Senator Kamala Harris, viewed by many political pros as a frontrunner in the 2020 Democratic presidential primary, told a Granite State audience that she plans on “competing hard” in New Hampshire, despite rumors to the contrary. And with Senator Bernie Sanders’ announcement that he’s entering the race, that’s now a promise it makes a lot more sense to keep.

Harris, of California, began her speech at the Politics and Eggs event — co-hosted by the New Hampshire Institute of Politics and the New England Council — by addressing what she’s previously called the “elephant in the room” — whether she would skip the New Hampshire primary and focus on other states.

“I want to bring this up to get it off the table: I’ve been asked, ‘Do you plan on spending any time here, or competing here?’ And I want to let everybody know I plan on competing hard in New Hampshire and I plan on doing well here.”

For weeks rumors have swirled through the political press that Harris might neglect New Hampshire, which is in Senator Elizabeth Warren’s back yard, and focus on South Carolina and California. The former has a Democratic primary where black voters make up more than 60 percent of the electorate;  the latter begins early voting on February 3 — the same day as the Iowa caucuses (as currently scheduled).

“Although New Hampshire will come immediately after Iowa, Harris’ advisers believe she should prioritize Nevada and South Carolina, the two states whose contests will follow New Hampshire,” the San Francisco Chronicle reported last October.

But with Bernie Sanders formally entering the race, that math may change. For Harris, New Hampshire is an important state, but a less-than-impressive performance is unlikely to endanger her campaign.  For Warren, however, the Granite State is a must-win or, at the very least, a “must-do-extremely well.”  And Sanders makes that outcome more difficult for the Massachusetts senator to achieve.

First, Sanders just won 60 percent of the votes from New Hampshire Democrats in 2016, defeating a far more entrenched front-runner in Hillary Clinton than he faces in Warren.

Second, Sanders’ voters tend to overlap with Warren voters. Many of the #DraftWarren activists of 2014-15 ended up backing Sanders in 2016.  According to a recent poll, the top two second-choice candidates are former Vice President Joe Biden (who still dominates in early polls) and Elizabeth Warren.

Wayne Lesperance, a political science professor from New England College, was in the Politics and Eggs audience and he told NHJournal: “Hearing Harris on the cusp of Bernie Sanders’ announcement is an interesting juxtaposition. The progressive lane is really crowded, and Democrats have a lot of excellent choices. It will be hard for any one to stand out.”

Unfortunately that’s exactly what both Warren and Sanders will need to do in New Hampshire, as pollster David Paleologos said.

“Sanders entering the race means it’s a must-win for him, given that he won 60 percent of Democratic primary voters in 2016. With Joe Biden in the race, Warren must ‘place’ or ‘show,’” Paleologos said.  “A third-place finish weakens Warren, and gives limelight and oxygen to the candidate who crossed the wire with the two regional favorites.”

Could that wire-crossing candidate be Kamala Harris? She’s hired a well-regarded and experienced Democratic operative, Craig Brown, to run her New Hampshire campaign.  She’s garnering quite a bit of the limelight from the national media. And she’s giving voters an opportunity to cast a vote for history.

“She checks quite a few boxes for Democrats in the terms of diversity, a woman and an African-American,” Lesperance said.

And then there’s Senator Cory Booker, who’s also campaigning seriously in New Hampshire and has the backing of Jim Demers, a key Democratic player in the Granite State. “Based on our polling, Booker has support in New Hampshire and it’s hard to think he won’t be in double-digits by the primary — maybe mid-teens or better — which keeps him competitive for South Carolina,” Paleologos said.

Add it all together and the smart play for the Harris campaign could be to campaign hard in New Hampshire, targeting progressive women who might otherwise trend toward Warren, thereby driving Warren’s overall number down and  —possibly — keep the Massachusetts senator out of the top three in her own back yard. Even if Harris doesn’t do particularly well, she could keep Warren out of the top three race in a 10- (or 15- or 20-) way race.

That would be a devastating outcome for Warren, and if it forced her out of the race, that would leave fewer progressive women candidates in the race fighting over those voters.

New Hampshire Democrats certainly seemed to like what they saw from Harris at the Politics and Eggs event.

“She looks like someone who would play the president in a movie,” said New Hampshire progressive activist Judy Reardon after the speech. “People like that.”

Morning Consult, 2/12/2019

Wayne Lesperance, a political science professor from New England College, was in the Politics and Eggs audience and he told NHJournal: “Hearing Harris on the cusp of Bernie Sanders’ announcement is an interesting juxtaposition. The progressive lane is really crowded, and Democrats have a lot of excellent choices. It will be hard for any one to stand out.”

Unfortunately that’s exactly what both Warren and Sanders will need to do in New Hampshire, as pollster David Paleologos said.

“Sanders entering the race means it’s a must-win for him, given that he won 60 percent of Democratic primary voters in 2016. With Joe Biden in the race, Warren must ‘place’ or ‘show,’” Paleologos said.  “A third-place finish weakens Warren, and gives limelight and oxygen to the candidate who crossed the wire with the two regional favorites.”

Could that wire-crossing candidate be Kamala Harris? She’s hired a well-regarded and experienced Democratic operative, Craig Brown, to run her New Hampshire campaign.  She’s garnering quite a bit of the limelight from the national media. And she’s giving voters an opportunity to cast a vote for history.

“She checks quite a few boxes for Democrats in the terms of diversity, a woman and an African-American,” Lesperance said.

And then there’s Senator Cory Booker, who’s also campaigning seriously in New Hampshire and has the backing of Jim Demers, a key Democratic player in the Granite State. “Based on our polling, Booker has support in New Hampshire and it’s hard to think he won’t be in double-digits by the primary — maybe mid-teens or better — which keeps him competitive for South Carolina,” Paleologos said.

Add it all together and the smart play for the Harris campaign could be to campaign hard in New Hampshire, targeting progressive women who might otherwise trend toward Warren, thereby driving Warren’s overall number down and  —possibly — keep the Massachusetts senator out of the top three in her own back yard. Even if Harris doesn’t do particularly well, she could keep Warren out of the top three race in a 10- (or 15- or 20-) way race.

That would be a devastating outcome for Warren, and if it forced her out of the race, that would leave fewer progressive women candidates in the race fighting over those voters.

New Hampshire Democrats certainly seemed to like what they saw from Harris at the Politics and Eggs event.

“She looks like someone who would play the president in a movie,” said New Hampshire progressive activist Judy Reardon after the speech. “People like that.”

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