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Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 19 July 2018

The Granite State – where the 2020 race for the White House has already begun

Spartan New Hampshire punches above its weight as the first state to hold a primary, making it a bellwether of voters, writes David Millward 

Donald Trump could face a host of Republican challengers ahead of the 2020 US presidential election and an invigorated Democratic party. Joshua Roberts / Reuters
Donald Trump could face a host of Republican challengers ahead of the 2020 US presidential election and an invigorated Democratic party. Joshua Roberts / Reuters

New Hampshire has just four votes in the electoral college which will determine the US president in 2020. Its delegations will be among the smallest at the party conventions. But this sparsely populated state in the north of the country punches far above its political weight because of its place in the electoral calendar as the first state to hold a primary.

The state, which prides itself on its independence of thought, libertarian tradition and general stubbornness, is already the place to be for anyone who is nurturing White House ambitions.

Presidential hopefuls have begun their procession to the Granite State, with the way being led by Maryland congressman John Delaney who is, to date, the first politician to formally announce a run for the Oval Office. One of the richest members of Congress, he is standing down from the House of Representatives to seek the presidency.

Mr Delaney made his first candidate appearance in New Hampshire as far back as last September, when he met about 40 Democrat activists at a suburban home, outlining his moderate vision as potential supporters munched their way through nachos and cupcakes.

He has been pressing the flesh in the state ever since as well as spending more than a million dollars on television adverts in Iowa, where the Democrats will hold their first caucus of the 2020 race.

It would be easy to dismiss him as a long-shot candidate, as a raft of big names are certain to throw their hat into the ring when the race starts in earnest. But that could be unwise. The theory behind his pre-emptive strike is the hope that he can build up momentum at the start of the race and catch his better-known rivals by surprise.

New Hampshire political veterans remember Jimmy Carter going from office to office at a college on the outskirts of Manchester, introducing himself to staff. Other potential Democrat candidates have not yet declared but they are also making themselves known in New Hampshire for much the same reason as Mr Delaney.

Julian Castro, the housing and urban development secretary in the Obama administration who was hotly tipped to be Hillary Clinton’s running mate, has been “testing opinion”.

In his case, “testing opinion” included making the journey from Texas to present outstanding achievement awards to New Hampshire’s Young Democrats.

Other potential Democratic hopefuls to cross the country and introduce themselves to voters in the state include Eric Garcetti, the mayor of Los Angeles, and former Missouri secretary of state Jason Kander.

Bigger names, of course, do not have to worry about recognition but there are a host of other ways of reminding voters that they are still around.

Joe Biden embarked on a nationwide “American promise” speaking tour. Ostensibly it was to promote his book but few people have been fooled and, as things stand, he is expected to run in 2020.

Bernie Sanders, who is seen as a likely frontrunner, also took the speaking tour route. Currently an independent senator from Vermont, he was initially joined by Tom Perez, the chair of the Democratic National Committee, in what many saw as an attempt to paper over the cracks between radicals and the party establishment. Now he too is promoting a book.

Mr Biden and Mr Sanders, of course, would be in their late 70s should they run in 2020, which means increased focus is being placed on the next generation of Democrats.

Up until now, they have been circumspect, telling voters that they are merely focusing on November’s mid-term elections, when hundreds of House and Senate seats will be up for grabs.

It is a mantra deployed by Elizabeth Warren, the Massachusetts senator, New York’s Kirsten Gillibrand and New Jersey’s Cory Booker.

The jostling among Democrats reflects how wide open the race for the nomination is.

Many believe that the party would have retained the White House in 2016 had it chosen a candidate with less baggage than Hillary Clinton.

Such is the chaotic nature of the Donald Trump presidency that there is a sense that the White House is there for the taking in 2020, which probably explains why so many people are expected to pursue the nomination.

Despite the success of the North Korea summit, Mr Trump still generates a significant level of unease among Republicans. The truce between Mr Trump and traditional Republicans has always been fragile and several of the president’s critics within the party fared poorly in the recent midterm primaries.

Others have simply thrown in the towel, including Jeff Flake, the Arizona senator and author of Conscience of a Conservative, a withering condemnation of the Trump presidency.

Mr Flake, who has decided not to run for re-election to the Senate in November, has called for a brave Republican to challenge Mr Trump for the party’s 2020 presidential nomination.

Inevitably, he made his plea in New Hampshire.

“I hope that someone does run in the Republican Party, someone to challenge the president,” he told business leaders. “I think that the Republicans want to be reminded what it means to be a traditional, decent Republican and what the party stands for – limited government, economic freedom, free trade, embracing immigration. These are the things that have made the party what it is over the years.”

John Kasich, the outgoing Ohio governor and unsuccessful Republican challenger in 2016, has made a couple of visits to the state, fuelling speculation that he is ready to take Mr Trump on.

It is still about 18 months before the presidential primaries begin in earnest and the satellite trucks start descending on New Hampshire. But in the months ahead, it would be surprising if more presidential aspirants don’t decide that the Granite State is worth a visit.

Suffice to say they will not be coming for the foliage or the skiing.

David Millward is a journalist in the United States