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With Candidates Elsewhere, Primary Politics On Display At Annual Labor Breakfast

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Casey McDermott, NHPR
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For Democrats looking to court grassroots progressive supporters in New Hampshire, few speaking slots are as coveted as the New Hampshire AFL-CIO’s annual Labor Day breakfast.

Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders has been a regular at the breakfast in recent years — even before he launched his first run for president — and his support among the local labor community helped drive his decisive victory in the 2016 New Hampshire presidential primary.

But with such a crowded field of Democrats competing in the 2020 presidential race, AFL-CIO organizers opted against inviting Sanders, or any other candidates, to speak at this year’s breakfast in Manchester.

“It became inherently unfair to invite one or two speakers and not everybody,” New Hampshire AFL-CIO President Glenn Brackett told NHPR as the event wrapped up Monday morning. “And what would have happened is that if we invited everybody, it wouldn’t have been a Labor Day breakfast; it would have been a presidential forum.”

But that didn't mean presidential politicking stopped at the door. Several presidential campaigns sent teams of supporters to wave signs outside the venue, pass out campaign merchandise and mingle with the many Democratic activists in attendance.

"This morning I’ve literally had 13 or 14 different staffers walk up to me with different issues about their candidates,” Brackett said. “I mean, sometimes I can't even tell them apart, there's so many of them.”

While Sanders didn’t make an appearance at the labor breakfast, he did campaign elsewhere in New Hampshire on Monday — marching in the Milford Labor Day parade before hosting town halls in Peterborough and Claremont. The only other major candidate in the state was Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, who hosted a house party in Hampton Falls.

Several political spouses also acted as campaign surrogates: Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar’s husband John Bessler and South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg’s husband, Chasten, both spent Labor Day in New Hampshire and even crossed paths at the Milford Labor Day parade.

Klobuchar and Buttigieg, meanwhile, spent Labor Day weekend campaigning in Iowa along with some of their fellow candidates. But the field will converge back on Granite State next weekend for the New Hampshire Democratic Party’s convention — where, party officials say, all candidates have been afforded a speaking slot.

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Casey McDermott is an editor and reporter at New Hampshire Public Radio, where she works with colleagues across the newsroom to deepen the station’s accountability coverage, data journalism and audience engagement across platforms.

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