On the trail: Biden comes to kiss and make up with N.H. Democrats

Biden at his campaign office in Manchester, N.H.

Biden at his campaign office in Manchester, N.H. Evan Vucci—Associated Press

By PAUL STEINHAUSER

Monitor columnist

Published: 03-12-2024 5:19 PM

Steve Shurtleff said he forgives President Joe Biden, but he won’t forget.

“I forgive, but I haven’t forgotten how New Hampshire was treated,” the longtime Democratic state representative from Concord and former state House speaker told the Monitor hours before the president returned to the Granite State for the first time in nearly two years.

Shurtleff, a strong supporter dating back to Biden’s first White House run in 1988, broke with the president last year over the move by the Democratic National Committee to bump New Hampshire from its traditional role as the first-in-the-nation presidential primary state, following Biden’s lead.

New Hampshire adhered to a state law that mandates its presidential primary be held seven days before a similar contest, which meant the Jan. 23 nominating contest was unsanctioned on the Democratic side.

Biden kept his name off the ballot and steered clear of the state, but thanks to a well-organized write-in effort by New Hampshire’s Democratic establishment leaders, the president easily won the primary over his long-shot challengers.

Shurtleff endorsed and campaigned on behalf of one of those challengers, Rep. Dean Phillips of Minnesota, who last week ended his unsuccessful presidential nomination bid and backed Biden.

Now, with New Hampshire’s primary fading into the rear-view mirror and the general election rematch between Biden and former President Donald Trump heating up, Shurtleff is leaning toward backing Biden again.

“We’ve got to move on, and we’ve got an election coming up, and I’m concerned about the Trump candidacy, so I’ll most likely be voting for Joe Biden,” he said. “In a comparison between Joe Biden and Donald Trump, it scares me to think what would happen to our country under another Trump presidency.”

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Party unity was on display as Biden landed at the airport in Manchester on Tuesday afternoon. Top Democrats including U.S. Sen. Maggie Hassan and U.S. Rep. Chris Pappas were there to greet the president. Hassan later spoke ahead of the president at his official policy event at the YMCA in Goffstown.

U.S. Rep. Annie Kuster, state Senate Democratic leader Donna Soucy, and longtime state Democratic Party chair Ray Buckley were among a couple dozen top Granite State Democrats on hand as Biden stopped at his New Hampshire campaign field office in Manchester before heading back to the nation’s capital.

Besides being the state that for a century has held the first presidential primary, New Hampshire for a couple of decades has also been one of around a dozen competitive states in general elections. And with polls indicating Biden holding on to a single-digit lead in New Hampshire, schedulers added a stop in New Hampshire to the president’s itinerary as he tours a handful of swing states following last week’s State of the Union address.

Biden didn’t mention the Democratic primary controversy during his official stop in Goffstown, but did at the campaign field office.

“It stunned me, the write-in campaign you all did,” Biden told supporters according to a pool report. “I was stunned and I was really pleased.

“I was very careful not to be here,” he added, drawing laughter.

The president emphasized how, as a swing state, New Hampshire will play an important role in his re-election bid. Biden said he also expects that New Hampshire’s delegates to this summer’s national convention in Chicago will be seated. A loss of delegates is one of the penalties New Hampshire Democrats are facing for holding a primary that was out of compliance with the DNC’s nominating calendar.

The campaign field office stop appeared to be part of the president’s political mission of patching up hard feelings from the primary season.

Kathy Sullivan is a former longtime New Hampshire Democratic Party chair and former DNC committee member from the Granite State who steered a super PAC that supported the Biden write-in effort.

“It was pretty apparent in the primary results that the combination of support for President Biden’s policies and accomplishments combined with the need to defeat Donald Trump and his authoritarian leanings were enough to have Democrats come out and vote for Joe Biden in the primaries,” she said ahead of the president’s visit. “I think it will be even better in November.”

Trump narrowly lost New Hampshire’s four electoral votes to Hillary Clinton in the 2016 general election, but in 2020, it wasn’t as close, as Biden carried the state by over seven points over Trump.

While Biden stayed away from New Hampshire the past couple of years, Trump made regular visits, which culminated in his 11-point GOP presidential primary victory in the state in January.

A progressive activist in New Hampshire, who asked to remain anonymous to speak more freely, argued that Biden “is the weakest candidate” and predicted that Trump would make the state extremely competitive in November.

Others disagreed.

“I think the base is with [Biden],” said Mo Baxley, another progressive activist who is a former New Hampshire Democratic Party vice-chair and supported Sen. Bernie Sanders’ two presidential campaigns in the state. “People aren’t going to not vote for the president because of the [primary controversy]. Our base is a little smarter than that. The stakes are just too high.”