MANCHESTER, N.H. — Pete Buttigieg kicked off his final campaign rally ahead of the New Hampshire primary by attacking President Donald Trump, but it did not take long before he brought up Sen. Bernie Sanders, the lone Democrat leading him in the polls here.
“The idea that you either have to be for the revolution or the status quo” is dividing the Democratic Party, Buttigieg, the former mayor of South Bend, Ind., said Monday night in a speech in Exeter, N.H. on the eve of the primary. Democrats should nominate a candidate who makes “promises we can keep,” he added, in a more explicit push, in case anyone did not get the message.
Hours earlier, Sanders had given Buttigieg similar treatment, though he threw in former Vice President Joe Biden for good measure.
“My friend Mr. Buttigieg and my friend Mr. Biden, they have dozens and dozens of billionaires” funding their campaigns, Sanders told supporters at a campaign stop in Nashua. “We don’t have any.”
As polls opened Tuesday, the primary race in New Hampshire appeared headed towards a two-way finish between Sanders and Buttigieg– the top two vote getters in the Iowa caucuses last week.
Sanders entered Tuesday polling first in New Hampshire at 28.7 percent, followed by Buttigieg at 21.3, according to RealClear Politics. Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota was polling in third place at 11.7 percent. Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and Biden were tied for fourth with 11 percent.
The polls appear to reflect a shift in momentum in the primary race following the Iowa caucuses. The results in Iowa remain contested after the initial vote totals were riddled with reporting errors. On Monday, the Sanders and Buttigieg campaigns asked for a partial recanvass. This follows a call for a recanvass in Iowa by the DNC following the caucuses.
Despite the controversy, Buttigieg and Sanders emerged as potential frontrunners heading into New Hampshire — and several voters in the Granite State said in interviews that the Iowa results helped sway their minds in the final days before the primary.
Eileen Coute, 49, a stay-at-home mom who attended Buttigieg’s rally Monday, said she had been considering Biden earlier in the cycle, but was turned off by his lackluster performances at debates and disappointing fourth-place finish in Iowa.
Now, Coute is planning to vote for Buttigieg, who is 38 and would be the youngest president in U.S. history, as well as the first openly gay occupant of the Oval Office.
“To be honest, I haven’t been this excited since Obama,” Coute said. “They’re very different people, but Buttigieg has the same sort of positivity, and he gives me hope.”
Buttigieg is facing greater expectations in New Hampshire after his stronger-than-expected finish in Iowa. A win Tuesday would be a major upset, but even a strong second-place showing would cement Buttigieg as a serious rival to Sanders and Biden, who remains at, or near, the top of most national polls.
At the Democratic debate Friday, Biden acknowledged that he performed poorly in Iowa and predicted he would also “take a hit” in New Hampshire. The Biden campaign is counting on a resurgence in Nevada and South Carolina, diverse states where he has maintained a lead on his rivals.
The recent surge by Buttigieg has placed extra pressure on Sanders to hold onto a state he won by more than 22 points in the 2016 Democratic primaries. But that was a two-way race between Sanders and Hillary Clinton, and this time around, Sanders has had to contend with a larger field that includes Warren, another progressive Democrat from a neighboring New England state.
Warren briefly led in New Hampshire — and Iowa — last fall, but has steadily dropped in the polls since then and now faces the possibility of another distant third or even fourth-place finish.
Warren stuck to her core anti-corruption message as she crisscrossed New Hampshire over the weekend making a final pitch to voters ahead of the primary. “I get it: big structural change is hard. But it is the right thing to do,” Warren said Monday night at a town hall event.
Supporters said they believed Warren still had a shot to win the nomination if she could hang on through Nevada and South Carolina and make it to Super Tuesday on March 3, when more than a dozen states hold primaries.
“She has enough money. She has a lot of volunteers. I think she’d go on to Super Tuesday. I hope so,” said Maryellen Hurley, 73, a retired social worker.
The event, at a church in Portsmouth, drew roughly 785 people, according to the Warren campaign. It was a big turnout for the Massachusetts Democrat but still paled in comparison to a competing rally Sanders held the same evening at an arena in Durham, a town just 25 minutes away.
Sanders’ rally, which included remarks by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and a performance by The Strokes, drew more than 7,500 people, his campaign said. Buttigieg is the only Democrat who has drawn comparable crowds in the final days before the primary.
Yet, for all the excitement surrounding the Democratic candidates, Trump arguably held the highest-profile campaign rally Monday in New Hampshire. In a speech to a capacity crowd at an arena in downtown Manchester, Trump assailed the Democratic primary field and touted the Senate’s acquittal vote in his impeachment trial. Trump, who is a master counter-programmer, also held a campaign rally in Iowa a few days before the caucuses.
The president’s appearance created a sharp political divide, as supporters in Trump apparel descended on the state’s biggest city on one of the biggest nights of the Democratic primary calendar. Trump’s presence was also a reminder that, even as Democratic voters start winnowing down the field, they remain deeply divided about which candidate has the best chance to win the 2020 general election.
Karen Brandano, an occupational therapist who went to see Sanders speak in Nashua, said she was deciding between him and Buttigieg. But she said both candidates could face problems against Trump.
“I think Sanders is too progressive for a lot of people. With Pete, I think because he’s so new,” some voters may think he doesn’t have enough experience, Brandano said.
Others said they hoped the field would shrink soon, so Democrats could get behind one candidate.
“As a party we really need to select that one person who can beat Trump,” said Coute, the Buttigieg supporter. “It does concern me that there are still so many candidates in the running.”