What do you think? Leave a respectful comment.

In New Hampshire, Democratic voters confront ideological ‘identity crisis’

Voting is underway in New Hampshire in the first primary of this election year. After confusing Iowa caucus results, many hope New Hampshire will clarify a crowded Democratic race. Judy Woodruff reports from Manchester and talks to WGBH’s Adam Reilly about a potential party “identity crisis” over ideology, which candidates are expected to do well and who might be expecting disappointing news.

Read the Full Transcript

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Voting is still under way in New Hampshire tonight in the first primary of this presidential election year.

    After the chaotic finish to the Iowa caucuses, New Hampshire results could begin to clear some confusion in the Democratic race.

    Judy Woodruff begins our coverage, reporting from New Hampshire.

  • Man:

    Five, four, three, two, one. Polls are open.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Voting kicked off at the stroke of midnight in places like Dixville Notch, population five. The first votes went to a candidate not even on the state's ballot, former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

  • Man:

    And now on the Democrats' side, there was one vote for Buttigieg, and one vote for Sanders, and two write-in votes for Mike Bloomberg.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    But it's Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, followed by former South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg, who are expected to be the top finishers among this unusually large field of Democrats.

    Voters, more than half of whom were undecided as of a few days ago, lined up before the sun rose over the Granite State.

  • Chris Stevens:

    People are really invested and interested, and they try to learn what the candidates — their specific candidate stands for.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    The candidates themselves descended on diners and polling places on this, their final drizzly morning in New Hampshire, for last minute hand-shaking.

    Buttigieg yesterday joined moderates in the party in targeting Sanders, who won here in 2016 by 22 points, for being too liberal.

  • Pete Buttigieg:

    We have to choose a responsible approach that can actually get big things done and answer the question of how we're going to get from point A to point B.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Sanders boasts an energetic base of believers in his progressive message.

    And when I ran into him this morning at a diner, he pushed back on the chorus of criticism from his opponents.

  • Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt.:

    The people of this country finally want a government that represents all of us, not just the 1 percent. It's going to be grassroots support that is going to win it for us. Working people are going to win it for us. Young people are going to win it for us. We're feeling really good.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    For the many undecided, like Karen Bugler, the time had finally come to make a choice.

  • Karen Bugler:

    It was a tough one. It was very, very tough. I had been a Biden person forever, made the decision to vote for Bernie.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Ariana Harris planned to celebrate her 18th birthday by voting for the first time. Buttigieg was at the top of her list.

  • Ariana Harris:

    I feel like he's one of the politicians that says things and means it. He is not just saying it just to get votes. He has a little more knowledge of, like, you know, people like me being on the younger sides, instead of other presidents who have been older.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Other candidates want strong showings in New Hampshire to stay in the mix.

    Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren vowed to keep fighting, even as her polling numbers declined in the run-up to primary day.

  • Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass.:

    I have got the best chance of beating Donald Trump, because I'm going to bring this party together.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And former Vice President Joe Biden, whose supporters fear he will show poorly, shocked Democrats here by leaving for South Carolina, a move to shift his campaign to friendlier terrain.

  • Former Vice President Joseph Biden:

    The rest of the nation is out there. There's an awful lot of electoral votes to be had.

  • Reporter:

    Does it seem like you are giving up on New Hampshire?

  • Former Vice President Joseph Biden:

    I'm not giving up on New Hampshire, and don't poke that in my face.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Meanwhile, Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar has been gaining traction, following her strong debate performance here last week and Biden's weak finish in Iowa.

  • Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn.:

    Something is happening here. And we just want to seize the moment. I actually bring the receipts. I have won in the red and purple districts.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Voter Dave Bugler said Klobuchar had swayed him.

  • Dave Bugler:

    I went for Amy, voted for Amy. I wanted Biden, but I felt the same way, that he was getting, you know, really bullied. So, Amy impressed me the first time she came out.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Other candidates are still hoping for their breakout moment.

  • Colorado Senator Michael Bennet:

  • Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colo.:

    I hope we surprise folks today. We will see what happens.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Billionaire Tom Steyer, Hawaii Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard, former Governor Deval Patrick, and entrepreneur Andrew Yang.

  • Andrew Yang:

    We're going to have a great day, a great night. We're going to have a big party and celebrate an historic outcome.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Many voters tell us they're picking their candidate with a single, urgent question in mind: Who can beat President Trump?

    He was on the ground himself in New Hampshire last night rallying his backers amid the Democratic tangle.

  • President Donald Trump:

    We have so much more enthusiasm than — it's not even close. They're all fighting each other. They don't know what they're doing. They can't even count their votes.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    But votes will be counted in the Granite State, and the results will set the next stage of a primary season that promises to keep going.

    And for more on the candidates' final sprints to win New Hampshire, I am joined here in Manchester by Adam Reilly. He's political reporter for WGBH. It's our partner public media station.

    Adam Reilly, it's great to have you with us.

  • Adam Reilly:

    Thank you for having me, Judy.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So, you have been covering politics in New Hampshire for a while.

    And have spent the last days, actually weeks, out there talking to voters. Tell us what you're feeling, what you're hearing from them in these final days.

  • Adam Reilly:

    I'd say, at the outset, that I think the reports that we have heard of a split in the Democratic Party and among the Democratic base between people who want to tack left and people who want to hew to the center, that's a very real thing.

