GREENFIELD — Six months from the first primary in the nation, some undecided voters are dismissing the televised debates and instead flocking to events like the Hillsborough County Democrats’ Summer Picnic Sunday afternoon to hear candidates in a more intimate setting.
The picnic was a fundraiser for the county committee and sold around 300 tickets, which included a lunch and entrance to hear the speakers at Oak Park.
Seven presidential hopefuls made pitches to Granite State voters: Sens. Michael Bennet of Colorado and Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, Rep. Seth Moulton of Massachusetts, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, former secretary of Housing and Urban Development Julian Castro, former U.S. Rep. John Delaney of Maryland, and entrepreneur and philanthropist Andrew Yang.
In general, they delivered semblances of their stump speeches. Most candidates mentioned the dire need to beat President Donald Trump in 2020, and a couple stressed that party unity was more important than loyalty to a candidate who doesn’t get the nomination.
“... All of the candidates say to each other, and I want you to hear this from the heart: Whoever is our nominee, we will all stand shoulder to shoulder together,” de Blasio said during his speech. “… This unified party cannot be beat.”
The candidates offered their plans to tackle health care, education, immigration, mental health and wages, among other ideals of the Democratic party. They tied in personal experiences and local anecdotes from past campaign visits or, if some cases, from growing up or going to school in the state.
After their speeches, each candidate stepped to the side and worked the crowd, taking selfies and answering voters’ questions one-on-one before heading to a quick gaggle with reporters huddled under a tent.
“Your state really focuses on these races,” Klobuchar said. “That’s part of the reason you still have people who still don’t know who they support. That’s a good thing. I like that, by the way.”
When Castro began mingling with attendees, Elizabeth Radecic approached him with her twin children, Reagan and Grant. Castro knelt and said hello to the 3-year-olds and thanked their mother for coming.
Radecic told The Sentinel she saw her 20th candidate Sunday. Her family moved from Tennessee to Hooksett last year, and because of the unique opportunity presented by New Hampshire’s position in the presidential election, she wants to take advantage and volunteer for a campaign.
After listening to the speeches Sunday, Radecic said she’s narrowed down her choices to five candidates: Castro, Klobuchar, Sens. Cory Booker of New Jersey and Kirsten Gillibrand of New York and South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg.
“I haven’t seen Kamala Harris yet, ‘cause she’s kinda sparse,” Radecic said. She said she plans to make a final decision once she’s seen the California senator.
“... What I’ve learned about New Hampshire is you really have to do face-time here in order for people to stronger consider you,” Radecic continued. “You can’t just come in and do a rally.”
Alejandro Urrutia and Tim Wyatt sat at a table under a pavilion following the speeches. They are members of the Democratic committee in their town, Hudson.
Because Urrutia is the chairman, he said he can’t publicly support a candidate, but he hasn’t made his decision regardless. He attended Sunday’s event hoping to hear more about the candidates’ platforms, since the debates on television have been more about personal and political attacks, he said.
“In order to take [Trump] out of the White House, we need to talk about the issues,” Urrutia said. “If not, he will control the dialog.”
He was listening for their positions on affordable health care and education, increasing the minimum wage and addressing immigration, an issue he said has been tainted with lies, racism and bigotry.
Wyatt said he cares about the same values, but he pointed to a Harris sticker on his shirt and added that “his candidate can achieve all that.”
“We’re going to depend on everyone to come out to vote,” he said of the 2020 election, and his conscience couldn’t ask women and people of color to support “another old white guy.”
Wyatt knew that Harris wouldn’t be at the picnic, but said he wanted to support the county organization’s fundraiser — and he also said he’ll support whoever becomes the nominee.
Sitting toward the back of the event under a bit of shade, Janet Lutkus of Bennington and Dolores Lovallo of Rindge said they, too, are shopping around for who they want to back in the primary.
While she likes Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, Lutkus said she had never heard de Blasio speak and was impressed.
“He made some very good points about the programs he was able to successfully carry off with people in New York City, because that’s almost like a microcosm of the country,” she said.
Lovallo said she still wants to hear personally from Warren and former Vice President Joe Biden. Both women liked Klobuchar’s speech.
Aside from a dinner Lutkus attended with Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, the women said the picnic was one of the first candidate events they’ve attended this year. Both agreed that these are far more persuasive than televised debates, which neither have watched yet, because they felt it was too early.
Lutkus said the party unity theme was comforting.
“That impresses me, because the last election with people fighting and getting so on board with Bernie, it got to be where they hated the other Democratic candidate,” she said. “… I just want to see a really good alternative to Trump get in there. We can’t be fighting amongst ourselves like that.”
They also appreciated the local candidates who attended.
In the sea of presidential hopefuls, two men who are mulling a bid to unseat Gov. Chris Sununu took turns at the mic: District 2 Executive Councilor Andru H. Volinsky and former Portsmouth Mayor Steve Marchand, who ran unsuccessfully for the Democratic nomination last year.
They seized the moment to attack Sununu’s string of vetoes this year, which included the proposed state budget in June, as well as a lack of education funding and high property taxes.