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Primary Source: Biden, Buttigieg to campaign in Upper Valley

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



Valley News Staff Writer
Wednesday, August 21, 2019

Two top-tier Democratic presidential candidates at opposite ends of the age spectrum are about to pay campaign visits to the Upper Valley, including to the vote-rich campus of Dartmouth College.

Former Vice President Joe Biden will be making his first visit to the Valley as a candidate this cycle with a health care town hall planned for Friday afternoon at 3:30 p.m. at Alumni Hall at Dartmouth (doors open at 3 p.m.)

Biden will then travel to Croydon for a “community event” at 6 p.m., and he’ll be campaigning at Keene State College on Saturday morning.

Hot on his heels, campaign-wise, will be South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg, who will be in the state from Friday to Sunday.

Among his stops on Saturday are a house party on Lang Road in Cornish hosted by former Democratic National Committeeman and lawmaker Peter Burling at 2:30 p.m.

Buttigieg will then head north to Hanover for a 6 p.m. town hall on Saturday at the Hanover Inn.

The college vote across the state helped lift Hillary Clinton over Donald Trump in New Hampshire in 2016, and students are already intensely engaged in the fast-approaching 2020 primary.

Michael Parsons, who is about to enter his senior year at Dartmouth and is president of New Hampshire College Democrats, said Friday happens to be the first day of finals for students in Dartmouth’s summer term, but he’s expecting both Hanover events to be well-attended.

And the age gap appears to be an issue. Parsons, who is from Norfolk, Va., said the 37-year-old Buttigieg is “very popular” on campus, while the 76-year-old Biden hasn’t engendered the same kind of buzz.

“They’re not polar opposites, but definitely different generations,” Parsons said. “I am interested to see that dynamic and how the two events compare, and the students’ reactions.

“I can say that Biden generally isn’t the top person for a lot of students here on campus. I know that students are still excited to hear from him, and they want to see him and see how he interacts with students,” Parsons said.

Several other upper-tier candidates have drawn large crowds at Dartmouth already, and Parsons said they were “really engaged and showed they are listening to how young people are thinking, and we want to see if the vice president can do that as well.”

Biden’s campaign said that on his trip to New Hampshire he “will lay out his vision for America and listen to voters’ concerns and ideas around restoring the soul of the nation, rebuilding the middle class and unifying the country.”

Buttigieg’s campaign was pushing his plans for rural economies and rural health care, including reforming payments to hospitals for maternal care in a bid to stem the continued closings of birthing centers in community hospitals.

According to the latest RealClearPolitics polling average, Biden still leads in the state, but is down to 21% support, with U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders at 19.3%, U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren at 14.7%, U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris at 9% and Buttigieg at 7%.

Toeing the line?

Every once in a while, a first-term lawmaker back from Montpelier will privately allow that veteran members of the Vermont House put real pressure on newcomers to toe the party line, such as by voting with leadership and refraining from commenting on bills that aren’t in their own committee.

This time around, state Rep. Zachariah Ralph, a Progressive from Hartland who also won as a Democrat, has raised such concerns publicly in a letter to constituents entitled “The Hierarchy of Loyalty (Part 1).”

In it, Ralph spells out that lawmakers must essentially play a long game in which they fall in line to curry favor with legislative leaders, climb the ladder in the Statehouse and eventually have a better chance of passing legislation important to their constituents.

“If someone wants to be a ‘successful’ legislator they are obliged to maintain a hierarchy of loyalty which would be surprising to constituents, primarily because they come in 3rd place for even the most well-intentioned lawmaker,” Ralph wrote in the email letter to constituents on Tuesday.

“The game is that you are first loyal to your party and leadership, second to your committee, and only after these institutions are appeased can they be loyal to the people that elected them.”

Ralph, who was also elected as a Democrat and whose two-seat district also includes Windsor and West Windsor, bucked leadership on one major measure this spring, declining to vote for the final version of paid family leave because he thought employers, and not just workers, should pay into the program.

In a phone interview Wednesday, the 33-year-old Ralph, who serves on the House Committee on Commerce and Economic Development and serves as a program director for Sustainable Woodstock, said his observations aren’t meant to be an attack on Democrats or the House leadership.

“I was surprised to find out from friends and colleagues that this type of dynamic exists even at the local level,” Ralph said. “There are powerful parties in our municipalities that we have to appease.”

He intends to follow up with two other letters to constituents outlining how legislators’ second loyalty is to their assigned committee and then how lawmakers and constituents interact.

He’s hoping the letters generate discussion that can make “people power” the most powerful force in the process. “My idea is hopefully there will be some positive recommendations on how to improve the system,” Ralph said.

John P. Gregg can be reached at jgregg@vnews.com.