WEST OSSIPEE, N.H. — In the crowd this morning are more beards than on an NHL playoff team, more winter fleece than in a factory outlet, more hiking boots than in an Appalachian Mountain Club high-altitude hut. In this atmosphere — a classic New Hampshire primary audience, not demure but demanding, not casual but committed — suddenly a voice rings out:
Those words go forth at the base of an old ski area, as the wolf-winds roar outside, as throughout northern New Hampshire highway crews are finishing clearing the residue of what started out as a blizzard and then turned into a torrential rain — a wintry mix from hell. And in an early spring where the snow drifts along the roads are taller and more impenetrable than they have been in years, a breezy lawmaker from Hawaii ventures into a brew pub at the foothills of the White Mountains and tries to convince five dozen hardened Granite State voters that she should be the next president of the United States.
Rep. Tulsi Gabbard bursts into the woodsy upstairs gathering place at the base of what once was the Mount Whittier ski area — a blustery hill where the runs were as forbidding as the howling winds — shortly after examining the maple trees and the syrup taps at a sugarhouse in nearby Freedom. Her itinerary, a frantic marathon across the North Country and into remote crossroads and small towns, was intended to show that she is serious in her pursuit of the White House and that, at least here in the site of the first presidential primary of the 2020 election, she isn’t the forgotten fifth member of the list of female presidential candidates that includes Sens. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, Kamala Harris of California and Kirsten Gillibrand of New York.
“You’re a long way from Paradise,” shouts Stanley Solomon, a retired schoolteacher from Albany. The winds outside add icy irony to his remarks.
Then Solomon, 84 years old, confronts Gabbard, who before serving four terms in the House served in the Hawaii state legislature and in both Iraq and Kuwait. “I’ve heard all these candidates,” Solomon says, and because this is New Hampshire, where hearing all the candidates is the state’s most beloved pastime, no one in the room doubts him. “Why do you believe you can deliver on your goals better than the others?”
Gabbard, who rushed into a presidential campaign that soon took the form of a rave, a disorganized dance party that threatens the Democratic Party’s chances of toppling President Donald J. Trump, doesn’t hesitate an instant.
“My experience as a soldier gives me a unique understanding of the cost of war, and knowing and understanding firsthand who pays the price of war,” she says. “Contrast that with someone else not grounded that way, contrast that with hearing from the same foreign-policy establishment that has led us into wasteful wars for decades. That is what I bring to the table.”
Gabbard’s distinguishing characteristics are her moderation — she’s not leaning to the left the way her rivals do — and her military service and expertise. Those are assets, but perhaps not potent enough to gain the attention she needs to break through her goal of winning 1 percentage point in the polls and 65,000 contributors, the two barriers that must be hurdled to be eligible for the Democratic debates.
“With so many people in this race, the usual assumption — that any one candidate starts out being well-known — doesn’t work,” says Neil Levesque, who for a decade has been the director of the New Hampshire Institute of Politics at Saint Anselm College. “The best she can do is to tell her story. But it’s difficult, and they’re all trying to do that.”
One of the others who is trying the same thing — and who has much the same story — is Gabbard’s House Democratic colleague Seth Moulton of Massachusetts, a former Marine Corps officer in Iraq. He was in the state last weekend as well, testing the (chilly New Hampshire) waters for his message of generational change and his signature argument that it was time for the men and women who fought in Afghanistan and Iraq to take over from the people who sent them there.
For Gabbard, whose profile in the House is less well defined than Moulton’s and who doesn’t have her colleague’s advantage of representing a district that borders on New Hampshire, the challenge is even greater.
Even so, Gabbard — one of eight presidential candidates to barnstorm through New Hampshire in a frenzied week of campaigning about 600 days from the election — is pressing on gamely.
“The thing I’m hearing is a deep sense of frustration, a deep sense of sadness, at the state of our country, at the state of our politics, the way we are being torn apart,” Gabbard says before launching into a blistering critique of contemporary Washington, “so disconnected, so far away from our lives, the things we are concerned about as a country.”
This may be standard campaign stump fare for 2019, when candidates are introducing themselves to the audiences in Iowa, site of the first presidential caucuses, and New Hampshire, which votes eight days later. That, and a blistering critique of Donald J. Trump, is in the campaign playbook of all the candidates, so many that the principal task of this phase of the contest is for candidates to differentiate themselves from the rest of the field.
“She’s in the position of most of these folks,” says Andrew Smith, who heads the University of New Hampshire Survey Center. “Most of the voters never heard of them. And the people who are paying attention now aren’t going to make a decision soon and aren’t looking for a moderate.” Indeed, in a comparison of views from 2010 to 2018, Democrats across the genders and all ages have drifted to the left, especially women and voters under 34, where the change is 11 percentage points leftward, according to Wall Street Journal/NBC News polls.