At Democrats' Post-Primary Unity Breakfast, Party Leaders Caution Against Complacency

Sep 15, 2016

Two days after the state primary, with an eye toward the general election, State Sen. Jeff Woodburn had one message for the crowd of Democrats who packed into the Puritan Backroom for the party’s unity breakfast on Thursday morning.

"We’re not running against the Republicans," Woodburn told his fellow Democrats. "We’re running against complacency."

And to double down on that very point, Woodburn, who represents the North Country, turned to a cautionary tale — one that had nothing to do with politics.

"It reminds me, I was in a pie-eating contest. And they had this thin girl, about half my weight, probably a third of my weight. And I thought, I’m going to win. Look at the size of me! And everyone else did," Woodburn recalled.

"Well, the food started, and it was going everywhere — and before I know it, she won. The hands went up. They took her away, in cheers. And I turned, in disgust and defeat. And a little kid said to his mother, 'I can’t believe the fat guy lost!' "

The lesson, in Woodburn's view? "Don’t underestimate the strength of those Republicans!"

But Woodburn was hardly the only one at the party’s unity breakfast hammering home the idea that the Democrats have their work cut out for them in the final two months before the general election.

"Elections in New Hampshire are close," said Mike Vlacich, the state director for Hillary Clinton’s campaign in New Hampshire. "This race will be no different. We need to work harder than ever before."

Beyond his role in this year's presidential race, Vlacich is someone who knows firsthand just how close New Hampshire elections can be — in 2014, he managed Sen. Jeanne Shaheen’s reelection bid, edging out a narrow victory against Republican Scott Brown by just a few percentage points.

“We will not quit, but we are asking you to dig down deeper. Prepare for a fight," Vlacich said. "We know how to do this, but we also know it takes a lot of work.”

For months, together with the Clinton team, New Hampshire Democrats have been building a coordinated grassroots campaign across the state — called “New Hampshire Together” — that’s focused on races up and down the ballot, from the presidency to state-level candidates.

The party says it’s opened 25 field offices in cities and towns across the state, recently expanding into Peterborough, Epping, Rochester, Fremont and Newmarket.

Other speakers at the Democrats’ breakfast made quite a few jabs at the Republican candidates also on the ballot this year. But Steve Marchand, who just lost his bid for governor to Colin Van Ostern, tried to make the case that the party shouldn’t just fall back on attacks between now and November.

“We have to talk less about what we’re not, and about what we’re against. We need to focus on what we’re for. That’s what people want," Marchand said. "We’re in a culture of cynicism."

Instead, Marchand wanted his fellow Democrats to be, in his words, “happy warriors.”

“It’s OK once in a while to talk about Donald Trump — you’ve got to do a little comparison, you know," Marchand advised. "But generally speaking, focus on aspiration.”

Both parties have 53 days – and counting – to keep refining that message before voters head to the polls.