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Voting Is Underway In New Hampshire For 1st-In-The-Nation Primary

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

President Trump drew thousands to a rally in New Hampshire last night. Bernie Sanders drew thousands to his own rally in New Hampshire last night. And hardly had the cheering ended, than the voting began at midnight. New Hampshire's primary is underway. Democratic voters with more candidates to choose from have been telling NPR's Asma Khalid they feel the weight of responsibility. She is in Manchester. Good morning.

ASMA KHALID, BYLINE: Good morning, Steve.

INSKEEP: What makes people anxious?

KHALID: Well, it's largely President Trump when you talk to Democrats. You know, he held a rally here in Manchester last night. He doesn't face any serious opposition from the Republicans, but he's a looming force over the Democratic primary. You know, I went to see all five of the leading Democratic candidates in the last couple of days. It's been a really marathon weekend. And pretty much everywhere I went, crowds told me something similar. They want somebody who is electable, and that means somebody who can defeat Donald Trump in a general election. But I don't know that there's a really clear sense of what that means.

And that means that when you ask people what they're feeling right now, there's not a sense of excitement as much as there is a sense of anxiety. And I heard that from one woman in particular who I met. Her name is Kathleen Macleod. I met her at an Amy Klobuchar rally yesterday.

KATHLEEN MACLEOD: I feel like a lot of people are feeling this way, like this angst over finding the candidate that's going to be able to beat Trump.

KHALID: And so, you know, she told me that she likes Amy Klobuchar, but she's nervous that a woman could be electable. She also likes Pete Buttigieg, the former mayor of South Bend, Ind., but she's nervous that because of his gay identity that people may not elect him either.

INSKEEP: This is not totally surprising, but still a little amazing that you would have a voter who says, I am not personally bothered by these characteristics, but I am trying to calculate what will bother voters out there in America because I think that I'm so concerned about winning this election.

KHALID: Exactly. Exactly. They sound like pundits.

INSKEEP: Well, we're about to hear from Bernie Sanders' campaign manager. How strong is his position?

KHALID: Well, Bernie Sanders is doing pretty well here in New Hampshire. I mean, we should keep in mind that New Hampshire was a huge success for him in 2016. He beat Hillary Clinton here by more than 20 percentage points. I don't think anyone expects him to do that well this cycle. But he does seem to do really well. I was out with him on the campaign trail also this weekend. He brings in really large crowds, some of the largest crowds that any candidate has seen this cycle. You know, the question I have, though, is that when I'm at events for other candidates, you know, I'll often ask them, have you made up your mind? And a fairly consistent theme I've heard among some folks who are, you know, say Amy Klobuchar supporters or Pete Buttigieg supporters, is that they know who they will not vote for. And usually the name I hear is Bernie Sanders amongst those folks.

INSKEEP: Oh, is he triggering some of that anxiety you're describing among Democratic voters?

KHALID: I think that some of the folks who do support the more moderate candidates have a fear that Bernie Sanders is not what they see as electable also. I mean, they find some of his plans to be a little too ambitious. Some of those people say that they don't think a "Medicare for All" mandatory system is likely going to happen. They don't think it's realistic.

INSKEEP: So much to talk about there. And let's do that. But first, say thanks to NPR's Asma Khalid. Thanks for getting up early today, particularly since I imagine you'll be up late tonight.

KHALID: Always happy to do it.

INSKEEP: And NPR's Ari Shapiro is anchoring our coverage from New Hampshire tonight, we should mention. Our next guest is Faiz Shakir. He is the campaign manager for Bernie Sanders. He's in Manchester. Good morning, sir.

FAIZ SHAKIR: Good morning, Steve. How are you?

INSKEEP: OK. Let me invite you to take this head-on. Bernie Sanders is a democratic socialist. Many people don't like that word, socialist. He wants to take away private health insurance as part of Medicare for All. Some people like their private insurance. He does put off some voters. How do you answer that?

SHAKIR: Look, we look forward to having this debate with Donald Trump, who's a corporate socialist. And the question before us, and all of us should answer is, do you want government to work for the top 1% as it currently does? We have socialism for the rich in this country. You look at who gets the federal contracts, who gets the tax subsidies, who gets their businesses deregulated, it's large multinational corporations and very wealthy and well-connected people.

