Moderate Democrats Congress React To New Hampshire Primary Results

Feb 12, 2020
Originally published on February 12, 2020 7:54 pm
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Moderate Democrats in Washington have been grappling with the reality that Senator Bernie Sanders looks to be their party's front-runner for president. Some fear nominating a self-identified democratic socialist for the top of the ticket could put other Democrats at risk. They're pinning their hopes on moderate candidates, a group already looking ahead to contest in South Carolina and Nevada, states with a more diverse electorate. NPR's Kelsey Snell reports from Capitol Hill.

KELSEY SNELL, BYLINE: Centrist Democrats in Washington woke up after the New Hampshire primary with a new sense of hope. Delaware Senator Chris Coons was among those who seized the primary results as a clear indication that Sanders and the progressive wing do not have a lock on the party.

CHRIS COONS: What I think you're seeing is an electorate that is looking hard at several alternatives - Amy Klobuchar, Mayor Pete Buttigieg and Joe Biden.

SNELL: People like Coons, who is one of Biden's top supporters, have a pretty standard list of reasons for being optimistic. Only two states have voted. They don't reflect the broader party. And there is still a lot of time to unite behind an alternative. Many Democrats worry that Sanders' talk of revolution is a turnoff for a lot of potential voters, and that's why they say Klobuchar had such a strong night in New Hampshire.

TINA SMITH: She's a pragmatist, and she's demonstrated that she can accomplish things. And I think that's what people are interested in.

SNELL: That's Tina Smith, Klobuchar's fellow senator from Minnesota.

These centrist Democrats hope that voters in the next two contests prove the energy isn't only on the left. That's why former Congressional Black Caucus Chairman Cedric Richmond flew to South Carolina on the night of the New Hampshire primary to appear at a rally with Biden. Richmond said he wanted to remind Democrats in that critical state not to give up on Biden just because he fell behind in whiter states.

CEDRIC RICHMOND: He's never abandoned the African American community, and he would hope that because of Iowa and New Hampshire that they don't abandon him. And I think that's important.

SNELL: But Biden, Klobuchar and Buttigieg aren't the only options in town. Former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg is spending millions of his own dollars and amassing endorsements in states that don't vote for weeks. Michigan Congresswoman Haley Stevens says Bloomberg is gaining steam because he's investing in states like hers, places that were critical in 2016 but were largely ignored by Hillary Clinton.

HALEY STEVENS: What voters are afraid of in Michigan is losing again to Donald Trump. So when you have a campaign operation in play, that's what people are responding to.

SNELL: One Democrat who knows a bit about how to win in a state where President Trump also won is Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin. She is not endorsing anyone because her state is hosting the party's convention, but she says she has some advice on how to win over battleground voters.

TAMMY BALDWIN: Certainly, showing up matters.

SNELL: But there is pressure for centrists to hurry up and unite behind one person for the good of the rest of the Democrats on the ticket. When asked about the effect a Sanders nomination would have on those races, Senator Coons simply said, quote, "negative." Sanders supporter Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal says that's wrong.

PRAMILA JAYAPAL: I think the people on the Democratic side who keep talking about how he's not electable and how he's too far left have to understand that this is a fighter, and the American people want a fighter.

SNELL: Asked this week about Sanders' impact on congressional races, Congresswoman Cheri Bustos, who runs the House Democrats' campaign arm, took a long and deliberate pause.

CHERI BUSTOS: We have discussions about the nominee, but, you know, it's - runs the gamut.

SNELL: Bustos also repeated what's becoming the new mantra for moderate Democrats - it's still early; things may change.

Kelsey Snell, NPR News, the Capitol.

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