“Women are held to a different standard,” Rev. Al Sharpton said on Tuesday, “and black women especially.”

Former HUD Secretary Julian Castro, whose 2020 POTUS candidacy has rarely cleared the 5 percent support mark, has long argued that New Hampshire’s demographics were a problem for Democrats, going so far as to compare it to what he deems Republican voter suppression.

“We can’t go around thanking black women for powering Democrats to victory all over the country, and then at the same time hold our first caucus and our first primary in states that have almost no African Americans,” he said. “We’re right to call Republicans out when they suppress the votes of African Americans or Latinos, but we’ve also got to recognize that this 50-year-old process was created during a time when minority voices had zero power in the [Democratic] party.”

Progressive NH State Rep. Kris Schultz (D-Concord) tweeted, “I want a Democratic party where @KamalaHarris, @CoryBooker & @JulianCastro are in the @DNC debates while other candidates cannot just buy their way in because they are self-funded multi-millionaires! No more corruption! No more buying elections! Reward the grassroots!”

But when NHJournal asked if, as a step toward more diversity, NH Democrats should give up their First In The Nation status, Schultz said absolutely not.

“I am 100 percent for the NH FITN,” she said. “And I was Al Gore’s South Carolina Caucus Director and I helped in Nevada, too.

“Nobody vets candidates better than New Hampshire.”

Progressives Already Passing Judgment on 2020 POTUS Picks

Earlier this week the progressive group MoveOn.org released results of a straw poll of its members on the 2020 potential Democratic lineup.  The outcome inspired a bit of media buzz when progressive rock star (complete with fog machine) Rep. Beto O’Rourke outpaced the entire field.

It turns out MoveOn.org isn’t the only progressive group polling its members. You can go to Democracy for America’s webpage right now and pick your top three 2020 candidates. DFA is a progressive group originally founded by Howard Dean and is best known today for its support of Rep.-elect Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY). Their list, by the way, includes three people who just lost their own elections in 2018: Rep. O’Rourke, Georgia’s Stacey Abrams and Florida’s Andrew Gillum.

See the entire list of 2018 potential candidates by clicking here

 

Meanwhile the far-Left group People’s Action has announced they’ll be polling their members in 2019, and they are already organizing candidate forums–including one in Durham, NH on October 14 hosted by their local arm, Rights & Democracy NH– to push POTUS candidates towards progressive issues.

And liberal billionaire Tom Steyer’s organization NextGen America is also powering up, both the support his now-likely candidacy and to pressure candidates to embrace far-Left positions like carbon taxes and socialized medicine, as well as their insistence that Democrats must impeach President Trump.

All of these efforts motivate the base to get involved. Doing well in these early progressive polls is a good way to give your candidacy a push among primary voters. And in the Ocasio-Cortez era, attending these events is all but mandatory.

At the same time, the motivated base in turns “motivates” candidates to embrace the party’s more out-of-the-mainstream policies.  And thus far, running for president on the far Left has proven a losing strategy. President Barack Obama governed as a liberal progressive, but during the campaign he went to great lengths to avoid the label–claiming to oppose both a single-payer healthcare system and legalizing same-sex marriage, for example. The last politician to run as a full-throated liberal on a major-party ticket was Walter Mondale (maybe) and George McGovern (definitely).  They each carried one state.

One.

Progressive candidates didn’t do particularly well in New Hampshire’s Democratic primary last September. The more moderate candidates in the high-profile races won handily. It could be that New Hampshire’s Democratic voters just aren’t on the same page as their more progressive counterparts in, say, Massachusetts, California or New York.  Moderate Democrats like Joe Biden, former New Orleans mayor Mitch Landrieu and Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) might do well here.

But with progressive “voting” starting today, and after a year’s worth of MoveOn/DFA/OFA/People’s Action organizing, by the time the FITN primary rolls around, there may not be any moderates left.

From ‘Run Warren Run’ to ‘Why, Liz, Why?’

They are the headlines every potential presidential candidate wants to see a month after the midterms:

  • “Liz Warren Is Catching Fire” – Politico
  • “Elizabeth Warren Has Arrived And So Have We” – Daily Kos
  • “Elizabeth Warren’s Moment” – NBC News

“The storyline…is that the heart of the Democratic Party really wants Warren,” wrote Chris Cillizza of CNN.com, while Rep. Keith Ellison of the DNC  said on Face the Nation: “I think that right now people want an authentic candidate. Elizabeth Warren comes off as a very authentic person. So that is what people are gravitating towards.”

That’s quite a December for any candidate. Unfortunately for Liz Warren, that was December….2014.

