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Ex-Sanders Staffers Work for Clinton in New Hampshire, a State that 'Felt the Bern'

New Hampshire’s primary gave Clinton the most bruising defeat of her campaign against Sanders, and now the race there has tightened.
Image: Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton on July 12, 2016
Hillary Clinton and Sen. Bernie Sanders stand together during a campaign rally in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, on July 12, 2016.BRIAN SNYDER / Reuters

MANCHESTER, N.H. — In the parking lot outside Bernie Sanders’ old New Hampshire campaign headquarters, former Sanders organizer David Zachary is getting out the vote. This time, it's for Hillary Clinton.

Working out of the trunk of his car, which is filled with clipboards, pens and buttons that read “United Against Hate,” Zachary is one of a dozen staffers employed by MoveOn Political Action, the liberal group that endorsed Sanders in the primary but is now backing Clinton.

New Hampshire’s first-in-the-nation primary gave Clinton the most bruising defeat of her campaign against Sanders, who beat her by 22 points. And if she loses the state on Tuesday, blame may fall on the Vermont senator's holdouts.

“You all cleaned my clock in the primary, I know,” Clinton said Sunday night in Manchester. “But it was a great primary because it was about ideas and issues not insults, and I'm proud of the race that Sen. Sanders and I ran.”

The race has tightened here in the campaign’s closing days, leading Clinton, Donald Trump and President Barack Obama to all make last-minute visits to the state within 24 hours of one another.

It’s no accident that Sanders and Clinton held their first joint appearance after the primary here, where some supporters walked out in protests and others wept openly. They double-billed a second joint event in September, as did Clinton and liberal hero Sen. Elizabeth Warren, of Massachusetts, last month. Sanders has also made several solo stops for Clinton.

Polls show the efforts have gone a long way toward repairing relations and coalescing Democratic support behind Clinton in a state where Democrats worry about Sanders supporters either staying home or voting for a third-party candidate like Jill Stein or Gary Johnson.

“Early on we heard some younger voters talk about Johnson and Stein,” said Zachary, but “we don’t hear that too much though now.”

“It’s not the ideal election to make a third-party statement.”

He uses an app called Hustle that lets him text message hundreds of supporters an hour to encourage them to support Clinton and “give Bernie a Senate majority.” He’s gotten a few nasty responses, but most have been positive, he said.

Led by Kurt Ehrenberg, a longtime progressive organizer who was the Sanders campaign’s first hire in New Hampshire, MoveOn’s campaign has attracted many former Sanders staffers and volunteers, some of whom are now responsible for organizing the same parts of the state they oversaw for Sanders.

Ehrenberg's team has been targeting voters that data-based models suggest are highly likely to be Democrats, but unlikely to vote — precisely the kind of people who might have liked Sanders in the primary but are now unenthused about Clinton.

Leveraging the credibility that comes from their work for the campaign, the former Sanders staffers and volunteers try to reach voters that Clinton loyalists might have a harder time convincing to vote.

With a combination of local volunteers and members bussed in from Boston and other parts of New England, they knocked on nearly 13,000 doors during the final weekend before voting.

“Progressive voters like you are uniting against hate. Join your neighbors in voting for Hillary Clinton & Maggie Hassan,” reads the MoveOn door-hangers, which bear some resemblance to Sanders’ literature.

Carry Davey was an ardent Sanders supporters, but came up from Somerville, Massachusetts, to knock on doors for Clinton. “It’s not the ideal election to make a third-party statement,” he said. “Voting for Hillary is the only rational option.”

It’s not always smooth sailing for volunteers as they try to coax low-propensity voters, especially wary New Hampshirites, who have now endured more than a year and a half’s worth of politicking through both a primary and general election campaign.

But it’s work that MoveOn, like other liberal groups, hope will not only pay off on Tuesday, when New Hampshire could be a crucial part of Clinton’s path to 270 electoral votes, but beyond.

“We’re going to continue to work on organizing the grassroots because it will help hold Hillary’s feet to the fire and make sure the Democratic agenda gets enacted” if she wins, Ehrenberg said.