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On the Political Front: Clinton-Sanders Race Remains Tight as Primary Enters New Phase

Kate Brindley for NHPR
While the Clinton campaign has locked many of the state's high-profile Democracts, Sanders is still drawing plenty of enthusiasm

NHPR's Senior Political Reporter Josh Rogers joins Morning Edition most Mondays to talk about the week ahead in Politics. 

So Josh,  with the filing period for presidential candidates now underway and primary day just 90 days off, it’s fair to say these nominating fights have entered a new phase. What are you keeping an eye on?

Mostly two things: The voters, who they are drawn to; and the campaigns, which campaigns are doing the best job targeting, and after that mobilizing the voters they need to do well. The first thing, voter enthusiasm ,is probably easier to gauge, and a prerequisite for success, but both are crucial, obviously.

OK, let’s start with the democrats. Polls suggests Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders remain in a tight contest.

They do. There is no doubt the Sanders campaign is generating plenty of enthusiasm among many Democratic voters. Hillary Clinton is doing OK in that regard, too, and has, as one might expect, locked up much of the state’s higher profile Democrats.

Both campaigns have plenty of staff at this point. Sanders campaign now has fifty paid workers here. Clinton has about the same, but many have been in place longer, and those at the top of the Clinton organization have much longer track records in New Hampshire.

If you talk to voters who tend to vote Democratic, and many will tell you the Clinton campaign has been reaching out to them, methodically, for months. The Clinton campaign says its approach is akin to what the Obama campaign relied on, lots of direct contact, informed by data. If the Sanders folks are there yet isn’t clear, but as backers of the Vermont Senator are wont to argue, they may not need to be given the enthusiasm of their supporters. That Sanders is from a neighboring states may also help him.

Now on the GOP side the field is obviously larger, and the campaigns are seemingly smaller?

If you are talking staffers, offices, etc, yes. The ground operation on the GOP campaigns are less conspicuous – at least right now – than they have been in past cycles. Which I think is interesting, particularly given that you’ve got so many candidates, really banking on a strong showing here. And the candidates I’m talking about, guys like Jeb Bush, John Kasich, Chris Christie, Rand Paul, will pretty much tell you a good showing in New Hampshire  is absolutely necessary. They’ve got three months to make it happen.

It will be a slightly faster timetable at the statehouse when lawmakers gather for the special session called by Governor Hassan and the Executive Council to hash out some policies to fight the states’ Heroin and opoid problems…

Yes, lawmakers will be back a week from Wednesday to hash out rules of the session, which will probably run, intermittently, right through the holidays.

As you know, special sessions are pretty rare. In my time at around the statehouse the only one I can recall was when Governor Lynch brought the legislature back during the trough of the recession to cut some spending. It not yet clear what the session might achieve. Perhaps harsher state penalties when it comes to fentanyl distribution, bringing them into line with those for Heroin is one thing on the agenda.

Another item that will get debated is tighter prescribing guidelines for opiods. You know  the board of medicine last week adopted emergency rules on this front, but rejected some ideas proposed by the Governor.  A third topic up for discussion could involve insurers coverage for people with drug issues. There is language dealing with all of these topics that have been circulating at the state house, some drafted by the Governor’s office, some by Republicans.

This is without a doubt a serious public health issue, but are there not politics swirling here, too?

Of course. The 2016 general election is now less than a year off and it’s true that GOP legislative leaders would have preferred to take these issues up after the new year. The Governor, meanwhile, has shown she can be pretty dogged when she wants to, and by using the Council to call the session as she did, she got what she wanted. The fact that two on the council – Democrat Colin Van Ostern and Republican Chris Sununu -- are running for governor, upped the political ante a touch. The only councilor who didn’t support the session was Republican David Wheeler of Milford. And so Hassan got the session she sought, and all public policy aside, it seems probable  that the drug issue will factor – hard to know exactly how or how much at this point – into Hassan’s challenge to Kelly Ayotte,  who, by the way will be touring a sober community this morning in Nashua.              

Josh Rogers is NHPR’s senior political reporter. He tweets at @joshrogersNHPR.

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