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N.H. Voter Voices: At Jefferson-Jackson Dinner, Democrats Unite Amid Tight Primary Race

Natasha Haverty for NHPR
Clinton campaigners handed out enormous glowsticks for her speech that wrapped up the evening

On Sunday, New Hampshire’s Democratic Party hosted its annual Jefferson Jackson dinner. All three Democratic presidential candidates spoke to the sold out crowd in Manchester’s Radisson Ballroom. Hillary Clinton closed out the night. More so than Sanders or O’Malley, her speech called on time spent here in the Granite State. 

“For the family in Keene keeping a one hundred year old business running. The students I met in Exeter who dream of starting their own small businesses some day. I'm running for the veterans I met in Derry who served their country with honor, and courage…” 

NHPR’s Natasha Haverty was there too, and spoke with some of the voters there.

In this room of 1500 people, Pat Pustel stands out. She sits toward the middle, her head high, and a warm smile. She looks pretty fabulous.

"It’s Sunday, and I think we should go back ot the etiquette of dressing up on Sundays, and we’re going to a dinner, and I’m supporting Hillary who is my peer, so I just felt that I should dress up."

Credit Natasha Haverty

  Pustel wears a fur brimmed hat, red lipstick, and a coat embroidered with big red and black roses.

"I don’t know if you saw, it has mother of pearl and flowers on it, it’s my holiday outfit."

Pustel used to be a flight attendant. These days, she’s lead volunteer for the Hillary campaign in her town of West Ossippee.

The Jefferson Jackson dinner is a chance for Democrats like Pustel to come out and share rallying cries. The tradition goes back nearly a hundred years.

Tonight, blue jeans and t-shirts outnumber gowns and suits.

But what Pustel's getting at, dressing to the nines like this, she says, isn’t about money—it’s about honoring a tradition of dignified, civic conversation.

"Appearance—I mean what’s in your heart is very important—but I think if you can attract someone by the way you look, then you can tell them what’s in your heart, or what you’re interested in."

Across the room, Mike DiTomasso seems to have the same idea. He wears a fitted heather gray suit and fedora, with a purple tie and matching pocket handkerchief.

He’s 25, and supports Bernie Sanders.

"He has me not only interested but enthusiastic!"

DiTomasso got his ticket from the Sanders campaign office—they had some extra tickets for volunteers--and he says he’s been making a point of talking to people who support all three candidates tonight. A gathering like this, he says, is his chance to get to know his community of fellow democrats—regardless of who they’re supporting.

"I don’t think really most of the people in this room are going to be swayed today," he says. "I think this sort of event is important because everyone in this room is going to be on this side in six months. So its important that that community be strong that regardless of who ends up on the ticket we all say listen we all want pretty similar things. And the only way to achieve that is through unity."

DiTomasso takes his seat, next to an older guy who tells him he’s not sure who he’s supporting yet. DiTomasso leans in, listening to his neighbor, even as the lights dim and the program gets started.

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