Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations
Join as a sustainer and help unlock $10k. Just 44 sustainers to go!
0000017a-15d9-d736-a57f-17ff8d8c0001Click on a photo to find stories by candidate:0000017a-15d9-d736-a57f-17ff8d8c0002More Content:Our Voters Guide provides an overview of all you need to know about the 2016 N.H. Presidential Primary.Click here to explore a calendar of candidate visits and other Primary campaign events.Click here for our Money in Politics stories and data interactives.Visit our Where They Stand series for an overview of the candidates' positions on key policy questions.Visit our series Primary Backstage to learn about the people and places that make the N.H. Primary tick.To see NHPR photos from the campaign trail, visit our Primary 2016 album on Flickr.

What Does Sanders' Big New Hampshire Win Mean for the State's Democrats?

Logan Shannon for NHPR
Sanders supporters celebrate his N.H. Primary landslide at Concord High School

Bernie Sanders’ win in the New Hampshire Primary last week shook up the Democratic presidential race.

But what might that victory mean for state-level Democratic politics in New Hampshire, where Sanders’ unapologetically liberal style stands in stark contrast to the more cautious approach favored by the state’s Democratic leaders?

To understand that question, let’s go back a few days before last week’s Presidential Primary.

That's when Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, the state’s senior Democratic elected official, got heckled in the middle of a speech.

But the booing didn’t come from rowdy Republicans; it came from Bernie Sanders supporters. And Shaheen was speaking at an annual party fundraising dinner named after her.

Credit Allegra Boverman for NHPR
Jeanne Shaheen celebrates her U.S. Senate re-election in 2014

To many Granite State Democrats, Shaheen is their most respected figure, the one who set the state party on its current footing, and so this moment was something of an outrage.

"Jeanne Shaheen made the modern Democratic party," says Judy Reardon, Shaheen’s former chief of staff.

Reardon thinks, to some extent, Sanders’ boosters are taking cues from their candidate.

"I do think when a candidate as Senator Sanders does, describes the political system as corrupt, then you probably say to yourself, I don’t need to show respect to a member of the U.S. Senate, and you act accordingly," she says.

And for Reardon and many long-time New Hampshire Democrats, this is also about perspective. In their telling, Sanders supporters just don’t get what it took to start winning elections in a state dominated by Republicans for more than a century.

When Shaheen was first elected governor, in 1996, it was still rare for Democrats to hold statewide office in New Hampshire. Since then, Democrats have found success by presenting themselves as moderate, bi-partisan consensus-builders; they try not to make too many waves, and they make sure the plows are running when snow storms hit. This model, followed by politicians like Shaheen, John Lynch and Maggie Hassan, has won the party the governor’s corner office for 18 of the last 20 years.

Credit Allegra Boverman for NHPR
Sanders supporters cheering for the Vermont Senator at a campaign event in August

And it’s a model Bernie Sanders, with his dismissal of "same-old establishment politics," explicitly rejected.

And at least as far as the primary is concerned, the Sanders approach worked.

When I spoke to volunteers with the Sanders campaign this primary season, I heard it over and over.

Here’s what Peter Stein of Nashua told me:

"In this particular election, this is the first time I’ve become this energized about a candidate, ever."

In New Hampshire Sanders, brought in voters who aren’t engaged in the political process. And the real question is to what extent these newly-impassioned voters will stay involved – will they vote in off years, will they volunteer for other campaigns, will they run for office themselves—bringing Sanders-style politics to the New Hampshire Democratic Party?

"I think we don’t know that yet, but I certainly think there will be a very vigorous conversation going forward," says State Senator Martha Fuller Clark, one of New Hampshire’s super-delegates to the Democratic convention.

Clark has not declared whom she will support. She says if anything, Sanders style might inspire New Hampshire democrats to be less guarded.

"I would hope that would rub off on all of us who are running for office, that we can be more direct and more clear about what we stand for and be willing to take greater risks," Clark says.

Credit Allegra Boverman for NHPR
Sanders walks through a crowd of supporters at the New Hampshire Statehouse on his primary filing day.

This is no doubt music to the ears of the party’s more liberal members.

Andru Volinsky was the Sanders campaign’s legal counsel in New Hampshire, and he says the lesson of Sanders’ big win is that Granite State Democrats are looking for something new.

"I don’t think anyone has a God-given right to be a politician," Volinsky says.

He thinks his party can get too wrapped up in what the polls and focus-groups say about the issues.

"If you don’t have core values, and you don’t have deeply held beliefs, I think this election tells us you should not be a political leader," he says

But it’s still rather soon to say. After all, success in politics is not just about winning primaries, candidates have to go on to win the general election as well.

Sam Evans-Brown has been working for New Hampshire Public Radio since 2010, when he began as a freelancer. He shifted gears in 2016 and began producing Outside/In, a podcast and radio show about “the natural world and how we use it.” His work has won him several awards, including two regional Edward R. Murrow awards, one national Murrow, and the Overseas Press Club of America's award for best environmental reporting in any medium. He studied Politics and Spanish at Bates College, and before reporting was variously employed as a Spanish teacher, farmer, bicycle mechanic, ski coach, research assistant, a wilderness trip leader and a technical supporter.

You make NHPR possible.

NHPR is nonprofit and independent. We rely on readers like you to support the local, national, and international coverage on this website. Your support makes this news available to everyone.

Give today. A monthly donation of $5 makes a real difference.