In rural N.H., Democratic voters wonder about Bernie Sanders’ electability

NEW BOSTON, N.H. — Richard Floreani was still undecided when he showed up at the polls on Tuesday afternoon. 

Before the 80-year-old retired airline pilot and Navy veteran cast his ballot at the town’s local elementary school, he didn’t know whether he was going to vote for Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, former South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg or Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders. 

At first, Floreani wanted to vote with his “heart” and support either Sanders or Warren — the more progressive candidates in the race.

But after taking stock of the recent impeachment proceedings, and the Senate’s acquittal of President Donald Trump, he decided that he needed to support the candidate he believes is best-equipped to defeat the Republican incumbent in November: Pete Buttigieg. 

“He’s more moderate, he’s more likely to appeal to independents,” Floreani said. 

“It’s more important to get Donald Trump out. Period,” he added. “It’s more important than my personal politics.” 

Sanders secured a narrow victory Tuesday in New Hampshire in the first primary contest of the 2020 election cycle, being declared the winner by NBC News just before 11 p.m. with 26% of the vote. With roughly 90% of the state’s precincts reporting, Buttigieg was in second place with 24% and Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar in third with 20%.

Former Vice President Joe Biden, who has led in national polls, and Sen. Elizabeth Warren from adjacent Massachusetts each appeared to fall short of 10%. And as results came in, Sen. Michael Bennett of Colorado and entrepreneur Andrew Yang each announced that they were suspending their campaigns after barely gaining any traction.

But before the final results were known Tuesday, some Democrats said they were cautious about supporting Sanders.

While many Sanders supporters believe the Vermont senator will be able to energize enough support on the left to best Trump in November, some New Hampshire voters in more conservative districts said they don’t believe the progressive stalwart will be able to galvanize enough moderates to best the incumbent president in November. 

Bridget Lambert, another voter in New Boston, where 53% of the town cast ballots for Trump in 2016, said she would like Sanders to win. But in the end, she also supported Buttigieg because she was concerned about the Vermont senators’ electability. 

Richard Floreani
Richard Floreani said he was undecided between Pete Buttigieg, Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders until just before voting in Tuesday’s primary. He ultimately voted for Buttigieg. Photo by Mike Dougherty/VTDigger

She thinks that Sanders, a progressive who has advocated for policies including a Medicare-for-All health care system, tax hikes on wealthy Americans, and canceling all student debt, is “almost too radical for the rest of the country.”

“I’m thinking that Pete’s more moderate style might be the one that appeals to more people,” Lambert said.

Lori Kyer, 49, of New Boston, said she voted for Warren over Sanders because the Massachusetts senator advocates for progressive policies but also appeals to more centrist voters. She believes Warren’s chances against Trump are better than Sanders’.

“She’s not as far liberal socialist as Bernie, but I do think that we need to head in that direction,” she said.   

“I just don’t think that he can win,” she said of the Vermont senator. “Electability is my main concern.”  

Many Sanders backers are confident the senator would be able deliver a victory over Trump in November because he will be able to inspire massive turnout on the left. 

Cathy Morrissey, speaking outside the polls on Tuesday, said she cast her ballot for Bernie Sanders. Photo by Mike Dougherty/VTDigger

Cathy Morrissey, who voted for Sanders in New Boston and has volunteered in his campaign, believes he has “more than a shot” of beating Trump in November. 

“Bernie’s going to bring out the disenchanted people,” she said. “He’s going to bring out the youth who don’t normally vote, he’s going to bring out the people who fall through the cracks. They got him, trust him.”

A Sanders supporter in the town of Dunbarton named Bruce, who declined to give his last name, said he believes that unseating Trump will be a challenge for any Democratic nominee, because the U.S. economy has thrived during the president’s first term. 

“A lot of people vote with their wallet. If the economy’s good, sometimes it’s an uphill battle for somebody coming in to change who’s in office,” he said. 

Dunbarton, with just under 3,000 residents, leans conservative and voted for Trump by 57% in 2016.

Dave Nault, a local selectman who voted for Trump, said he has continued to support the president because business has been good during his first term. 

Nault works in construction, and said that his industry has seen growth since Trump took office. 

When asked about Sanders, he said he didn’t think the candidate would be able to unseat the president.

“I think he’s too socialist,” he said. “I think if he was more moderate he would have a better chance,” he added. 

Nault said he believed that Buttigieg, as a younger, more centrist candidate, might be able to rally enough Democratic support to best Trump. 

Gwen Rice was another Dunbarton resident who voted for Trump on Tuesday. She said she likes Trump’s approach to “running the country as a CEO of a business” and his policies, including the 2017 tax cuts. 

Lori Kyer of New Boston, speaking with VTDigger’s Xander Landen, said she voted for Elizabeth Warren on Tuesday. Photo by Mike Dougherty/VTDigger

Although she’s a conservative, she admires Sanders for his consistency and the movement he has created.  

“However he believes, he believes it with his whole heart and so do the people that follow him,”  she said. 

“I’m not a liberal but I admire what he’s done and who he’s brought together.”

But she doesn’t see a scenario in which Sanders would be able to defeat the incumbent this year. 

Rice said that as an independent running as a Democrat, Sanders is likely to lose support from members of his own party. And his views are too far to the left to earn the support of Trump voters. 

“He would just not be able to sway that conservative vote,” Rice said.

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Xander Landen

About Xander

Xander Landen is VTDigger's political reporter. He previously worked at the Keene Sentinel covering crime, courts and local government. Xander got his start in public radio, writing and producing stories for NPR affiliates including WBUR in Boston and WNYC in New York. While at WNYC, he contributed to an award-winning investigation of how police departments shield misconduct records from the public. He is a graduate of Tufts University and his work has also appeared in PBS NewsHour and The Christian Science Monitor.

Email: [email protected]

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