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Long-Shot Candidates Bet On New Hampshire


There were six Democrats onstage for the last televised presidential debate, but there are twice as many actually running for president. And that, of course, doesn't even include B.J. Leiderman, who writes our theme music. Candidates who didn't make the cut are either struggling to raise enough money or aren't polling well enough to get on the stage. And with just a few weeks until the first ballots are cast, some of those candidates have placed their final bets on one state. From New Hampshire Public Radio, Lauren Chooljian reports.

LAUREN CHOOLJIAN, BYLINE: Colorado Senator Michael Bennet has a lot of ground to make up.

MICHAEL BENNET: Hi. Michael Bennet. Nice to see you.

CHOOLJIAN: He's at the very bottom of the polls. Everyone else in the Democratic field has raised more money than he has. And a lot of people in New Hampshire still have no idea who he is. Only a dozen people showed up to see him speak at this tea shop near the Seacoast.

BENNET: As you may have noticed, I'm not at the top of the polls right now, which makes you deeply cherish people that you're here today listening to me. But - so I would love your help.

CHOOLJIAN: Even on days when he's drawn bigger crowds, it's obvious. Bennet's bid for the White House - it's a long shot. But Bennet is not giving up because he's hoping that there's a surprise primary victory still out there for him, a win like the one that shocked the political universe in 1976.


UNIDENTIFIED NARRATOR: Jimmy Carter entered the Democratic presidential race a political unknown. Outside of Georgia, hardly anyone even recognized his name. But that would change.


UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: I don't know who he is.

CHOOLJIAN: In 1976, Jimmy Carter came to New Hampshire and focused on retail politics. He slept in voters' homes. His family and friends knocked on doors for him. He built momentum one voter at a time. And it worked. He won the New Hampshire primary and went on to be president. And this seemingly magical situation, a long shot gaining serious momentum out of New Hampshire - it kept on happening.


BILL CLINTON: I'll never forget who gave me a second chance. And I'll be there for you until the last dog dies.


JOHN MCCAIN: But, tonight, we sure showed them what a comeback looks like.


CHOOLJIAN: Bill Clinton, John McCain. They came out of New Hampshire with underdog stories that helped fuel their campaigns and a first-in-the-nation legend. Every four years, these are the stories that get told around here. New Hampshire politicians tell candidates, hey, that could be you. It's why, despite the long odds, Michael Bennet has promised to do 50 New Hampshire town halls before primary day. By NHPR's count, he's held more events here than anyone else.

BENNET: When I'm meeting with people in New Hampshire, they're farther away from making up their minds today than they were six weeks ago or six months ago or even a year ago.

CHOOLJIAN: Now, that is true. There are a lot of undecided voters here. It's why Bennet isn't the only low-polling candidate hustling hard for votes in New Hampshire. I followed former Maryland Congressman John Delaney around on a day that he traveled nearly the entire length of the state. He's polling around 2%, and the largest crowd he spoke to was at a high school, a group of students who were forced to listen. And many of them couldn't even vote.

What gives you the hope that that surprise is still out there for you?

JOHN DELANEY: Look. I feel like when I have an opportunity to talk to people, my message resonates with them.

CHOOLJIAN: And then maybe they'll go home and talk to someone else? Or...

DELANEY: Yeah. And, you know, my experience in life is things can change fast.

BENNET: So given how hard it would be for a Bennet or Delaney to win, why would a low-polling candidate keep campaigning here? Maybe because some New Hampshire voters want them to.

MAX KOENIG: There's 320 million people in this country. I don't think it's a bad thing to have a bunch of different voices.

CHOOLJIAN: This is Max Koenig (ph) from Dover, N.H. He and his wife are trying to see every 2020 candidate. They came to Bennet's tea shop event.

BENNET: I wish there were twice as many candidates that we're running around trying to see.

CHOOLJIAN: But while that might be good for democracy, it's still not going to help a long-shot candidate get that underdog win he or she is hoping for. Max Koenig already knows who he's voting for. He's a Trump supporter. For NPR News, I'm Lauren Chooljian. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Lauren is NHPR’s Politics and Policy reporter for the State of Democracy project.