Manchester, New Hampshire—“There is no secret formula to winning in New Hampshire,” says Julia Barnes. “Volunteers recruited plus tactics equals the win number.” A native of Hollis, a town about 25 miles south of here, Barnes is the state director for Bernie Sanders’s presidential campaign. By “tactics,” she means boots on the ground: the slow, unglamorous, persistent work of contacting likely primary voters and identifying Sanders supporters—and then making sure all of them actually vote.
By “volunteers,” she means people like Elizabeth Ropp. “I watched Bernie filibuster against tax cuts for the wealthy, and I really hoped that someday he’d run for president,” Ropp tells me. A community acupuncturist in Manchester—“We provide affordable acupuncture on a sliding-fee scale”—Ropp, with her husband, hosted the first Sanders house party in the state earlier this year. “I live in a small bungalow, and our living room, dining room, and kitchen were crammed,” she says. “We had about 130 people, and some of them had to stand outside.”
Or Janice Kelble, a post-office employee for 29 years who now works for the New Hampshire Postal Workers union. Last month, when it became the first union in the state to endorse Sanders, Kelble almost missed the announcement. “My husband has pretty advanced Parkinson’s disease,” she says, “and I didn’t think he could sit through the whole event. So I had to run home and then hurry back to Manchester. It’s kind of hard to juggle, but Bernie has been there for us, and I really wanted to be there for him.”
Or Bob Friedlander, a doctor who practiced clinical oncology for 27 years before switching to palliative medicine. Back in 2003, Friedlander founded Doctors for Dean in support of his fellow physician’s short-lived campaign for the presidency. This August, he heard Sanders in person for the first time, at a Friends of the Earth meeting in Concord. “Afterwards I thought, ‘I really want to work for him,’” Friedlander says. “In a way, this feels like an extension of my work in palliative care. That was about seeing the patient as a whole person and helping them to vocalize what mattered most to them. Here, too, we’re focusing on what really matters.”
Presidential campaigns are like icebergs. There’s the part you see: the candidate, making speeches or appearing on television, and the supporters, cheering at rallies, wearing buttons, knocking on doors. Then there’s the much larger part you can’t see: the tables at campaign headquarters piled high with leaflets and lawn signs, the paid staff—and the army of volunteers with clipboards working phone banks, keeping track of voter preferences, and making sure “leaners” and undecideds get plenty of follow-up.
New Hampshire’s primary is currently scheduled for February 9, 2016. Bernie Sanders has no path to the White House that doesn’t begin with a win here. In May, he trailed Hillary Clinton among likely voters in the state by 38 points. At the beginning of the summer, he was still 10 points behind. The latest poll puts Sanders ahead of Clinton 42 percent to 28 percent— a margin traditionally described as a “comfortable lead.” In another sign of his surge, in late September, a Sanders rally at the University of New Hampshire drew over 3,000 supporters; a Clinton event two days earlier at the same place attracted just 600.