MANCHESTER, N.H. — Independent voters know they have clout in the upcoming presidential election, and they spent a day at a conference in this early voting state voicing their displeasure with partisan politics that have led to paralysis.
It was the collective voice speaking from the middle.
Whether leaning left, or leaning right, the people who trudge across this state know their voices are amplified in the 2020 presidential race, setting the table, so to speak, for the other early presidential nominating states of Nevada and South Carolina.
“We’re here to make America better. To get the country back together again,” said former U.S. Sen. Joe Lieberman, who lost a Democratic primary and turned independent to get re-elected to his Connecticut seat.
Lieberman is now the national chairman of No Labels, a bipartisan group dedicated to ending legislative gridlock and restoring consensus building in government.
Lieberman headlined the Problem Solvers Convention at a downtown Manchester hotel, where about 1,500 undeclared voters took part in a dialogue with lawmakers, pollsters and candidates seeking nonpartisan solutions for the nation’s toughest challenges.
New Hampshire is fertile ground for such a movement.
The number of so-called undeclared voters in the state far outnumber those registered with either political party.
There were 413,345 undeclared voters, compared with 289,814 Republicans and 275,973 Democrats in New Hampshire as of Oct. 30, according to Secretary of State Bill Gardner.
Unlike Nevada’s Feb. 22 Democrats-only caucus, the Feb. 11 New Hampshire primaries are open, allowing undeclared voters to cast ballots in either Republican or Democratic contests.
And with a large field of Democrats running in the presidential primary, New Hampshire Democrats, as well as undeclared independents, are taking their time in choosing a candidate.
The No Labels group revealed poll findings that 53 percent of likely New Hampshire voters are undecided ahead of the February vote, giving them the potential to shake up the Democratic field as the party prepares to nominate a candidate to face President Donald Trump.
What happens in Iowa and New Hampshire, states holding the first presidential caucus and primary, will winnow the Democratic field and give more weight to a decision by voters in Nevada, many of whom are originally from other states.
Nevada is more racially and ethnically diverse than New Hampshire, a state where the electorate is predominantly white and older. New Hampshire is changing, however, with more younger voters who register as independent, according to University of New Hampshire polling.
The influx of new voters makes Nevada and New Hampshire similar.
“There is an independence in Nevada that doesn’t exist in other places other than here in New Hampshire,” national pollster Frank Luntz said during an interview with the Review-Journal in Manchester.
Nevada is a true melting pot, Luntz said, with people moving into the state without set biases or objections that allow them to view candidates “with an open eye.”
The makeup makes it hard to predict the outcome of elections in the two states.
“It’s why in both New Hampshire and Nevada, so many of these elections are decided in the last 72 hours,” Luntz said.
That was made clear as Luntz conducted a focus group at the Nov. 3 No Labels Convention that sounded like a howl from ripping a bandage from a wound.
A lot of anger was voiced by audience members toward candidates of both parties, big money in politics, and the media.
One New Hampshire man told the media covering the event that political coverage should be more about doing something for the country than about ratings.
“If you really care about journalism, which I believe you all went into the field for, then how about reaching out to make sure that you listen to the massive people in the middle instead of just the fringes that increase revenue for you,” the man said.
The people who came to the convention were clearly tired of politics as usual.
Outside the convention hall, Laura Gargasz, 48, of Hollis, N.H., said she once registered as a Republican, but has been undeclared for over a dozen years.
“I really don’t agree 100 percent with either party,” Gargasz said.
She views her electoral duty as that of hiring a person for a job.
Gargasz was undecided on who she would cast a ballot for in the upcoming primary, but she was considering the candidates based on their positions on the issues, and not on what party leaders were saying.
“That’s the way I vote,” she said.
Gargasz voted for Hillary Clinton over Trump in 2016, although “I didn’t feel comfortable voting for either one of them.”
“There were no good options,” she said.
Gargasz said she hasn’t ruled out Trump in 2020.
She said she would vote to re-elect the president “if the Democrat was weak, and he would do a better job.”
For Dan Kelly, 81, a conservative and independent: “My only option is Trump.”
Kelly, who is retired, said the Democratic candidates showed socialist tendencies. “Their focus is not my focus.”
His wife, Carol, 73, said she has never classified herself as a conservative or a liberal, but decried the political gridlock in Washington that prevented President Barack Obama and Trump from trying to achieve what they campaigned to do.
The political system drove her out of the Republican Party 15 years ago.
“I was so turned off by it, I registered as an independent,” Carol Kelly said.
Other New Hampshire independents, like Harry Wright, 77, of Bradford, N.H., were clearly eyeing the Democratic presidential field.
Wright said he was put off by Trump.
“The rhetoric is hateful and divisive,” he said. “The policies of tending to his wealthy base are troubling.”
A retired engineer and sales consultant, Wright said he saw Biden in Concord and was leaning toward the former vice president “because I think he is the most able to win.”
Marcia Kelly, 64, of Hanover, N.H., is planning to vote in the Democratic primary, but she said she would not “vote for Joe.”
“I don’t think Joe Biden could win the Democratic primary,” Kelly said, let alone the general election.
But she said she’s ruled out the Republican Party for the foreseeable future.
“I’m so much in disagreement with where their party politics are heading,” Kelly said.
“I’m really centrist politically, and I’m not interested in pledging allegiance to any party,” she explained.
That view was most prevalent at the Problem Solvers Convention. The confab focused less on the candidates and more on issues and positions that would provide government results.
Most of the people who spoke up, or to reporters in hallways, said in one way or another that Washington and Congress can only work with bipartisan consensus. The alternative is more gridlock that has paralyzed the system.
Margaret White, the executive director of No Labels, said the convention was held to push for results, and not polarization.
Writing for The Hill newspaper in Washington, White cited a recent nonpartisan Pew Research Center survey that found “majorities in both parties say it is very important that elected officials be willing to make compromises with their opponents to solve important problems.”
White said that eventually a Democratic nominee will emerge, and he or she, like Trump, “will need every possible vote in battleground states, which include New Hampshire.”
The list of battleground states includes Nevada.
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