Area political activists visit New Hampshire to support presidential candidates

Last modified: Wednesday, February 03, 2016

NORTHAMPTON — With the first votes cast in the 2016 presidential election, area activists are doing their best to make sense of the results of the Iowa caucuses while also preparing for the next contest in nearby New Hampshire.

Joel Spiro, a retired foreign service officer, is organizing a carpool from Northampton up to Swanzey in the southwest corner of New Hampshire to knock on doors Saturday. He, like many in the area, supports Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, who split the Democratic caucus vote with former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton almost down the middle.

The Democratic Party of Iowa declared a razor-thin victory for Clinton on Tuesday, several hours after the caucuses concluded.

Meanwhile, on the Republican side, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz bucked recent polling results to best Manhattan real estate mogul Donald Trump, while Florida Sen. Marco Rubio earned a close third place.

After New Hampshire’s Feb. 9 primary, Nevada and South Carolina also vote in February, with about a dozen states, including Massachusetts, to hold contests on March 1, known as “Super Tuesday.” Feb. 10 is the last day Massachusetts voters can register to vote in that primary.

Spiro said Sanders had a good showing in Iowa, noting he started the race 50 percentage points behind Clinton.

“The results we saw yesterday show the support he’s getting and I think it’s going to grow and grow,” Spiro said.

Spiro said that though he has respect for Clinton, whom he called “a very smart woman,” Sanders has a better capacity to use the bully pulpit to inspire people, much as former presidents Theodore Roosevelt and Franklin Delano Roosevelt did.

“If he caught on, then what I see is a much stronger democratic force in the House and certainly a strong Senate,” Spiro said. “He can make a difference in the makeup of Congress and then as he starts trying to put things on the table, he will have a civilian army of supporters behind him to keep up the work.”

Spiro, a longtime Democrat, said he did not pay as much attention to the Republican caucuses.

“Cruz is a horror,” Spiro said. “I disagree with everything he says.”

Good reception

Nicole LaChapelle, an attorney who lives in Easthampton, has been a supporter and volunteer organizer for Clinton throughout this campaign, though she supported her previous rival, Barack Obama, in 2008. LaChapelle said she respected Clinton’s participation in a rally in Unity, New Hampshire, after Obama clinched the 2008 nomination.

“For Hillary to be on that stage and be so heartfelt was stunning,” she said. “She’s got grit and she gets it.”

As for the Iowa results, LaChapelle called the contests unpredictable and struck a cautiously optimistic tone. She said that while the caucuses are a first-in-the-nation tradition, the state is not a bellwether for the rest of the country.

“Sure, I want my candidate to clear the field, but I think you’d be silly not to see Bernie Sanders’ momentum and online fundraising that helped him staff up fast when he didn’t have much organization there,” she said.

She said she feels good about New Hampshire and is helping with multiple events in the state. Though polls have shown Sanders with sizable leads in the state, LaChapelle said she and other volunteers are getting receptive hearings while knocking on doors. And she added that she hasn’t seen as many volunteers out for the Sanders campaign.

“I’ve been up there; I’ve been on the doors, and the conversations at the doors are fantastic for Hillary,” she said. “And the Bernie presence, I’m a little blind to it.”

While Spiro said his previous carpools have attracted between two and seven volunteers, LaChapelle said her “Get Out the Vote” events have drawn 35 canvassers.

Rubio volunteer

John Andrulis, a professor emeritus of economics at Western New England University, is a state Republican committeeman. He said last month that he had not yet made up his mind whom he would support for president.

Following the Iowa caucuses, he said he signed up to volunteer for Marco Rubio.

“I like the way he speaks and I like his ideas,” Andrulis said. “He is young, but of course so was John Kennedy.”

Andrulis said he generally likes to see more experience in a presidential candidate than Rubio’s unfinished first term in the Senate, particularly executive experience like a governorship, but he noted that Rubio did surprisingly well in Iowa after performing poorly in state polls.