Four years ago this week, MoveOn.Org was touting the Massachusetts liberal as the progressive’s rising star on their  “Run Warren Run news” website. (“We’re excited for week 2 of the Run Warren Run campaign…”) A few weeks later they would pour $250,000 into their “Draft Warren” efforts, backed by veteran Democratic campaigners like New Hampshire’s Kurt Ehrenberg and Blair Lawton of Iowa.

The effort lasted into the summer of 2015, with excited Democratic activists gathering more than 365,000 signatures trying to rally a reluctant candidate to run for president.

 

Iowa MoveOn member Saba Hafeez (University of Iowa campus organizer) and New Hampshire Democracy for America member August Tucker (an 18-year-old HS senior from Portsmouth, NH) delivered the petition to Sen. Warren in June, 2015

Four years later, the roles are reversed.

It’s hard to imagine a “Run Warren Run” grassroots wildfire today. Despite her highest of high profiles, polls among Democrats show her in the single digits in the 2020 race. Most Democrats in her home state of Massachusetts aren’t keen on her running.  And her decision to release a DNA test in her ongoing #Fauxcahontas fight with President Trump—just weeks before the midterms—was viewed bad timing and worse strategy.

And so now Liz Warren is trying to transform herself into the very obstacle she faced four years ago: The next Hillary Clinton.

In a story headlined “Elizabeth Warren Forges a 2020 Machine,” Politico reports that if Warren pulls the trigger on her POTUS campaign, “she’ll be rolling out arguably the most advanced and sweeping infrastructure in the Democratic field, a plug-and-play campaign that could give her a massive head start on nearly every contender in the burgeoning primary roster.”  That includes $12.5 million in the bank and more than 50 people on her campaign payroll.

She’s “built a shadow war room….that has encompassed work in all 50 states and close coordination with more than 150 campaigns,” Matt Viser reports in the Washington Post. It’s an impressive tale. But is it true?

Some Democrats tell InsideSources off the record that they think this is largely spin from the Massachusetts senator, an attempt to build up her standing as a member of the 2020 short list.  “They’re pushing this 150 campaign number so it looks like she has a machine,” one New Hampshire Democrat told NHJournal. “But she’s no Hillary Clinton—at least, not yet.”

But could she be?  Hillary Clinton had the benefit of the Clinton brand, built on eight years in the White House and a narrow loss to the politically-talented Barack Obama in 2008.  Sen. Warren, on the other hand, is a Democrat in one of the most Democratic states in the country. The last Republican to win a general election campaign for the U.S. Senate was Ed Brooke in 1972.  (Scott Brown won a special election in 2010 and promptly lost to Warren two years later.)

In fact, according to data analyst Harry Enten of CNN, Warren is an underperforming Massachusetts Democrat. Adjusting for the high number of Democratic voters in her state, “Warren’s performance was the sixth worst of all Senate Democrats” in 2018, Enten says.

When it comes to 2018, all the standard caveats go here: It’s early, none of the best-known Democrats considering a run have even announced, the Iowa caucuses are more than 400 days away, etc.  But the stark contrast between the mood of progressives today and four years ago is hard to miss.  Instead of headlines like “A Democratic Party That Realizes Its Soul Lies With Elizabeth Warren,” the headline in the Wall Street Journal reads “Too Soon For Democrats to Dump Liz Warren?

Yes, the opinion pages of the Wall Street Journal lean right. But the headline from the left leaning Washington Post reads  “As Her DNA Test Still Reverberates, Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s Political Operation Shows Fissures.” Even her longtime allies at the Boston Globe have editorialized “Warren missed her moment in 2016, and there’s reason to be skeptical of her prospective candidacy in 2020.”

“She has become a divisive figure,” they added.

As Hillary Clinton demonstrated, you don’t have to have grassroots excitement or progressive bona fides to win the Democratic nomination. Bernie Sanders had both and she still beat him (with a little unauthorized help from the DNC).  But if Hillary couldn’t generate excitement, she could generate something else:

Fear. Few people wanted to cross Hillary Clinton, and fewer still wanted to fight against the first woman POTUS nominee of a major party among Democrats so focused on identity politics.

Liz Warren, unfortunately, has none of those advantages. There’s no cost to crossing her, there are at least three other women on the potential-candidates list, and the glass ceiling (for the nomination, anyway) has already been broken.

Four years ago, the chant was “Run Warren Run!”

Today, it’s closer to “Why, Liz? Why?”

Patrick Bemoans “Cruelty of Election Process” as He Bows out of 2020 Race

In a Facebook post Thursday morning, two-term Massachusetts governor Deval Patrick made it official: He will not be running for president in 2020.

