NASHUA, N.H. – A steady stream of anxious Democratic voters went to the polls in this pivotal state Tuesday saying they’d chosen a candidate only in recent days or even hours, underlining Democrats’ deep-seated frustration and uncertainty over how to defeat a president they revile.
Terry Heinzman, walking into a Manchester precinct, surprised herself by voting for former Vice President Joe Biden. Just hours earlier, she had been trying to decide between Sens. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., and Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass.
“I thought it was going to be Amy or Elizabeth,” Heinzman said as she put on an “I voted” sticker. But as the retired event planner, 74, entered her polling place at the McDonough School, she decided that reversing what she saw as the calamitous damage of the Trump era required a more experienced hand.
“As much as I am progressive, in my values and the way I think this country ought to go, I don’t think it’s time right now,” Heinzman said. “I think there’s so much cleaning up to do.” Yet, asked whether Biden could beat Trump, she said, “I’m not sure anybody can, to be perfectly honest with you.”
That fatalism was widespread among voters in the first-in-the-nation primary, even after a year of campaigning by a Democratic field that at one point included more than two dozen contenders. Linda Ryan, a 62-year-old teacher who voted in Nashua, also agonized until the 11th hour, saying, “I didn’t decide until yesterday.”
Ryan had been torn between Klobuchar and Buttigieg, finally choosing the former because “I just think she’s more electable.”
New Hampshire has played an outsize role in shaping previous presidential primaries, but Democrats fretted that the outcome this year would provide little clarity. The New Hampshire primary came a week after the botched Iowa caucuses that produced a delayed, muddled result.
“The truth of the matter is, tonight is likely going to raise more questions than answers,” said Karine Jean-Pierre, a Democratic strategist and senior adviser at MoveOn.org. “After tonight, less than 600,000 people will have voted. More than twice that many people will ride the New York City subway home tonight.”
Some campaigns also suggested the muddle was likely to continue. Warren campaign manager Roger Lau wrote supporters Tuesday, “No candidate has come close yet to receiving majority support among the Democratic primary electorate, and there is no candidate that has yet shown the ability to consolidate support.”
Still, voters in New Hampshire grappled with their decision, saying Democrats across the country were looking to their state for guidance after the Feb. 3 Iowa caucuses were plagued by technical difficulties. In the end, both Sen. Bernie Sanders and former South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg declared victory in Iowa.
The turbulence led to a highly unusual inability by voters Tuesday to choose candidates until they absolutely had to. Preliminary exit polls suggested that nearly half of voters made their decisions in the past few days.
That’s roughly double the percentage of New Hampshire voters who decided in the days before the 2016 primary, a contest that had been effectively narrowed to Sanders and Hillary Clinton.
Donald Sanborn, who voted Tuesday in Merrimack, had been undecided between Buttigieg and Klobuchar, both seen as more moderate alternatives to Sanders. He ended up choosing Klobuchar because he was impressed by her performance at a recent debate. “She was just so calm and knowledgeable,” he said.