The view from the center: undeclared voters in New Hampshire clamor for compromise

An audience of approximately 1,500 undeclared voters during a panel at the No Labels Problem Solver Convention, Manchester, New Hampshire. Nov. 3, 2019. Photo by Sofie Isenberg/ BU News Service

By Sofie Isenberg
BU News Service

BOSTON — The words “trust” and “respect” finally had their day in the sun on Sunday, as the bipartisan group No Labels held its Problem Solver Convention in Manchester, New Hampshire. The 1,500 or so undeclared voters in attendance hailed from varying backgrounds and political camps, but all were united in exhaustion from all the yelling and gridlock in Washington. 

No Labels argued undeclared and centrist voters form a majority of the electorate are being overshadowed by the loud extremes on the left and right. The organization said it conducted a representative statewide poll in New Hampshire last month that revealed that 53% of likely primary voters were currently “undeclared.” 

The Problem Solver Convention was aimed at giving these voters a greater voice and encouraging them to mobilize. 

A straw poll held at the event revealed a very different picture of the democratic favorites in the run for the presidency: Mayor Pete Buttigieg came out in first place with 18.5% of the vote, followed by Tulsi Gabbard at 17.5% and John Delaney at 14.2%. 

By comparison, Vice President Joe Biden, Senator Elizabeth Warren and Senator Bernie Sanders received 6.9%, 5%, and 3.6% of the vote respectively. 

During the convention, a sea of yellow pom poms appeared every time a speaker made a statement that resonated with the audience, particularly words in praise of compromise and cooperation.

“The American mind at its best is both liberal and conservative,” Presidential hopeful Marianne Williamson (D-CA) said at the event, quoting President Dwight D. Eisenhower in her speech. Other presidential candidates at the convention included Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI), John Delaney (D-MD) and former governor of Massachusetts Bill Weld (R-MA). 

Bragging rights for candidates focused largely on dedication to building social cohesion and working across the aisle to get things done. 

Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard cited sending a box of her mother’s macadamia nut toffee to each member of Congress, Democrat and Republican, in order to form working relationships and get legislation passed in her first year in office. 

Bill Weld touted the weekly coffee and cookie meetings he held with high-ranking Democrats during his time as governor as key to his administration’s success. 

“If you know you’re going to be having a meeting like that with someone in the next seven days, it makes it tougher for you to stab them in the back on some legislative agreement or go to the press and say ‘this guy’s a real jerk,’” Weld said.

The convention also featured a panel with eight members of the Problem Solvers Caucus, a group of 48 members of the House of Representatives, split evenly between Democrats and Republicans, that work together on passing bipartisan legislation. The members of the panel emphasized the friendships they had built as key to getting legislation passed.

“I think we have a real challenge in this country in that we’ve stopped valuing disagreement,” said Rep. Xochitl Torres Small (D-NM) during the panel. 

“It’s okay to attack ideas and disagree with ideas, but we don’t need to attack a person’s character and what we assume their motive to be,” said Rep. Steve Watkins (R-KS), who is married to a Democrat. “That being said, when I take Fong [his wife] to dinner with say Donald Trump, sometimes it is a quiet car ride home.”

But it was Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick (R-PA), who best summed up the mood of the convention.

“The biggest threat we face in this country is the way we talk to each other,” he argued. “That’s everywhere from the kitchen table to the White House and everywhere in between.”

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