“After a lot of conversation, reflection and prayer, I’ve decided that a 2020 campaign for president is not for me. I’ve been overwhelmed by advice and encouragement from people from all over the country, known and unknown,” Patrick wrote.  “But knowing that the cruelty of our elections process would ultimately splash back on people whom Diane and I love, but who hadn’t signed up for the journey, was more than I could ask.”

In doing so, Patrick confirmed the suspicions of some doubters who questioned whether the famously thin-skinned governor was prepared for the rough-and-tumble of a national campaign–particularly one that might involve taking on Donald Trump. Patrick was known for angry outbursts over relatively mild media criticism and personal animosity against members of the press. As Jon Keller, the well-respected political reporter at Boston’s CBS affiliate put it in 2012:  “Deval Patrick has a lot of attributes, but thick skin is not one of them.”

Director of the Suffolk University Political Research Center David Paleologos tells NHJournal that Patrick was “one of ten strong Democrats who had a path to score Democratic Primary victories in the three early states and to ultimately take on President Trump.”  According to Paleologos, the immediate beneficiaries of his decision are his fellow New Englanders  Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders, and African-American candidates, “especially Cory Booker.”

In his Facebook statement, Patrick said he believes “Democrats have a clear chance not just to win [people’s] votes but to win their respect and earn their help by showing up everywhere, engaging everyone, and making our case.”

“America feels more ready than usual for big answers to our big challenges. That’s an exciting moment that I hope we don’t miss. I hope to help in whatever way I can. It just won’t be as a candidate for president,” Patrick said.

Bill Gardner Wins Narrowest Possible Victory to Hold onto NH Secretary of State’s Post

It took two ballots and came down to a single vote, but Bill Gardner was elected to an historic 22nd term as New Hampshire’s Secretary of State by the new, Democrat-dominated New Hampshire legislature on Wednesday.

Under the rules,  either Gardner or his opponent, fellow Democrat Colin Van Ostern needed 209 votes to win. The first ballot results were Van Ostern 207, Gardner 208 and one “scattered” vote (a ballot for a non-candidate).

The newly-elected (and clearly frustrated) Speaker of the House, Democrat Steve Shurtleff took the body into recess while supporters of the two candidates re-grouped. Then after a brief 3-minute speech for each candidate, the 416 House and Senate members present voted again, and Gardner got his 209.

“In my years in office, I have overseen 500 recounts where 11 ended in a tie and 32 ended up being decided by one vote,” Gardner said in his acceptance speech. “I never actually thought of myself ending up in one like that.”

Gov. Chris Sununu, who had predicted a Gardner win (though Sununu predicted it would be “overwhelming”) greeted the incumbent in the Secretary of State’s office with the cry “Forty more years!”

Van Ostern shook hands with Gardner and and said afterwards “I’m proud to get within a vote of Bill Gardner. No one’s beat him in 42 years.  He’s a legend in our politics and in our state.” The Democratic Party also tweeted out a message of support (“he has demonstrated great dedication and love for NH”)– which shouldn’t be news, given that Gardner is a Democrat.

Some of his fellow party members weren’t happy however, particularly progressives who haven’t forgiven Gardner for his participation on President Trump’s anti-voter-fraud  commission. They grumbled about the fact that at least 33 of their own joined with the GOP minority to support the moderate Gardner and defeat a loyal partisan like Van Osten.  One even tweeted that the New Hampshire Democratic Party should “find those that voted for Bill Gardner over Colin Van Ostern and punish them.” (It was a secret ballot, so…)

Gardner’s re-election is yet another data point indicating that New Hampshire Democrats aren’t in the same progressive mode as the national party.  In September’s primaries, for example, progressive candidates lost to more moderate competitors in the races for governor and the First Congressional District.  And neither of the new legislative leaders, Speaker Shurtleff and Senate President Donna Soucy, will be mistaken for Bernie Sanders or Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.

The question now is what this means going forward, particularly for the 2020 presidential primary. There are at least 34 Democrats on the potential-candidate list (click here to see who they are), and the national party is already strategizing on how to avoid the mess the GOP experienced with a 16-way race in 2016.  Having Gardner at the helm means there will be fewer questions about partisanship in the New Hampshire primary (Van Ostern is a longtime campaign worker and more likely to raise questions about picking favorites, ala Clinton vs. Bernie in 2016).

And with the NHGOP re-considering its policy of remaining neutral in POTUS primaries involving an incumbent Republican (particularly when they’re named “Trump”), Gardner’s level-playing field approach will add subtle pressure on the party not to pick sides.