“I think that Rubio is going to do well in New Hampshire,” Andrulis said. “Trump magic, if you can call it that, seems to have broken down. He didn’t come in anywhere near first.”

Andrulis said that if Rubio can make it through the Republican primaries, his position on immigration as one of the Senate co-sponsors of a bill to support a pathway to citizenship for the millions of undocumented immigrants in the country could help him in a general election.

“Having a pathway to citizenship, I think that’s a compromise that would appeal to people outside the Republican Party, and for that matter Hispanic voters are likely to see that in a positive light, not to mention that Rubio is Hispanic,” Andrulis said.

No coronation

Matt Barron, a political consultant in Chesterfield, said he is backing Sanders because of his support of financial reform and his strong language about addressing income inequality. He also said it is good for Clinton, who looked for a while as though she would not have serious competition for the Democratic nomination, to have a primary challenge.

“I’m not into this idea of a coronation for Clinton,” he said.

Barron said New Hampshire’s proximity to Sanders’ home state of Vermont gives him an advantage.

“I think that Sanders will likely win and I think Trump will likely win,” Barron said. “They both have great appeal to independents and ‘unenrolled’ (party designation) is the largest segment of the population in that state. They control the outcome of elections.”

At the same time, he does not believe Sanders will beat Clinton by the double-digit margins recent polls have shown for him.

“Six days is a lot of time,” he said. “That’s an eternity in politics.”

In Massachusetts, Barron said he believes Sanders is well positioned, particularly in the western part of the state. He said he has seen Sanders signs on lawns of houses that have never held signs for any other candidates.

He also said that he has appreciated Sanders’ appearances in western Massachusetts on two occasions, in Springfield in October and at the University of Massachusetts Amherst in January.

Normally, politicians rarely visit the region, except to raise money, as Clinton did at the Delaney House in Holyoke in October.

“Massachusetts has more delegates to the national convention than Iowa or New Hampshire, and it bugs me that we’re seen as an ATM for the Democrats,” he said.

Continuing the work

Tom Lesser, a Northampton attorney, is an organizer for the Clinton campaign. He has worked with campaigns for Obama, U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren and Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey, among others.

He said Iowa’s voting results show that the primary season is a long season.

“It’s nice for Clinton that she won, but there are two candidates who are raising good issues and it’s going to be a long road to the nomination, just as it was in 2008,” he said.

Lesser said he believes Clinton is in the best position to continue and improve the policies that Obama has begun during the past seven years of his presidency. He said that Republicans are likely to continue to control Congress and will continue to try to obstruct the Democrats’ agenda.

“Barack Obama has done a great job under those circumstances and I think she’s the best person to continue in the path he’s set out on health care, on women’s issues, on keeping us out of conflicts around the world,” he said.

Like LaChapelle, he said he has been surprised not to see more canvassers supporting Sanders in the field in New Hampshire.

“They haven’t emphasized organizing, and if we’re going to change the direction of this country, it’s going to come from people organizing and persuading other people who don’t hold their values,” he said.

Youth vote

First-year UMass student John Tibbetts supports Sanders. The Vermont senator received overwhelming support from Iowa voters in Tibbetts’ age demographic, those from 17 to 29, and will likely continue to depend on them throughout the primary season.

Tibbetts, 18, said he has driven up to New Hampshire numerous times to knock on doors and make calls at phone banks. Between seven and 10 students usually travel with him, he said.

Sanders’ support of college affordability and commitment to address student debt have made his campaign attractive to young people, according to Tibbetts. He added that young people also are worried about the availability of jobs and like Sanders’ message of standing up to fight economic inequality.

“He provides a positive vision for the future,” Tibbetts said. “He’s advocating to switch things up; that’s something getting students excited.”

Tibbetts said he will continue to volunteer in New Hampshire, and has confidence in Sanders’ ability to win in the coming primaries and caucuses.

“I think we’re in great shape in New Hampshire,” he said. “But we still need to work. We can’t take anything for granted.”

Dave Eisenstadter can be reached at


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Northampton, MA 01061


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