Bernie Sanders holds a nine-point polling lead in the first primary state of New Hampshire over Democratic frontrunner Hillary Clinton. However, it may be Donald Trump, the seemingly indestructible Republican leader, who gives Sanders a shock upset of Clinton in a crucial state that she won in her last presidential run eight years ago.
“Sanders and his aides are making a direct attempt to woo at least some would-be Trump fans away from the dark side of populism, especially in New Hampshire, which has an open primary system that allows even a small number of independent voters to make a big impact,” wrote MSNBC commentator Alex Seitz-Wald in an analytical piece published Wednesday.
In most states, party primaries are restricted to allow only registered members of each party to vote in that party’s primary election. But New Hampshire and 18 other states allow independent, or “unaffiliated,” voters to cast ballots in either the Democratic or Republican — or other party — primary.
As a result, in new Hampshire and other “open” states, independent voters who have not registered a party affiliation hold power to sway primary elections toward a candidate who may not have the full backing of his or her own party.
In New Hampshire, about 40 percent of voters have not registered with either major party. With neither the Democratic nor Republican parties claiming a share as great as 40 percent, independents comprise the largest single voting bloc in New Hampshire.
Sanders has recently made direct outreach efforts to Trump supporters in an attempt to persuade them that his candidacy addresses their economic anxieties better than Donald Trump’s.
Sanders clearly has tapped a large vein of economic populism, not only with his message but with his actions — even flying commercial airlines in the coach section between campaign stops, rather than on chartered or private jets as both Clinton and Trump are known to do.
— Go Bernie (@goberniefor2016) December 29, 2015
“What Trump has done with some success is taken that anger, taken those fears which are legitimate and converted them into anger against Mexicans, anger against Muslims,” Sanders said in a Sunday CBS interview. “I think for his working class and middle class supporters, I think we can make the case that if we really want to address the issues that people are concerned about… we need policies that bring us together.”
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While it remains too early to tell whether Sanders’ overtures have made any inroads with Trump backers in New Hampshire, Trump himself appears to be increasingly concerned that the economic populist message delivered by the Democratic underdog could affect his own voter base, leveling a series of wild accusations at Sanders, who the real estate billionaire and former reality TV star has branded a “wacko.”
On Wednesday, Trump bizarrely warned his followers that a Bernie Sanders presidency would mean that they would no longer be able to play golf, as seem in the following video excerpt of his speech delivered in Hilton Head, South Carolina.
“I love this area,” Trump said during the Hilton Head address. “I’ve been here many times. Great golfing area, right? We love it. No more golf — no more golf. You won’t have any golf any more. You won’t have any money left to be golfing.”
Trump based his dire admonition about the end of golf under a Sanders presidency on his claim that Sanders has pledged to raise federal income taxes to a 90 percent level — a claim that Sanders brands as “lies, lies and lies” and the fact-checking group Politifact gave its most severe “pants on fire” rating for falsity.
Regardless of his offensive aimed at stealing potential Donald Trump voters, however, political experts doubt whether the independent vote will turn out in force in the New Hampshire primary for Bernie Sanders, noting that about two-thirds of those without a party affiliation vote consistently and reliably for one party or the other in every election.
[Photo By Andrew Harnik/Associated Press]