Democrats packed the Southern New Hampshire University arena on Saturday to hear from all the candidates. Seven thousand voters attended, most still indecisive on their vote. (VOA/Carolyn Presutti)
Democrats packed the Southern New Hampshire University arena on Saturday to hear from all the candidates. Seven thousand voters attended, most still indecisive on their vote. (VOA/Carolyn Presutti)

MANCHESTER, N.H. - Brothers Jesse and Alex Khoury walked into a Manchester, New Hampshire, sports bar and waded through a dense crowd.  They aren't here to try the craft beer. It is Saturday, 8 in the morning, and they are here to canvas neighborhoods on behalf of Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders.

Older brother Alex, 28, said he told his brother just days ago, "Hey, we gotta do this."

Jesse, 25, likes Sanders' talk of climate change and health care for all. "A lot of people would consider that radical," Jesse said, "but I think it is necessary."

Brothers Alex and Jesse Khoury are prepping to canvas for Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders who narrowly leads most New Hampshire polls. (VOA/Carolyn Presutti)

 

Steven Yeaton is decades older. With a long white beard, he stands with a cane to maintain balance on his prosthetic leg.  He also likes Sanders' health care pitch and does not worry about polls showing a tight race.  

"They're gonna come out of the woodwork like we did last time," he said.

"Last time" was 2016 when Sanders overwhelmingly won the New Hampshire primary but lost the national party nomination to Sen. Hillary Clinton.

Hundreds of thousands undeclared

For Tuesday, the state's primary election day, about 413,000 voters are undeclared voters, meaning they can support a candidate from either party.  In addition, voters can register to vote Tuesday.  Most voters spent the past month studying the candidates before deciding whom to support. Some call themselves procrastinators. Others just say they need more facts before choosing.  

Ann McColgan spent two days developing a spreadsheet to gauge the candidates on the issues and then to rank them, coordinating the number of issues that resonate with her beliefs.  

"There are just too many candidates to keep straight this year,"said McColgan who works as a nurse at an urgent care facility.

Dante Scala is a professor of political science at New Hampshire University.  He is not surprised McColgan and others are overwhelmed by the large field.  Scala says it has become very difficult for any one or two candidates to become dominant. 

“Even a former vice president such as Joe Biden has struggled in New Hampshire to become the leader," he said.  

Procrastinator or educator

So many wait to meet (or at least see) candidates numerous times in person before deciding on their candidate. The smaller size of the state makes it possible for candidates to crisscross the state in a day. Still, recent polls show a tight race between Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders and former South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg. The top two candidates carry about a 10% lead over Biden and Senators Elizabeth Warren and Amy Klobuchar.

Dante Spiliotes, a civic scholar at Southern New Hampshire University, has observed voters during his 25 year history as a political analyst.  He says it is a tradition to be an educated voter right up until primary day.  

"We spend a lot of time getting to know the candidates," he said. "We watch a lot of the dynamics of what's going on in the race in Iowa, (the first caucus in the nation that was held last week) but also the national discourse."

It's all about the kids

Ed Brand cups his hands around a mound of chocolate and shapes it into a large egg. Valentine's Day is still days away, but longtime family owned Granite State Candy Shoppe is already making chocolate Easter eggs.  Brand is voting for Buttigieg, who is openly gay. The Air Force veteran and father of four, ages 3-17, says it's all so that his "kids grow up in a country where they can actually see that anything is possible and that anybody can go anywhere in their lives.”

Ed Brand forms chocolate into Easter eggs. The Granite State Candy Shoppe Chocolatier will support South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg. (VOA/Carolyn Presutti)

Tech vision

Several autonomous robots hum audibly as they carry out their programmed missions, gliding with intermittent stops and traversing around the test track on their omni-directional wheels. Jason Walker is co-founder and CEO of  Waypoint Robotics, which last October moved from a facility a fourth of the size of the new warehouse in Nashua, New Hampshire.  Walker says technology is a huge part of our economy so he's looking for a presidential candidate who incorporates it into their vision.

"If people don't really understand tech, it's hard to steer things in a direction that will be meaningful and successful," he said.  

On Tuesday, New Hampshire residents will cast their ballots.  A New Hampshire winner will propel the candidate onto more state voting contests.  Up next is the Nevada caucus on Saturday, February 22, followed by the South Carolina primary on Saturday February 29.