    I was in Derry today, which is a town that went for Trump in 2016. A lot of Democrats there said that they wanted a more reasonable, moderate approach. They were people who were voting for Buttigieg, Klobuchar, a guy who is voting for Biden, even though he said he wants to vote for Yang, but he thinks Biden is the Democrats' best bet.

    But there are plenty of people, even in a town like that, where Democrats struggled last time around, who sees Sanders as their best hope. So this is not a media narrative that we're imposing on the race. This is a real thing.

    The party is in the midst of an identity crisis.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And this is a community, a town, you were telling me earlier, that went big for Donald Trump.

  • Adam Reilly:

    By a solid margin, yes, more than New Hampshire as a whole. So…

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And still there were Sanders supporters.

  • Adam Reilly:

    Still, there were Sanders supporters.

    One woman I spoke with who is supporting Sanders told me: A decade ago, I couldn't have imagined supporting Bernie Sanders. He's so far left, but Donald Trump's presidency has pushed me further to the left. The country has gone so far to the right that I feel like we need a course correction.

    So…

  • Judy Woodruff:

    The other interesting thing we're seeing is, after Iowa, Joe Biden not doing as well as people thought, people rethinking their vote.

    What are you picking up about that?

  • Adam Reilly:

    Well, I was a little surprised, given the results that we have seen for Biden recently and the conventional wisdom around his campaign, that one gentleman I talked to said he's voted for Republicans, Democrats and independents in the past, that he thought that Biden was still the Democrats' best bet.

    So there is some, I think, kind of residual loyalty there. But, that being said, I think all the signs point to him having a disappointing finish. You mentioned in your piece him getting out of town.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Right.

  • Adam Reilly:

    It's also worth mentioning, another candidate who has not gotten out of town, but is taking steps to preempt negative coverage this evening is Elizabeth Warren.

    Her campaign manager, Roger Lau, sent out a memo to supporters a couple of hours ago saying, whatever happens tonight, here's why we are going to continue organizing in all 50 states. Here's why she, whatever happens tonight, is the candidate best positioned to become the nominee, and why you shouldn't put too much stock in a Buttigieg surge or a Klobuchar surge.

    So, I feel like she's trying to get ahead of things too.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    It's almost as if the other candidates know or expect, they think that Pete Buttigieg, maybe Amy Klobuchar, are going to do well.

  • Adam Reilly:

    Buttigieg and Klobuchar and I think also Sanders.

    I mean, one striking thing which I should highlight is, when you go around and talk to Sanders supporters — I spent the weekend talking with people at Sanders events and Warren events. I wanted to get a sense of how they were choosing between the two.

    And for the die-hard Sanders faithful, it wasn't really a choice at all. It was like, as soon as he was in the race, they were going to be with him. He was their guy. They see him as this rock of ideological purity.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    That's Bernie Sanders loyalty you're talking about.

  • Adam Reilly:

    Yes, yes. They completely love him.

    And then, conversely, Warren supporters, I think also were not overly enticed by Sanders. They see him as maybe a little bit overly rigid. They really like the idea of electing the first female president.

    But they're really two distinct camps, which surprised me. Then the question is, OK, let's say Bernie Sanders becomes the nominee. Will Elizabeth Warren supporters work for him the way they would for their candidate?

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And then hanging over all of this, as we mentioned in our report, this agonizing over the choice because they're worried about Donald Trump.

    This is, after all, a state where Donald Trump won by, what, 10 points.

  • Adam Reilly:

    Or a state that Hillary Clinton won by…

    (CROSSTALK)

  • Judy Woodruff:

    That Hillary — I'm sorry — that Hillary Clinton won in the primary.

  • Adam Reilly:

    But that the president repeatedly says that…

    (CROSSTALK)

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Exactly. Exactly.

  • Adam Reilly:

    Well, that Sanders won, and then President Trump almost won it in the general, and has continued to insist…

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And has continued to come in.

  • Adam Reilly:

    It's a false insistence that voter fraud cost him the election.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    But he had, what — the president had 12,000 fans here last night in Manchester.

  • Adam Reilly:

    Right. Yes, he had 12,000 fans.

    And I saw a lot of Trump supporters turning out at the polls in Derry to make a good showing for him. And the thing that really struck — two things actually struck me about talking with the Trump supporters. Didn't meet any Weld supporters. They were all Trump voters.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Right.

  • Adam Reilly:

    I don't detect a whiff of uncertainty on their part that he will be reelected in November.

    As the Democrats agonize, can we beat him, who's the right person to beat him, the Republicans, I think, are flush with confidence.

    The other thing that I picked up on is, early on in the rise of Trump, there was a lot of hedging from Republicans when you would talk to them about him: Oh, I don't like the way he tweets, but he does this thing well.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Right.

  • Adam Reilly:

    Or, oh, I wish he would be a little nicer to people.

    That has dropped. You still hear it a little bit, but they're pretty much all on board with his way of doing business.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And that's what makes Democrats worried and anxious to make the right decision.

  • Adam Reilly:

    Indeed.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Adam Reilly with WGBH, thank you very much.

  • Adam Reilly:

    Oh, thank you, Judy.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And please join us tonight at 11:00 p.m. Eastern for our special PBS live coverage of the results of the New Hampshire primary.

Listen to this Segment

The Latest