Primary Source: Change to N.H. law will help Sanders secure place on ballot

  • John P. Gregg. Copyright (c) Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 7/31/2019 9:57:59 PM
Modified: 7/31/2019 9:57:49 PM

Throughout his long career in politics, U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, the Vermont independent, has been an authentic — and reliable — voice for progressive causes and has usually been pretty precise and upfront about his facts and numbers.

He scored points on that front in the Democratic debate Tuesday night when U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan, D-Ohio, questioned Sanders on how truly comprehensive coverage would be in his proposed Medicare for All plan, to which Sanders responded, “I do know it … I wrote the damn bill.”

But Sanders, who turns 78 in September, has stretched the truth on one political point that could have come back to bite him, but now probably won’t. Back in November 2015, when he was still just an upstart challenger to former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in the New Hampshire primary, Sanders filed his papers in front of New Hampshire Secretary of State Bill Gardner and declared, “I am running as a Democrat. Obviously, I am a Democrat now.”

Sanders minutes later qualified that, slightly, to say, “For this campaign, right now, I am running as a Democrat. I intend to win this nomination, and intend, by the way, to help lead a transformation of the Democratic Party to bring in more young people and bring in more working people, and to make sure our campaigns are funded by small individual contributions rather than just SuperPACs.”

Considering his fundraising prowess and strong showing in 2016 — including winning the New Hampshire primary over Clinton by more than 22 percentage points — Sanders did pretty well. But when he returned to the U.S. Senate after the campaign, he was again serving as I-Vt., and boasts that he is the longest-serving independent in the history of Congress. Sanders also won re-election to the Senate in 2018 as an independent but caucuses with the Democrats.

Though Sanders took a Democratic loyalty pledge earlier this year along with other presidential candidates, his hopping back and forth could have presented new problems when he tries to get on the New Hampshire primary ballot for 2020. But that’s all been cleared up because of new legislation signed into law on July 10 by New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu, a Republican.

The measure changes the relatively strict requirement that candidates be a “registered member” of the party in which they are running to add the clause, “or that I am a recognized candidate for President in the party in which I desire to file.”

The bill was sponsored by state Rep. David Huot, a Laconia Democrat who said a friend on the Ballot Law Commission asked if they could amend state law because of concerns that a major candidate like Sanders would be barred from the First in the Nation primary on a technicality.

“They wrung their hands over that because it seemed like a problem,” Huot, a retired judge, said of the previous wording. “In a national election, you can’t just bar a candidate who is running in New Hampshire. It just isn’t done.”

“It was pretty noncontroversial,” said Huot, who backed Clinton in 2016, and as one of the few elected Democrats in Belknap County, is staying neutral for now.

Events ahead

President Donald Trump is coming to New Hampshire in two weeks. He announced a “Keep America Great” rally on Aug. 15 at the SNHU Arena in Manchester.

“The Trump economy continues to soar with New Hampshire having one of the lowest unemployment rates in the entire nation and paychecks continuing to grow,” Michael Glassner, the chief operating officer of the Trump campaign, said in a statement.

More to the point, New Hampshire could be in play in 2020. You’ll recall that Trump almost won the state in 2016, trailing Clinton by just 2,736 votes, or 46.8 percent to 46.5 percent. And that was with big help for Democrats from the college vote in such towns as Hanover, Durham and Plymouth. Although aggressive voter registration drives will be in play, new “voter integrity” laws passed by Republicans that require collegiate voters in the state to get a New Hampshire driver’s license could also tamp down the youth vote, helping Trump, next year.

Also coming to New Hampshire, and more immediately, is Democratic presidential candidate Marianne Williamson. She’s making an appearance at 5:30 p.m. Thursday (Aug. 1) at the Cornish home of Peter and Jean Burling, who have been hosting several Democratic candidates this cycle.

The Vermont Democratic Party is staying neutral in the presidential primary, of course, but is also hosting a fundraiser for the party on Friday in Burlington with “advocate, activist, teacher, and potential first gentleman Chasten Buttigieg,” the party said this week.

Chasten Buttigieg, who is married to South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg, has become a social media presence on the campaign trail.

Windsor County day

Vermont Gov. Phil Scott spent Tuesday in Windsor County, part of the regular get-out-of-Montpelier “Capital for a Day” gigs that several governors have practiced over the years.

Scott’s day included a tour of the Southern State Correctional Facility in Springfield, Vt.; a stop at the adult day health center Scotland House in Quechee; and a session on ticks with health and agricultural officials at the Billings Farm & Museum in Woodstock.

But, best of all, Scott, a stock car racer who turns 61 on Sunday, hopped on a mountain bike and rode down the mountain at the Suicide Six Recreation Area to promote Vermont as a destination for outdoor enthusiasts. Some days are fun days to be governor.

John P. Gregg can be reached at jgregg@

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