The question now is, do we want to transform our government to work for the working class? That's democratic socialism, 21st-century economic rights - rights to health care, rights to basic retirement security - that's what we're fighting over.

INSKEEP: Can't Amy Klobuchar or Joe Biden, for that matter, any number of Democrats make that same critique of Donald Trump without some of the liabilities?

SHAKIR: Well, I wouldn't see it as a liability, Steve. You got to generate excitement and enthusiasm with the working class. You've got to bring formerly Trump voters back into the Democratic Party. In addition to growing - you know, unifying the party, you got to grow the party. And I think it's Bernie Sanders who can appeal to a lot of those blue-collar workers, Latino workers, as the changing workforce evolves in America. It is Bernie Sanders who is winning a lot of those people over. And it's because of a lifetime of consistency and trust on a lot of the core issues, whether it's trade, health care, taking on billionaire corporate interests. It's Bernie Sanders that people trust.

INSKEEP: Let me ask about growing the party. Of course, your campaign's theory is, you bring in new voters, that you grow the electorate. That's the way that you win with a democratic-socialist platform. But we've had this voting in Iowa. We don't know precisely who won, but we know how many people voted. And our correspondent Scott Detrow was there and realizing the turnout was kind of flat. Why do you think turnout did not go up in Iowa, despite all the attention on this campaign?

SHAKIR: Right. So turnout went just slightly up from 2016. The one thing I would say in this middling environment, this turnout in the Iowa caucus, was that the young person turnout was very large. In fact, it was larger than when President Obama won the Iowa caucus in 2008. At that point in time, the percentage of people under the age of 30 who turned out was 20%. And in this election, in this cycle, it was 24% percent in the Iowa caucus...

INSKEEP: But wait. Doesn't that mean that older people weren't showing up in the same...

SHAKIR: Well, and what I would say about that, Steve, is it's the job of all the Democratic candidates to help generate that enthusiasm, bring a lot of people out. I would say the turnout wasn't great for anybody across the board. And we're going to do our part. We found a lot of people brought them into the caucus for the first time. There were workers across the spectrum. They're Ethiopian workers. There were Latinos, communities of color. We brought them out.

Now, we got to do a better job - and you can come back to me after New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina and see how he did there. But we're going to - I think, we'll continue to remain amongst the field, the unique candidate who's able to inspire enthusiasm in the field.

INSKEEP: Let's talk about the possibility that Bernie Sanders doesn't get the nomination. The nominee could be, for all we know, a billionaire, Michael Bloomberg or someone more pragmatic, one of the candidates whom Senator Sanders has suggested is too close to billionaires. Will Senator Sanders support any Democrat who is nominated?

SHAKIR: Well, the answer is yes, of course. And he'd do his part to unify the party, and he'd ask the same of all of his fellow competitors. If he were the nominee, will they do their part to try to bring this party together? It's perfectly appropriate, Steve, of course, as he's running for the presidency, trying to sit in the Oval Office, that there are two billionaires standing in his path - one a billionaire on the Democratic Party, Michael Bloomberg, another billionaire president, Donald Trump. And this is, of course, what Bernie Sanders has been warning of about our political and economic system that is controlled by billionaires. So how appropriate is that?

INSKEEP: Opposite scenario, Bernie Sanders wins the nomination. A lot of people are worried about him. Does he do something to become a unity candidate, modify any position, do anything to make sure that all people on his side of the equation are actually showing up at the polls?

SHAKIR: Well, Steve, one, is I'd say, he's been consistent on the issues that people know and love about him. When you see the head-to-head polls against Donald Trump, there's a reason why he's doing and performing so well, because people know he has fought for Medicare for All. He will fight corporate interests, and you can count on that. But what I would say on the unity score that you've just raised, is that taking on Donald Trump unifies the Democratic Party. And we welcome all of our friends within the party to raise what messaging, what research needs to be done, to execute an argument that I'm not sure any of us have quite fully landed on. But what is most effective with people out there to convert them and persuade them into the Democratic ranks and pull them off of Donald Trump?

INSKEEP: Appreciate the admission there at the end that the Democrats haven't quite landed on their message for the fall. Mr. Shakir, thank you very much.

SHAKIR: Yes, sir. Thank you, Steve.

INSKEEP: Faiz Shakir is campaign manager for Democrat Bernie Sanders, one of the candidates in today's New Hampshire primary. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.