Last Democratic presidential primary, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders won New Hampshire decisively, getting 60 percent of the vote and galvanizing his supporters across the country. But this year, many Sanders supporters say they see another progressive option in Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren. Recent polls show the two candidates are largely drawing from the same pool of voters for their support.
As Primary Day draws closer, how are those voters navigating that choice?
If you go to a rally for Sanders, you meet a lot of people like Fred Lapitino. Standing by his teenage son - also a Sanders supporter - Lapitino shows off a T-shirt he made with a photo of him and Sanders campaigning in 2015. It reads “Bernie and Me.” Lapitino says no other candidate has Sanders’ level of consistency.
“His policies have been the same for what some 40 odd years or so, and that’s why I’ve always supported him and always will, because he’s authentic. He’s the original,” he said. “Nothing against some of the other candidates but they’re all riding on his coattails in my opinion.”
You’ll hear this a lot from Sanders supporters in New Hampshire: A sense that he paved the way for this year’s candidates and for once-taboo issues to enter mainstream political debates.
Another voter at this event, Chris Brickley, credited this shift for some of Warren’s popularity.
“I love Warren,” he said. “But she’s just not Bernie Sanders. She’s a tweak-around-the-edges candidate; she’s not a transformative candidate. Bernie Sanders is going to change things.”
Both Sanders and Warren have built their campaigns on a promise of big change. At a Sanders rally in Keene, Heather Stockwell said that change has already been personal with Sanders.
“Before [Bernie’s campaign in] 2016, I had been a bumpersticker yard sign activist,” she said. “I didn’t ever knock on anybody’s door or make a phone call for a candidate, nor did I ever donate money before 2016.”
Now Stockwell works for a local progressive organization and engages every day in local politics.
“I’ve seen that with a lot of people and that’s part of why I see Bernie being so strong,” she said. “He has this whole movement of people behind him that want to help with this work of making change.”
Sanders’ pitch for change is rooted in a critique of capitalism. Warren identifies as a capitalist, thought she says the way it works in America needs a major overhaul. But the two share many policies, including Medicare-for-all, cancelling student debt, and reaching 100 percent renewable energy in less than 15 years. And for many New Hampshire voters, Warren is the candidate most likely to make this happen.
Standing with over a thousand people at the Dartmouth ampitheater, Cindy Pierce watches Warren field questions from the audience.
“She has incredible energy, and I think that’s key,” Pierce said.
Pierce is leaning towards voting for Warren even though she voted for Sanders in 2016.
“I really love Sanders,” she said. “He’s still my guy, but he’s not the guy I’m going to vote for for president.”
Pierce worries about Sanders’ age but mostly about his appeal to moderate voters.
“I know so many people who are pretty reasonable who can’t get on board with him so I don’t have faith that he can take Trump on," she says.
Those deciding between Warren and Sanders have had plenty of time to size them up. They’re both from neighboring states and have made frequent stops across New Hampshire for much of the past year. They have dozens of staffers on the ground here, and they both are courting voters in college towns like Hanover, Keene and Durham.
In Durham, Wayne Burton introduces himself as a former Sanders’ steering committee member who is now endorsing Warren.
"Bernie's time has come and gone; Warren's time has come and it is now," he said. “I think she’s more electable. And quite honestly, it’s time for a woman to be president of the United States.”
Ron Abramson, who was a delegate for Sanders in 2016, is also supporting Warren this time.
“I don’t think these issues belong to anyone,” Abramson said. “If someone identifies another person’s work and builds on it to provide a more effective, a more modern, a more realistic solution, we should praise that.”
Abramson’s 23-year old daughter recently decided to support Sanders. Abramson suspects his family’s differences reflect a deeper generational divide.
“I guess somewhere in life some of us get to a point where we think: ‘You’re not going to tear down a system and rebuild it overnight. The big changes start from within,' " he said.
The presidential primary is still over three months away and, according to a recent UNH poll, most voters haven’t decided yet whom to support. Lisa Demaine is one of those. She’s watching this process unfold among her friends, mostly progressives in their 20’s and 30’s.
“The ones who are decided are decided on Bernie. And the ones who are undecided are undecided between Warren and Sanders,” she said.
Demaine has signed up to volunteer for both the Warren and Sanders campaigns. She said Sanders’ calls for a political revolution resonate with her, but she still wants to give Warren more time.
She said at the end of the day, the decision may come down to a simple question: “How do I feel when I listen to this person talk?”