Democratic presidential field descends on New Hampshire for Democratic state convention

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MANCHESTER, N.H. — The Democratic presidential field is descending on the home of the first-in-the-nation primary, with a slew of candidates ready to pitch voters at the New Hampshire State Democratic Convention today as the fall campaign season heats up.

Nineteen Oval Office hopefuls are expected to address the crowd of thousands in the SNHU Arena in Manchester – which President Donald Trump packed for a rally less than a month ago. All of the remaining candidates on the Democratic side – save Miramar, Fla., Mayor Wayne Messam — are scheduled to speak for about seven to 10 minutes apiece between 9 a.m. and 4 p.m., along with state and local politicians.

“The vast majority of voters are not set on their choice. It’s a very fluid race that we’ve all witnessed candidates that have won the New Hampshire primary or Iowa caucuses that were at 1 or 2 percent or even lower on Labor Day,” state Democratic Party Chairman Raymond Buckley said in a conference call with reporters previewing the event.

Though the field appears to be coalescing around former Vice President Joe Biden and U.S. Sens. Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren as the top three, “I don’t think anyone should be counted out yet,” Buckley said. “It’s far from over. There’s a lot of candidates that have a lot to say, and a lot of campaigns are building infrastructure that I think will be quite successful in the future.”

University of New Hampshire political science professor Dante Scala said people expect candidates such as U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris and South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg to remain in contention along with the perceived top three.

But for the majority of the remaining candidates, “they’re trying to make a case for their relevance and that’s going to become increasingly important as we get near the end of the calendar year. ‘Why am I even a plausibly viable choice?’ That’s a question a lot of them have yet to answer,” Scala said.

Candidates started making swings through the state Thursday in advance of the convention. During events in Laconia and New Castle on Friday, Biden pushed for the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act, saying there was a “cultural problem” with domestic violence in the country.

“No means no means no, no matter when no is uttered,” Biden said in Laconia. “You have no right to take sexual advances with a woman unless she affirmatively says yes.”

As Harold Schaitberger, general president of the International Association of Fire Fighters that endorsed Biden, welcomed the former Vice President to New Castle Friday, Buttigieg’s team was in the process of opening 12 campaign offices around the state. U.S. Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey announced 27 new endorsements – making him the leader among candidates in the state with 80 key supporters, according to his campaign.

“I think in terms of anyone’s game, I think Joe Biden, Senator Warren and Senator Sanders, they’re at the top. I think there’s room for maybe two others,” said former New Hampshire Gov. John Lynch, a Biden supporter who introduced him in Laconia Friday.

Lynch told the Herald the race isn’t locked up yet, but “somebody needs to emerge as the No. 4 and if they emerge as the No. 4, they’ll continue. If they’re not in the top four or top five, I think they end up dropping out.”

The state Democratic convention is “kind of like a job interview with all the delegates,” Lynch said.

Democratic Manchester Mayor Joyce Craig, chairwoman of the convention, said, “As candidates descend on Manchester’s SNHU Arena, I encourage them to show they’ve listened to the concerns of New Hampshire residents, and clearly convey their vision for our country.”

“We’re still a few months away from the New Hampshire Primary, and at this point, there’s still plenty of voters who haven’t made up their mind. New Hampshire may be a small state, but we take our First In the Nation status seriously,” Craig told the Herald. “We have no issue being vocal about the priorities we’d like addressed — from climate change to education funding to healthcare.”

As Democrats work to rally their base inside the arena, the New Hampshire Republican Party is running billboards outside, mocking some of the presidential front-runners by putting red clown noses on images of their faces and extolling President Trump’s accomplishments.