Between a Wonk and a Hard Place: Welcome to the Granite State


Pulling off the highway, we saw the hotel where Bernie Sanders was speaking. Immediately, I was surprised. This fancy Radisson seemed so not Bernie. It looked like a castle! Yet, the parking lot was full of cars sporting the unmistakable blue Bernie 2016 bumper sticker. Sure enough, we were in the right place.

Once inside, Bernie’s volunteers greeted us with stickers and a clipboard asking for our information. They then ushered us through the grand halls of the hotel to what they called the “waiting room.” There was a line of chairs along the walls of the room, but people were mostly mingling and enjoying cups of refreshing orange water.

While in the waiting room, we were approached by a few activists asking for support. As usual, we stopped them before they could go much further to inform them that we were not New Hampshire voters. But thanks to these activists and the other enthusiastic Bernie supporters, the room certainly had a special kind of buzz. Only a very unique politician could bring these people, young and old (mostly white), together.

Eventually, Bernie’s volunteers escorted us into the room where Bernie would speak. We were instructed to sit and remain seated by the volunteers (by the tone of their voices, it was clear the power had gone to their heads a little).

Once seated, I looked around the room. It was perplexing because our group of chairs seemed to be arranged to face the wall. We quickly realized that this was a temporary wall. As the Bernie volunteers deconstructed the wall, a ballroom full of conference goers was revealed to us. They seemed excited to see us, whipping out their phones and taking pictures of us.

This was not your typical Bernie event. Well, our section of the audience seemed pretty typical but the people in the ballroom were simply attending a conference on poverty at which Bernie was the keynote speaker.

Still, a conference on poverty—now, that’s something Bernie Sanders is pretty comfortable talking about.

Bernie in Nashua

Bernie Sanders in Nashua

Throughout Senator Sanders’ speech, our side of the room hooted and hollered and the ballroom guests clapped politely. Sanders knows how to get a room fired up about the harm of income inequality. He argued that corruption in Washington DC is fueled by the fact that people with low incomes don’t vote. He called for pay equity for women. He expressed his outrage at the 51% unemployment rate among black youth.

He shared two particular anecdotes to illustrate the income inequality crisis. First, he highlighted the family that owns Walmart as being one of the richest families, while Walmart as a company pays its employees an obscenely small amount. And he also criticized Goldman Sachs for contributing to making the rich richer and the poor poorer.

Sanders also connected well with the crowd by criticizing the amount of money that many seniors are forced to live on—citing the numbers as $12,000 and $13,000 per year.

Finally, Bernie Sanders ended by reminding us that “our government belongs to us.” To this, the audience erupted with approval. There is not mistaking—Sanders has some very passionate supporters.



 Unable to find Bernie’s bus to take a selfie with it, we hopped in the car and headed to the New Hampshire coast for a town hall with Jeb Bush. We pulled up and parked in front of the high school where Bush was speaking, unable to find a spot in the school’s parking lot.

We arrived only five minutes late but Jeb confirmed the Bush’s commitment to on-time events because his stump speech was already in full swing. The town hall set up was picture perfect. Bush stood in a circle of Granite Staters with an American flag splayed behind him. There is no doubt—he looked like a leader.

Bush connected well with the audience of older New Hampshirites. He got laughs from the crowd when he joked, “We’re in the eighth year of Barack Obama’s presidency and I think he has finally stopped blaming my brother.”

Bush also poked fun at Donald Trump, sarcastically using phrases like “it’ll be huge” or “it’ll be fantastic.” He warned, “Let the front runner win, that’ll be wonderful.” Still, he agreed to say a few nice things about Trump in case his mom was watching.

After a well-polished stump speech, Bush answered questions from the audience. He responded to a total of eleven questions—doubling the number that most the candidates we’ve seen typically answer.

When asked whether trump had helped him or challenged him, he confidently responded, “No.” One woman expressed her concern about polls and suggested he use his brother and dad on the campaign trail. To which, Bush agreed but also emphasized that he was dedicated to blazing his own trail. He agreed there is a need to reform the culture in DC.

He thrived when answering policy questions on topics like Medicare advantage, Patriot Act, guns, and federal income tax reform. In terms of education policy, the crowd asked Bush about Common Care and college interest rates. In his discussion of college affordability, Bush criticized college professors and students, which didn’t play well with some of us in the audience…but seemed to make sense to others in the room.

Additionally, two questioners highlighted to need for the next president to show strength in the face of countries that are testing the United States like North Korea, China, Iran, and Russia.

Through his responses, Governor Jeb Bush came off as very personable. Of course, Bush couldn’t hide his wonky tendencies but he was able to joke and relate to the people in the room. In fact, I left feeling surprised he still isn’t doing better in the polls.