Introductions were made, hands were shaken, and, eventually, a news release would be sent out etching a local leader’s endorsement of a presidential hopeful into the history books.
Then the candidate dropped out.
Whether endorsements from New Hampshire’s elected officials — from the Statehouse to boards of selectmen and city councils — actually improve a presidential candidate’s chances at winning the first-in-the-nation primary remains empirically unclear. But where these local politicians are left after their candidate of choice drops out sheds light on the broader struggles of undecided voters less than a month before voting day on Feb. 11.
Before exiting the race on Monday, U.S. Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey had run away with dozens of endorsements from Granite State elected officials, breaking 100 by December.
After the midterms, N.H. Democratic Party Chairman Raymond Buckley famously dubbed Booker “the best friend New Hampshire Democrats had in 2018” because of his fundraising and organizing efforts leading up to the party flipping both chambers of the Legislature.
One area lawmaker who took to Booker early on is state Rep. Bruce Tatro, D-Swanzey.
Tatro endorsed Booker in July, calling him “true to his values” and “the definition of presidential.”
Now, Tatro said he’s back to square one.
“Well, until our primary, I think I’ll probably just ride it out and see who floats to the top,” Tatro said Tuesday. “I’m not sure exactly who I’m gonna vote for now, but I will be watching the debate and see how things come out.”
Keene City Councilor Bettina Chadbourne said she too remains undecided after the candidate she endorsed, U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris of California, dropped out in early December.
Like Tatro, Chadbourne said she may not endorse another candidate.
“I was really disappointed [when Harris dropped out], and spent a lot of time talking with campaigners for [U.S. Sen. Elizabeth] Warren, probably because they have been really active in putting on events and getting people to come. A lot of their gatherings centered on women-related issues.
“And Pete Buttigieg is another one I find interesting,” Chadbourne continued, “but honestly, I haven’t made up my mind.”
Chadbourne’s in good company. Living up to the proverbial reputation of New Hampshire voters, two-thirds of Granite Staters had not yet decided on a candidate ahead of primary day, according to the latest YouGov survey from Dec. 27 to Jan. 3.
Campaigns put considerable time into courting endorsements from New Hampshire leaders, often rolling them out in as big a batch as possible to make news. Former Vice President Joe Biden, for example, announced 13 more Statehouse endorsements Tuesday, adding to the 22 members who have already declared their support.
In mid-December, U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota announced the endorsements of more than 100 women across the Granite State, including five community activists in Cheshire County and, in Hillsborough County, state Sen. Jeanne Dietsch, D-Peterborough.
Tatro said Booker’s campaign was particularly diligent about keeping him in the loop.
“He had a good campaign group working for him,” Tatro said. “They were constantly calling and telling me where he was gonna be and inviting me to different things, and, you know, not pushy at all. Just to keep you informed [on the campaign schedule].”
Tatro said that although he voted for U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont in 2016, the only candidate he’s currently leaning toward is Buttigieg, the former mayor of South Bend, Ind.
“I’m just looking for somebody who can cut through the bullsh*t as best they can,” he said.
Beyond taking a second look at Warren and Buttigieg, Chadbourne added that she plans on doing her homework and making it out to more events to make a better decision on who to vote for.
That could complicate things for the candidates who will have to be jurors in the U.S. Senate during the impeachment trial of President Donald Trump.
“Because there are people out there like me who still don’t know [who to vote for], it would be important for the candidates to circle back through, so it’s too bad that they will be tied up with impeachment,” she said.
Regardless of whether the stranded endorsers will be aggressively courted by the campaigns remaining in the race, Chadbourne and Tatro said their biggest responsibility is that of any New Hampshire voter: to have an early, outsized say in picking the next leader of the free world.
With that responsibility comes an obligation to do research, they said.
For Tatro, using his vote to support someone to unite a divided nation will be a heavy decision.
“I keep telling my wife we’re already in a civil war,” he said, “but this time it’s between Democrats and Republicans. Nobody is getting anything done.”