Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders scored his second consecutive win in the New Hampshire Democratic presidential primary Tuesday, with 26 percent of the vote. For his supporters, the victory felt both familiar and new.
Inside the athletic complex at Southern New Hampshire University where Sanders held his victory party, the mood was light – even before the results were known. A concession stand sold popcorn and candy. An enormous projection screen played CNN’s live coverage on mute.
Amy Frechette of Manchester grabbed a seat in a section of bleachers. Frechette voted for Sanders four years ago and again on Tuesday.
“I wanted to be here for his victory speech,” she said. “I already told my boss that if he doesn’t win I won’t be coming in tomorrow because I’ll be too devastated.”
But Frechette wasn’t just counting on Sanders winning in New Hampshire. Unlike four years ago, she is also expecting him to win the nomination.
The same was true for Mike Corriveau of Manchester, who sat just few rows away. He voted for Sanders in the last Democratic primary. Then he voted for Donald Trump in the general election. Now, he’s back with Sanders. Corriveau said last time, the Democratic Party wouldn’t let Sanders win the nomination. This time, he thinks he might have a real shot.
“He’s against more of the establishment, that’s the thing,” Corriveau said. “Not business as usual, we’ve got to do something new.”
When Sanders made his victory speech, he also seemed focused on winning a bigger contest. He called his victory in New Hampshire the beginning of the end for Donald Trump.
“The reason that we are going to win is that we are putting together an unprecedented multi-generational, multi-racial political movement, and this is a movement from coast to coast which is demanding that we finally have an economy and a government that works for all of us, not wealthy campaign contributors,” Sanders said.
Sanders made an appeal to party unity in his remarks, saying that no matter who wins the nomination he will support them. But who that nominee will be is still far from decided. And just a few minutes later, Sanders worked in a jab at rival Democrat Pete Buttigieg, who finished just behind him in Tuesday’s election.
“At this point in the campaign, we’re taking on billionaires and we’re taking on candidates funded by billionaires,” Sanders said.
Sanders staked his New Hampshire campaign on his ability to turn out large numbers of young and working class voters. While final votes are still being counted, early returns indicate overall turnout was up from 2016.
The Sanders campaign will no doubt see that as a success of the massive ground-game operation it mounted in the state. It claims it mobilized 25,000 volunteers who knocked on a total of 850,000 doors.
One of those volunteers was Liam Pieri from Melrose, Mass. Walking back to his car after Sanders’ victory speech, his relief was evident.
“It would’ve been devastating if he lost and he didn’t,” Pieri said. “So the point is, he won and I’m just happy to see that. I definitely would be in a completely different mindset otherwise.”
Sanders’ margin of victory this year may have been much smaller than it was last time, when he won 60 percent of the vote against Hillary Clinton. But for his supporters on Tuesday night, the meaning of it was even bigger.