It’s widely believed that the 70-year-old Gardner won’t seek another term after this one, a fact that one of his supporters, Rep. Ned Gordon, reiterated in urging his colleagues to re-elect him. “I would like to see Bill finish his career gracefully,” Gordon said.

Are Progressives Catching BetoMania in the Granite State?

Is there really a bout of BetoMania spreading through the New Hampshire Democratic party?

Democratic Party activist Jay Surdukowski sure hopes so.  The Concord attorney has been pushing for the Texas congressman, Senate candidate, and political phenom to make his way to the Granite State.  Thus far, Rep. O’Rourke (whose real name is Francis Robert) hasn’t responded to any of the invitations from New Hampshire, but the conversation alone is generating news at Politico and CNBC.

(Longtime New Hampshire media hand James Pindell crankily tweeted “Didn’t realize unanswered invites were news but here we are.”)

So, is O’Rourke a real player in New Hampshire? The obvious–and obviously true–answer is that it’s way too early to say. “There’s a lot of chatter and a lot of buzz about a lot of people,” one Democratic insider told NHJournal. “Have I heard Beto’s name? Sure. I’ve also heard Kamala Harris, Joe Biden, Cory Booker, Sherrod Brown.  Most New Hampshire Democrats are waiting to meet these people, look them in the eye, watch them campaign.”

On the other hand, how many of those people have fans posting Facebook pages about them? Or have political activists in New England start a PAC (“Draft Beto 2020”) to encourage them to run?

And then there’s the fact that, despite being a political unknown just a year ago, Rep. O’Rourke is near the top of (very early) polling for the Democratic nomination, ahead of big names like Warren, Harris and Booker.

This weekend, Rep. Tulsi Gabbard–who has actually talked about possibly running in 2020— is coming to New Hampshire to talk to voters. And yet it’s safe to say that more Democrats this week will be talking about the outgoing Congressman from Texas than the incumbent Congresswoman from Hawaii.

Why? In part it’s because O’Rourke is a legitimate political talent.  Jeff Roe, Sen. Ted Cruz’s campaign manager, said after his candidate’s narrow victory over Beto: “The Democrats don’t have anybody like him,” Roe said. “I’ve seen all of them. They don’t have anyone of his caliber on the national stage. I pray for the soul of anyone who has to run against him in Iowa in 453 days.”

But it’s also more than that. O’Rourke is a talented progressive politician, at a moment when the party’s base is hungry for progressive leadership.  Bernie Sanders hit the right notes, but voting for Bernie was voting for the progressive platform alone. O’Rourke brings the Left’s ideology, but adds charisma, skills and–let’s face it–sex appeal.

“Beto is exciting, he’s articulate, he’s passionate,” New Hampshire progressive activist and broadcaster Arnie Arnesen told NHJournal.  “But he also used his time in the limelight to speak to the future. So even though he was running against one of the most hated Republicans there is, he didn’t use that fact as an excuse to moderate his message or soften his agenda.”

“And that’s a wonderful thing,” Arnesen said.

Not everyone agrees. Chicago Mayor and former Obama Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel responded to the Beto craze this way:

“If Beto O’Rourke wants to go and run for president, God bless him, he should put his hat in and make his case. But, he lost. You don’t usually promote a loser to the top of party.”

Longtime New Hampshire Democratic player Jim Demers, who has publicly expressed support for Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ),  is more moderated in his views:

“I think Beto O’Rourke has a few interesting options. Some people would like to see him run for President, others think he is in a very strong position to challenge John Cornyn for the Senate seat in Texas in 2020,” Demers told NHJournal.

“Regardless, I hope Democrats will take the pledge not to devour each other in the presidential race and to stand united when the nominee is selected. The goal is to change the occupant in The White House, period.”

Are New Hampshire Democrats ready to give that job to a guy from Texas? Whose entire political resume is three terms in Congress and a losing bid for the US Senate?

“I’m not sure I couldn’t be convinced Beto O’Rourke should be President,” the Democratic insider told NHJournal.

And given how many big Democratic names are on the 2020 list, and how little New Hampshire Democrats actually know about O’Rourke, that’s something.

Bill Kristol on Trump, 2020, and the Democrat Republicans Should Fear Most

The “Politics and Eggs” breakfast at the New Hampshire Institute of Politics is one of the compulsory events in Granite State politics for anyone considering a presidential run.  Conservative journalist and national leader of the #NeverTrump movement, Bill Kristol, will be making an appearance–and firing up the 2020 rumor mill–on Wednesday, May 23rd.

