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In The New Hampshire Primary, Sanders Has More At Stake Than Just Delegates

John Minchillo
Sen. Bernie Sanders speaks during a campaign stop at the Palace Theatre on Feb. 8 in Manchester, N.H. The results of Tuesday's primary vote will set the stage for votes in South Carolina, Nevada and beyond.

The implications of the nation’s first presidential primary extend far beyond the borders of New Hampshire, and results here will set the stage for key votes in South Carolina, Nevada and beyond.

Susan Thanos has seen Bernie Sanders on TV and listened to him in the debates, and she’s intrigued enough by what she’s heard to have driven 90 minutes on a snowy Monday morning to a century-old theater in downtown Manchester, New Hampshire.

“I wanted to see him in person,” Dismas says.

Thanos won’t be voting in the New Hampshire primary Tuesday. As a Massachusetts resident, she doesn’t get to weigh in until Super Tuesday. She tends to lean Republican, but she says she’s “rather confused” by this year’s slate of GOP candidates. 

“Well, in the past I’ve been rather conservative … but certainly not a Trump supporter. And I’m not sure what’s going on [in the GOP primary],” Thanos says. “And I thought, ‘Well, could I go all the way over to Bernie? Perhaps.'”

It’s New Hampshire that does the voting Tuesday. But voters in other states will be taking note, and the stakes are far higher than the delegates up for grabs here.

Sanders spent the final day before the New Hampshire primary trying to seal the deal with undecideds like Thanos. At the Palace Theatre in Manchester, more than 500 people turned out to see Sanders speak. 

The 74-year-old senator from Vermont ambled onto a small but elaborate stage, adorned with plaster molds of ancient Greek figures. In the same well-worn speech he’s been delivering since early in this 2016 presidential campaign, Sanders railed on income inequality, Wall Street avarice and the evils of money in politics.

Voters in other states will be taking note of the results in New Hampshire, and the stakes are far higher than the delegates up for grabs here.

“And what this campaign is about is saying, ‘No, it does not have to be that way.' If we stand together, we can change that,” Sanders said.

The afternoon event was Sanders’ penultimate campaign rally before polls opened Tuesday. He told New Hampshire residents, and the out-of-staters in their midst, that he can't start a “political revolution” on his own. 

“Millions of us are going to have to stand up and be loud and clear in saying that our government belongs to all of us, not just the 1 percent,” he said.

Scott Buchanan, an associate professor of political science at the Citadel in Charleston, South Carolina, serves as executive director of the Citadel Symposium on Southern Politics. Buchanan says Sanders’ photo-finish with Clinton in Iowa turned heads in South Carolina.

Credit Peter Hirschfeld / VPR
On the eve of the nation's first presidential primary in New Hampshire, Bernie Sanders tried to rally supporters at a theater in downtown Manchester.

“You know, she’s still ahead, but I suspect that gap has narrowed somewhat in the last few days,” Buchanan says.

Polls indicate that Clinton continues to wield substantial advantage with voters of color, who will make up far greater proportions of the electorate in states like South Carolina than they do in Iowa or New Hampshire.

But Buchanan says Sanders has picked up some key endorsements of late. Ben Jealous, the former head of the NAACP, came out for Sanders last week, for example. And Buchanan says that if Sanders can earn the kind of double-digit margin of victory in New Hampshire that polls are predicting now, then it might make waves down South.

“I still think that when all is said and done, in South Carolina, at least, he will be fighting an uphill battle. But if he does very well in New Hampshire, I think he makes it respectable in South Carolina,” Buchanan says.

"In South Carolina, at least, [Sanders] will be fighting an uphill battle. But if he does very well in New Hampshire, I think he makes it respectable in South Carolina." - Scott Buchanan, Citadel Symposium on Southern Politics

Bob Ehlers, a Vietnam veteran, drove from his home about eight miles north of Manchester to see Sanders speak on Monday. He says it was Sanders’ stance on veterans’ issues that first caught his attention.

“He’s also a guy that has an immense amount of integrity and honesty,” Ehlers says. “He doesn’t take any money from special interests. He’s a once-in-a-generation type politician.”

Ehlers says he and his fellow Granite Staters appreciate the significance of Tuesday's vote. 

“The people of New Hampshire are ready for a political revolution,” Ehlers says. “And I for one am going to be joining them.”

VPR’s coverage of the 2016 presidential campaign is made possible in part by the VPR Journalism Fund.

The Vermont Statehouse is often called the people’s house. I am your eyes and ears there. I keep a close eye on how legislation could affect your life; I also regularly speak to the people who write that legislation.
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