On The Political Front: Sanders Makes Contrast To Clinton Clear In N.H. Visit

May 4, 2015

On The Political Front is our weekly conversation with NHPR's Senior Political Reporter Josh Rogers. This week, a look at the New Hampshire primary and the state budget.

So, it’s official: the Democratic presidential primary will include more than just Hillary Clinton. Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders is in the race, and says he’s in it to win.

Yes, and what else is he going to say, really? And at this point, anything is possible, but the main thing for Democrats right now is that they have a candidate to the left of Hillary Clinton - on economic policy, which is likely to be Sanders’ policy focus, but also on foreign policy. It's not clear yet how farfetched it may seem to expect Sanders, who freely calls himself a socialist, to really challenge Clinton, given the disparity in resources, name recognition, and institutional support, etc. 

Bernie Sanders
Credit Brady Carlson / NHPR

Bernie Sanders is an articulate man who will say what he believes, and a decent slug of core Democratic voters do agree with him. He raised a quick couple of million dollars, which is a good first step towards the 40-50 million dollars he says he would need to run a real primary. And when he campaigned here Saturday, he hit a house party and then straight to an AFL-CIO event, so there’s little left to the imagination about where he’s coming from from the outset—another contrast with Clinton.

But it’s too soon to know whether core Democrats in any numbers are capable of seeing Sanders as plausibly presidential, or whether they view him more as someone who might be capable of occasionally holding Clinton’s feet to the fire from the left. But whatever the case, one Clinton backer I spoke with at a house party her campaign held in Concord told me they expected any Clinton alternative and would start with a quick 30 percent support in the primary. We’ll see.

Now, on the Republican side, lots of eyes on Chris Christie this week. He returns to New Hampshire, with former aids facing charges for closing traffic on George Washington Bridge and the national press, really writing his obituary.

Credit Allegra Boverman for NHPR

Yes. The New York times had a piece yesterday that more or less put a fork in  Christie’s ambitions. It noted that he was banking entirely on New Hampshire, at this point, and featured some tough quotes from Union Leader publisher Joe McQuaid. But you know candidates have come back from the dead in New Hampshire before – think John McCain in 2008. They’ve also banked on New Hampshire out of desperation  and gone nowhere  - think Jon Huntsman.

Speaking of failures, let me ask you about the defeat of gambling in the House last week. It lost by 50 votes. Last year it failed by 1.

  Yes. No one who is being honest will tell me they expected the margin, but this was bad. Governor Hassan pushed house Democrats to back the bill. Most didn’t. And it’s hard at this point not to see this as an issue that may have missed its moment in New Hampshire, if it ever could be said to have one, which doesn’t mean there still aren’t large budget pressures and a fairly widely shared view that the state needs more money to put together the next budget.

Yes, and the Senate budget process is really about to get going. They have a month to get their plan finished?

Credit Allegra Boverman for NHPR

  Yes, and if the Senate is going to make good on its talk – no dedicated fund raids, replenish the rainy day fund, revisit some of the health and human services changes, and roll in business tax cuts - it will probably take a bump to revenue estimates to do all of that. April is a telling month for business taxes. We should have those numbers early this week. But moving forward, one thing to watch is the degree to which Governor Hassan chooses to step out and push for priorities, and the degree to which people pay attention. 

Last week, for instance, the governor toured road projects on the seacoast that will be held up without more transportation spending, two reporters also made the trip. I was one, and I have to say she was pretty blunt. She said the Senate needs to come up with more money for the transportation and said if the Senate didn’t like her suggestions, higher vehicle registration fees, they ought to name their method. The Senate has said they plan to do this budget without new taxes or fees. The next six weeks or so could be interesting.