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Socialism or pragmatism? Two visions for Democratic Party compete in New Hampshire primary

Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders at town hall in Hanover, New Hampshire, February 9th 2020.
Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders at town hall in Hanover, New Hampshire, February 9th 2020. © Jessica Le Masurier

In Tuesday’s New Hampshire primary, voters will choose between two visions for the Democratic Party: Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders’ socialist agenda and the more moderate policies of former South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg.

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“Healthcare is a ‘yoo-man’ right, not a privilege,” Bernie Sanders told cheering voters at a town hall in Hanover, New Hampshire in his signature Brooklyn accent, as he laid out his plan for Medicare for all on Sunday. It’s a policy idea that is hugely popular with his supporters. 

Chad Reed, an integrated circuit engineering specialist from Hanover, New Hampshire, February 9th, 2020.
Chad Reed, an integrated circuit engineering specialist from Hanover, New Hampshire, February 9th, 2020. © Jessica Le Masurier

Chad Reed, 56, who lives in Hanover, says Sanders has given him hope. Reed lost his job as an integrated circuit loud engineering specialist when his company moved operations to China and is currently unemployed.

He relies on his wife’s healthcare plan. “If my wife loses her job, I don’t have healthcare anymore. On pre-existings I am done so it’s a slow painful death and I’d prefer not to have that.” 

Greg Gabrellas, a member of 'Doctors for Bernie' from LA at a Sanders' town hall in Hanover, New Hampshire, February 9th 2020.
Greg Gabrellas, a member of 'Doctors for Bernie' from LA at a Sanders' town hall in Hanover, New Hampshire, February 9th 2020. © Jessica Le Masurier

There is even a group called Doctors for Bernie. Greg Gabrellas, 32, a resident physician from LA has come to New Hampshire to canvass for Sanders. "Physicians in this country should support meaningful healthcare reform," he said. "Bernie is the only candidate with a plan to ensure that healthcare is a right, by taking profit out of health insurance. I think the US is ready for that," Gabrellas added.

Sanders has an advantage in this primary. He is from neighbouring Vermont and New England candidates tend to do well in New Hampshire. In the 2016 primary, he got 60 percent of the vote. However, this time around he faces another local challenger with a progressive agenda, Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren, so it might prove hard for him to garner more than 30 percent of the vote. That still puts him in top place.

‘He is really inspiring’

Following the Vermont Senator’s strong showing in the Iowa caucuses, Sanders’ core support has proven very durable and his base, unlike that of former Vice President Joe Biden, is energised.

Ramya Chilappa, a pre-med student at Dartmouth College, Hanover, New Hampshire, Feburary 9th, 2020.
Ramya Chilappa, a pre-med student at Dartmouth College, Hanover, New Hampshire, Feburary 9th, 2020. © Jessica Le Masurier

Ramya Chilappa, a pre-med student at Dartmouth College, says a lot of young people on campus are joining Sanders’ campaign. “I think the main thing is that he is really inspiring and has correctly identified the root cause of many of the problems in the United States that stem from systematic economic inequality, which makes it impossible for millions of people to rise from the situation that they’re born into.”

In the corridor outside the Sanders’ rally, Liz Blum, a 77-year-old retired occupational therapist from Vermont who knows the candidate personally and has been fighting for universal healthcare since the 1980s, leads supporters in a rendition of “Step by Step”, a union song from 1960s activist Pete Seeger. 

“Bernie’s always been a Socialist,” said Blum. “Obama did not manage to do what he promised (on healthcare) but Bernie, he can do it,” she said, referring to Barack Obama’s bid to provide universal healthcare.

Liz Blum, activist from Vermont, photographed after attending a Bernie Sanders town hall in Hanover, New Hampshire on February 9th, 2020
Liz Blum, activist from Vermont, photographed after attending a Bernie Sanders town hall in Hanover, New Hampshire on February 9th, 2020 © Jessica Le Masurier

It’s all about healthcare

The Democratic candidates’ position on the hot button issue of healthcare encapsulates their approach to the election. Pete Buttigieg portrays himself as much more pragmatic than Sanders. At a campaign event in Londonderry he explained that he will not offer “Medicare for all”, like his socialist rival, but rather “Medicare for all who want it”. That is an approach that goes down well with independents in New Hampshire such as Erin Drissling, a nurse from Londonderry.

