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Rhode Islanders Trek North To Get Out The Vote In New Hampshire

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Voters head to the polls in New Hampshire Tuesday to pick presidential candidates in the New Hampshire primary. Dozens of Rhode Islanders have been tre...

Voters head to the polls in New Hampshire Tuesday to pick presidential candidates in the New Hampshire primary. Dozens of Rhode Islanders have been trekking to the Granite State to help candidates from both parties make their case.

At 7:30 on Saturday morning, about 15 Hillary Clinton supporters stood around making small-talk, waiting to board a bus to New Hampshire.  Ann Gooding, the communications director for the Rhode Island Democratic Party, urged them to grab a bite to eat.

Gooding hustled around the room in a light-blue parka, making sure people saw the box of Joe, and assorted pastries.

“Help yourselves please. It’s a two hour trip, you might get hungry,” said Gooding.

The group was heading to Concord, New Hampshire to go door-to-door for the former first lady, and secretary of state.  Clinton has been trailing in the polls behind her democratic rival, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders.

This is the third bus trip for Hillary that Gooding has organized in recent weeks. 

“I think it’s great, everybody’s got this pent up energy, people want to get up there, they want to get on the street, they want to start doing the canvassing,” said Gooding. “It’s exciting; this is when people all coalesce for a common goal.”

For some of these Clinton supporters, this is their first time canvassing for a presidential primary. Though not for 28 year-old Charon Rose knocked on doors for Barack Obama, during his first presidential bid in 2008.

“It could be another historical election. You’re electing possibly the first female president,” said Rose.

And now Rose worries Democrats will lose undecided voters if Sanders gets the party nomination.

“I do like Senator Sanders, he’s a great guy, I like some of his ideas, but I think he’d be too polarizing,” said Rose. “In general elections you’re always looking for that independent vote, and I think that is the reason why I’m supporting Hillary.”

Democratic establishment has coalesced around the former Senator and Secretary of State in Rhode Island, but Senator Sanders is garnering support, especially among younger liberal voters.

A group of Brown University students spent the weekend canvassing for the Senator in Rollinsford, New Hampshire. They arrived back in Providence by train around eight at night on Super Bowl Sunday. Senior economics major, Jeremy Shur points to his concerns about growing income inequality.

“And Bernie Sanders is the one politician who’s aware of that, and aiming to build an economy for the American people,” said Shur. So that’s my elevator pitch.”

Shur said he found voters in New Hampshire receptive to his pitch. But he worries that some Democrats will choose Clinton because they feel she stands a better chance in the general election.

“If you like Bernie, but won’t vote for him because he’s not electable, it is that, in and of itself that is lending to his not being electable, because you won’t vote for him.”

Independent voters can cast their ballots for either party in the New Hampshire primary, and like Sanders, Republican New Jersey Governor Chris Christie hopes to win their votes. Christie has tried to position himself as a more moderate alternative to conservatives like Ted Cruz.

That’s why RI Republican party operative Barbara Ann Fenton has been back and forth to New Hampshire six times to canvas for Christie.

“It’s a coffee morning,” said Fenton. “So yesterday, a bunch of us, left around for in the morning, and we got back at two at night, two in the morning I guess now.”

Sitting at the Corner Bakery Café in Cranston, Fenton is bright-eyed, despite the recent sleep deficit. She guesses she’s knocked on about 1,000 doors over the last several weeks.

Fenton said high-profile endorsements including one from Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker have helped Christie, who was lagging in southern New Hampshire.

“People were like, look, I was undecided, till about a week ago, I’m leaning Christie,” said Fenton. “A couple weekends ago, when I had gone up there, that wasn’t the case there was more buzz about Rubio.”

The Middletown native is no political newcomer. She's served as a Republican delegate, and met Governor Christie when he campaigned for her fiancé, Cranston Mayor Allan Fung, during his bid for Rhode Island governor.

Fenton said a small, dedicated group from Rhode Island has been going to New Hampshire regularly. She said some voters worry he’s not Republican enough. From his changed stance on abortion to the embrace he received from President Obama following hurricane sandy, which destroyed parts of the New Jersey shoreline.

“Chris will always be criticized for that quote unquote hug that he gave Obama, but I love a guy who is willing to say, look the people of New Jersey, the People of my state come first, before politics.”

Business mogul, Donald Trump is currently leading the polls in New Hampshire, and has a support network in Rhode Island as well, led by State Representative Joe Trillo.

Marco Rubio is hoping to close the gap with Trump. He came in third behind Trump in Iowa caucuses, but only by about one percentage point.

The Florida senator has his own group of local supporters, including a handful of state lawmakers, such as House Minority Leader Brian Newbury.

Gary Sasse, who runs the Hassenfeld Institute at Bryant University, is Rubio’s Rhode Island Chairman.

“We’ve had volunteers up in New Hampshire every weekend, and they have basically been doing retail politics,” said Sasse. “They’ve been knocking on doors, identifying Rubio voters, making phone calls, identifying Rubio voters.”

Sasse said after Rubio’s third place finish in the Iowa caucuses, voters in New Hampshire have been very receptive.

“Even people who say he’s not their first choice have been very positive about him, very supportive, and we’re really very encouraged, from the feedback that we’ve been getting, but we’ll know Tuesday night,” said Sasse.

Some Rhode Islanders will likely be working for their candidates in the Granite State throughout the day. Members of the Rhode Island Republican Party plan to help New Hampshire republicans run their primary. But most will be watching from Rhode Island with bated breath.

Whatever the outcome Tuesday, many of the more politically active Rhode Islanders will soon focus their attention on the primaries ahead, including the Ocean State’s primary, on April 26th.

Editor's note: a previous version of this story spelled Jeremy Shur's last name 'Schur'. The story has been corrected.

Rhode Islanders Trek North To Get Out The Vote In New Hampshire
Rhode Islanders Trek North To Get Out The Vote In New Hampshire