By Damian Burchardt
Boston University News Service
MANCHESTER, N.H. – Bernie Sanders’ triumph in New Hampshire not only puts him in the driver’s seat in the race for the Democratic nomination but it also may serve as a validation of his worldview in New Hampshire.
After the Vermont senator’s resounding win over Hillary Clinton in the state’s primary four years ago, Democrats in New Hampshire have just said ‘yes’ again.
Is the country ready for a socialist candidate to move into the White House?
“That label doesn’t have any sting anymore,” New Hampshire Rep. Ryan Buchanan, D-Concord, said. “It’s not like this is back in the McCarthy era where you had the Red Scare, and that was a really scary word…I don’t think that it scares people like it used to.”
The race in New Hampshire was tighter than anticipated. Having trailed in pre-primary polls, Pete Buttigieg eventually found himself neck-and-neck with Sanders in the battle for the state’s delegates. The former South Bend, Indiana, mayor eventually lost by a few thousand votes.
But despite a strong push from the moderate left, with Amy Klobuchar surging to a third-place finish, Sanders and his socialistic ideas prevailed.
Perhaps because he was effective in portraying himself as a man of the people.
“I think it comes down to his general character, his ideals,” said Garret Gagnon, who voted for Sanders. “The platform he’s running on is something that a lot of people in New Hampshire really respect and would turn out to vote for.”
“He wants to help the little people, people that Trump probably would overlook,” added Bruce McDonald, who also picked Sanders on the ballot.
Those claims were echoed by Congressman Ro Khanna, D-Calif., who turned up at SNHU Fieldhouse in a show of support for Sanders.
“He’s taking on big-money politics, standing up for working families,” he said. “He’s for Medicare for All and health care as a human right. He is for fulfilling FDR’s vision of the New Deal. That’s what this country wants,” Khanna said.
Some New Hampshire voters may be attracted to the idea of fighting an anti-establishment president with an anti-establishment opponent.
“I think a lot of what he’s addressing – and what he stands for – kind of contradicts the ideas that Trump has,” said Santino Williams, who voted for Tulsi Gabbard. “So, a lot of people who don’t agree with what Trump is saying are more likely to gravitate toward Bernie Sanders.”
“They [New Hampshire voters] like that he doesn’t follow the trend,” adds Laura Raymond, an Elizabeth Warren supporter. “He kind of does his own thing and new thing so I think that gains him a lot of popularity here.”
But despite his crucial win in New Hampshire, Sanders still has a long way to go before he can even think of moving across the National Mall.
“It’s a real question about whether Bernie is the right person, even in New Hampshire,” said Tom Fiedler, former dean of Boston University’s College of Communication and media relations coordinator for Sen. Cory Booker, D-NJ, who ended his presidential bid in January.
Fiedler says there is a chance Sanders might struggle to attract voters from candidates that drop out later in the primaries, especially the more moderate ones. And he thinks that the Vermont senator’s views might turn out to be ineffective against Trump, who has been speaking suspiciously favorably of the Democrat in recent weeks, come November’s general election.
“Immediately, all you’ll hear from Donald Trump and his supporters is that Bernie Sanders is a socialist,” he said, “that Bernie Sanders and his wife spent their honeymoon in Moscow.”
“The toughest candidates for Donald Trump are going to be candidates who are much more, in my view, closer to the middle of the row,” Fiedler said. “That’s where voters are, that’s where Democrats are, that’s where independents are.”
In his victory speech on Tuesday night, however, Sanders vowed to end Trump’s reign.
“Let me say tonight, that this victory here is the beginning of the end for Donald Trump,” he said.“We’re going to win because we have the agenda that speaks to the needs of working people through this country.”
But a number of New Hampshire residents think the Democrat needs to adjust his message if they were to buy into his idea of a socialist America.
“Bernie is a little more divisive than some other democratic candidates in terms of just the extremeness of his policies,” Raymond said. “I don’t disagree with a lot of what he says. But I have a lot of friends who think he goes a little too far and who, you know, will see that. And if he is the only nominee… then I might just go for Trump, honestly.”