Drissling believes many independents in New Hampshire (who have the right to vote in the Democratic primary because it is open) may do the same because they do not like the idea of being dictated to by the government.

“If you wanna keep your own health insurance, fantastic – do it. If you feel that even Medicare for all becomes the piece that you wanna be on, then switch. But to be turned around and told that you have to go on Medicare for all… I don’t think is the correct way to do things right now. We’re so divided as a country and being told what to do from the right side, and having being told far from the left, the middle lane is what choice is all about.”

Bryan and Tommy Pauli and their children, Emma and Greyson at a Pete Buttigieg rally in Londonderry, New Hampshire, February 9th 2020.
Bryan and Tommy Pauli and their children, Emma and Greyson at a Pete Buttigieg rally in Londonderry, New Hampshire, February 9th 2020. © Jessica Le Masurier

Bryan and Tommy Pauli, a same-sex couple from Londonderry brought their two children, Emma and Greyson, to meet Buttigieg.

If elected, Buttigieg would become the first gay president of the United States. The couple, who both work in accounting, explained that they are stressed about what could happen to their adopted children if Trump is re-elected. 

“At first I wasn’t gonna vote for Pete,” said Bryan, “but then I saw him in Laconia and I was just convinced we need a new face in the White House. Biden, Warren, they can't beat Trump. Pete can cross both aisles. Even Republicans would love him if they got to know him.” 

Matthew Derosiers, 50, is from New Hampshire but until recently he had never taken the time to attend a candidate’s town hall meeting. But the current president’s shenanigans in Washington energised him this time.

“Trump and the stuff that’s happening in Washington pushed me to do it. Serious changes need to be made and Pete is the person that can do it. Pete is a non-Washington person, he’s young, it’s time for change.” Derosiers will vote for Buttigieg on Tuesday because he believes he is the only candidate who can beat Trump.

New to the political scene

But beating Trump is going to be hard. There were more people lining up in the cold and rain ahead of a Trump campaign rally in Manchester on Monday than attending many of the Democratic candidates town hall events.

Trump supporters queue in Manchester, New Hampshire ahead of  a campaign rally, 10th Feburary, 2020.
Trump supporters queue in Manchester, New Hampshire ahead of a campaign rally, 10th Feburary, 2020. © Yona Helaoua

Trump’s approval rating is hovering near an all-time high. In a recent Gallup poll, he registered a 49 percent approval rating.

Pete Buttigieg campaign rally in Londonderry, New Hampshire, February 9th, 2020.
Pete Buttigieg campaign rally in Londonderry, New Hampshire, February 9th, 2020. © Jessica Le Masurier

Buttigieg told voters at his rally that his moderate path was the best way forward for the Democratic Party. “I respect Senator Sanders and I think a lot of the ideas that he’s calling for tie into values that we all share,” he said. “But in a moment like this, telling Americans that you’ve either got to be for a revolution or you got to be for the status quo is telling most of us we don’t belong.”

Buttigieg argues that socialism will alienate a lot of voters. In his campaign speeches he often refers to the “future former Republicans” who he says should join his movement. Some voters even compare Buttigieg, who at 38 is the youngest candidate in the race, to France’s Emmanuel Macron, a centrist who appeals to both sides of the political spectrum. 

"This is someone that's completely new to the political scene," said Dorian Key, a volunteer who came up from New York City to canvass for Buttigieg’s campaign. "He's someone that hasn't had decades of Washington back-rubbing so that's a really great thing, similar to President Emmanuel Macron of France who became president aged 40, Justin Trudeau, also similarly young and we have the new prime ministers of Finland and New Zealand, who are in their 30s."

Dean Brown, a retired political science professor in Hanover, New Hampshire, February 9th, 2020.
Dean Brown, a retired political science professor in Hanover, New Hampshire, February 9th, 2020. © Jessica Le Masurier

Dean Brown, 75, a retired political science professor who used to teach at the University of Maryland and now lives in West Lebanon, New Hampshire, is convinced Trump will win the election.

"The American people are way behind in education and cultivation and they listen to people who inspire raw emotions with slogans like ‘Make America great again' and they think oh I don’t need to go to the doctor after all," said Brown.

There is a saying that Democrats fall in love and Republicans fall in line. Both Buttigieg and Sanders are managing to make voters fall in love with them. However, they need Democrats to make a choice about which vision to support in order to have a real shot at beating Trump in November. 
 

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