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Claremont Buttigieg event highlights Democrats’ focus on Sullivan County

  • Chris Rosinski, of Claremont, left, trades signs with Matt Ostrom, of Saratoga, N.Y., right, as Karen Roy, of East Thetford, middle, knits while waiting for Democratic presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg to arrive at a campaign event at Stevens High School in Claremont, N.H., Saturday, Jan. 4, 2020. It was Rosinski's second time out to see Buttigieg speak and Ostrom's fifth. "It's monumental that he could be the first gay president," said Ostrom. "A lot of people don't recognize that that is diversity." Roy, who is undecided, said she tries to see as many candidates as possible. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • With a sign amended to show her home state, Norwich resident Julia Dickenson listens as Democratic presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg speaks at Stevens High School in Claremont, N.H., Saturday, Jan. 4, 2020. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Democratic presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg greets supporters, including Jean Fahey, of Claremont after a campaign event at Stevens High School in Claremont, N.H., Saturday, Jan. 4, 2020. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 1/4/2020 10:29:18 PM
Modified: 1/4/2020 10:28:51 PM

Democratic presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg made a stop in Claremont on Saturday afternoon, rallying a crowd of more than 500 with his message of pragmatic, grassroots solutions to complex problems. It was the fourth time the former South Bend, Ind., mayor has visited Sullivan County, a patch of New Hampshire that could prove pivotal in this year’s elections.

“Claremont reminds me of South Bend a lot,” Buttigieg, who’s currently among the top three candidates in New Hampshire polls, told potential voters during a town hall event at Stevens High School. “Our city was in tough shape. We’d lost a lot of people and a lot of jobs. ... Now our city’s growing, and our city believes in itself. And in the story of our community, I see proof of how a place can get on its feet.”

In a speech that addressed issues including climate change, national security, gun control and health care, Buttigieg touched on topics common to communities in and around Claremont, including the opioid crisis and agriculture.

“We need to make sure every American understands where they fit,” in fighting the climate crisis, he said. “I’m calling for farmers to be part of the solution.”

That statement drew loud applause from the audience and resonated with David Casciani, a former dairy worker and entrepreneur from Claremont. Casciani voted for Trump in 2016 but has since switched his party affiliation so that he can vote for Buttigieg in the primary.

“He speaks to real issues, and he can give me a straight answer,” he said.

If Buttigieg doesn’t get the nomination, however, Casciani will consider voting for Trump again.

Those are the kinds of voters Buttigieg’s campaign is courting in Sullivan County, which comprises about 43,000 people concentrated in blue-collar mill hubs including Newport and Claremont and sprinkled across rural towns such as Grantham, Plainfield and Cornish, said Kevin Donohoe, New Hampshire communications director for the campaign. While some towns stayed blue in the 2016 general election, the county overall picked Trump over Hillary Clinton, as did Claremont, which historically has chosen a Democrat.

Buttigieg’s campaign was one of the first to open an office in the county and establish a presence here, Donohoe said.

Some of the other candidates have made a point of getting face time with Sullivan County voters as well, said Sullivan County Democratic Chairwoman Judith Kaufman, who lives in Cornish. U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., and U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., have both opened offices in the county and made a few campaign stops there, and U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar, of Minnesota, has visited three times.

U.S. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, of Hawaii, was in Sullivan County on Saturday at the same time as Buttigieg. About 40 supporters attended her town hall forum at the Farmer’s Table Cafe in Grantham, filling the dining room and overflowing into the tavern, according to hostess Madison Alves.

Other candidates, such as former Vice President Joe Biden, have largely overlooked the county, Kaufman said.

Because of the number of candidates, it’s difficult to tell whether the county is getting more attention overall than usual, she said. But she thinks time here is well-spent.

“There are issues in Claremont that are typical to communities around the nation that have been left behind,” Kaufman said. “I think the candidates that have policies that are appropriate and empathetic towards these communities that have been left behind ... I think they will beat Donald Trump in Sullivan County.”

At a laundromat near the high school, area residents expressed a wide range of political views.

Stephanie Tucker, 36, of Claremont, voted for Clinton in 2016. She said she hasn’t decided who she’ll vote for in the primary.

“I haven’t really looked into it,” she said. “I want to see a woman get it. Honestly, I hope anyone gets it other than Trump.”

Tucker, whose dad is a veteran, said she’d support a candidate who will bring the military home from Afghanistan and offer more assistance to veterans. As a cafeteria worker at the middle school and a mother of a teenager with special needs, she’s also interested in where the candidates stand on educational issues.

Debbie Kuhns, who works at the Laundry Spa and lives in Croydon, voted for Trump in 2016 and plans to stick with him. She doesn’t think any of the current Democratic candidates could shake her loyalty.

Likewise, Scott Gilbert, a lifelong Newport resident and product designer for Bomar, a marine manufacturing company in Charlestown, said he’s pretty firmly in Trump’s camp. His vote for the businessman in the 2016 election was his first vote in more than 20 years, and he’s pleased with the president’s performance. His parents, both lifelong Democrats, voted for Trump, too, he said. He doesn’t know which way they’re leaning this time around.

He said the only Democratic candidate that has a chance of swaying him is Gabbard.

“I think she speaks eloquently. It’s not all about trashing Trump,” Gilbert said. “She actually has some ideas.”

Richard Slack, 57, a traveling evangelist from Newport, didn’t vote in the 2016 election because he didn’t like either of the choices. He’s not enthusiastic about any of the candidates still in the running for the Democratic nomination.

“I kind of look for someone who stands strong on Christian ethics,” said Slack, a lifelong Newport resident and independent who voted for Obama in 2012 and both Bushes before that. “That’s why our country is going downhill is because our morals are going downhill.”

Slack said he wasn’t familiar with Buttigieg.

In contrast, Joseph Guertin, a Hanover resident who attended the Buttigieg event, doesn’t see a bad choice among the pool of Democratic candidates.

“Any of them are better than what we’ve got now,” said Guertin, one of many attendees who came from outside the immediate region.

Guertin said he was still making up his mind about whom to vote for.

“I’m very open right now,” he said.

Stevens High School Principal Pat Barry introduced Buttigieg at the event.

“What I hear from this campaign is that it’s about creating coalitions. Creating a grassroots empowerment of the people,” Barry said. “I want somebody in the White House who represents me again, and I want to know that when I turn on the TV, I can be proud of my president.”

Valley News photographer James Patterson contributed to this story.

Sarah Earle can be reached at searle@vnews.com or 603-727-3268.




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