NHJournal’s Michael Graham caught up with Kristol at one of his Harvard Yard haunts on the eve of his speech for a quick Q&A:

MG: My first question for you is this: Is Bill Kristol coming to “Politics and Eggs” to formally announce his candidacy in the 2020 presidential race?

BK:  It’s tempting, it’s tempting. But then I’d be laughed out of New Hampshire and I’d be slipping back across the border to Massachusetts in about 12 minutes. So I think I won’t do that.

I’m just talking about my analysis of the political situation. It’s always great to be in New Hampshire because people here are so interested in national politics, and they follow it much more closely than almost any other state because they’re so conscious of their “First in the Nation” primary. And I do think the fact that independents can vote in either primary–and so many New Hampshire voters are independents–means they tend to follow both parties. In some states the Republicans follow Republican stories, and the Democrats have the Democratic stories. In New Hampshire, everyone follows everything.

MG: Which potential 2020 candidate best matches the mood of the Democratic electorate?

BK:  I think there are several moods going at once, which is why it’s complicated. There’s obviously a ‘We hate, loathe and despise Trump and we will reward the person who hates, loathes and despises him the most’ [mood].  There’s also a ‘Look, we’ve got a win’ [mood], with Democrats saying ‘We cannot afford to lose to this guy and, incidentally, we lost because we were out of touch with parts of middle America. Some of those concerns were legitimate, and some of those concerns are traditional Democratic concerns–stagnant wages and stuff like that–and so we need somebody who can speak to them.’

That leads you in two pretty different directions.

The conventional wisdom among Republicans in Washington is the Left has all the energy. Everything’s going Left. The empirical evidence so far in the primaries is a little mixed, I would say. Some moderates have won primaries. Some Lefties have won some primaries, and some have just been extremely close like the Nebraska [NE-2] primary. So I’m sort of open-minded about that debate on the Democratic side.

MG: What about Republicans?  Trump’s approval is back in the upper 80s, approaching 90 percent among Republicans. Of those Republicans who are dissatisfied–maybe they’re reluctant Trump supporters, whatever. Are they angry at Trump, or do the just want their party to go in a different direction?

BK:  I think Trump supporters–let’s just say it’s 80, 85 percent of the Republicans–are split into two categories: Half of them, some 40 percent of the Republican Party, are Trump loyalists. They believe in him. They are proud to have voted for Him. They hate his enemies and they like the fact that he’s shaking things up.  But about half of Trump supporters are reluctant Trump supporters. They voted for someone else in the primary–Bush or Cruz or Rubio.  They mostly voted for Trump in the general election because of Hillary and judges and so forth.

They support some of the things Trump has done, but they’re not Trump loyalists and I think they’re open to the following argument, one which you can’t really make now, you have to make it the day after the midterms:

It goes like this: ‘You voted for Trump. We’re not gonna criticize that. You support a lot of things he does. You think a lot of the criticisms of him are unfair. We’re not going to quarrel with that.  But–do you really want to do this for another four years?

It’s a little crazy. It’s a little chaotic. He comes with some downside risks. In foreign policy and and other things, maybe you could just like pocket the gains and get a more normal, so to speak,  Republican or Conservative.’

I think that message would have–could have– more appeal after Election Day this year. Right now it sounds like, ‘Well, you’re just anti-Trump. We’ve got to rally to Trump, we’ve got to defeat the Democrats.’  But I think November 7th [the day after the midterms], everything changes.  Because the question becomes not a retrospective question of were you right to vote for trump or his critics, or ‘what about Hillary?’ It becomes a prospective question. What do you want going forward?

MG: Last question: The Democratic ticket that you think Republicans should be the most afraid of in 2020?

BK: That’s a good question. These things are actually harder to predict.  I’m inclined to give the conventional answer, which I think is right, which is the more moderate the candidate Democrats nominate, the easier it is to win back some Republican voters and independents.  I guess I have the kind of conventional view that that’s the most dangerous thing for the Republicans.

But you know, sometimes history fools you.  Everyone thought Reagan would be easier to defeat than a more moderate Republican.  Take Elizabeth Warren. [Republicans think] That’d be great. We can demonize her. She’s scary. She’s left wing.

Well, I don’t know.  Maybe she could run a campaign that was pretty intelligent and get the best of both worlds: The Hillary Clinton appeal, first woman president; And some of the Sanders energy. Look, she’s a Harvard law professor. She’s not crazy.

It could be like Obama. [Independent voters saying] ‘She’s a little more liberal that I like, but she comes from modest origins.’ So I think [my fellow conservatives] may underrate Warren a little bit.