MANCHESTER, N.H. — Democratic presidential hopefuls preached to the converted during the New Hampshire Democratic Convention on Saturday.
More than 4,000 people — the largest turnout for a Democratic convention in the state — gathered at the Verizon Wireless Center to take in speeches and show their support for the five candidates seeking the Democratic presidential nomination. While all five candidates were present, it is — at least in New Hampshire — a two-person race, with recent polling showing Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders leading Hillary Clinton.
A new poll of likely voters from WBUR Boston — an affiliate of National Public Radio — shows Sanders with a narrow lead over Clinton in New Hampshire, 35 percent to 31 percent. Earlier this week, a poll from Monmouth College showed Sanders leading Clinton 43 percent to 36 percent.
Outside the event, hundreds of people gathered in large clusters waving signs showing their support for the two leading candidates. O’Malley supporters marched around outside the arena, while others marched to raise awareness for specific issues, from opposition to drilling for oil in Alaska to support for an assault weapons ban.
Inside the arena, the crowd vibe approximated something between a rock concert and sports event. Onlookers chanted the names of their candidates — competing to out-yell each other while beating together inflatable sticks typically found at a college basketball game.
Clinton, the first candidate to speak, was greeted with screaming reminiscent of when the Beatles played the “The Ed Sullivan Show,” and went out of her way to praise President Barack Obama, who beat her out for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2008.
Clinton took a shot at the way Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump handled statements from a New Hampshire man who said Obama is a foreign-born Muslim during a rally Thursday.
“He’s been trafficking in prejudice and paranoia this entire campaign,” Clinton said of Trump. “But, if you look at the other Republican candidates, they are Trump without the pizazz or the hair.”
Clinton devoted a solid portion of her speech to outlining her plan to combat drug abuse, which mirrors the policy of treatment over incarceration outlined by Gov. Peter Shumlin during his 2013 State of the State Address.
On Thursday, Shumlin was in New Hampshire to speak on behalf of Clinton’s plan.
O’Malley evoked the trust-busting of Teddy Roosevelt when he called for action to break up big banks.
“If it’s too big to fail and it’s too big to be held accountable, then it’s too big and it needs to be busted up before it busts us up,” O’Malley said.
If Clinton’s supporters were enthusiastic, Sanders’ supporters were downright rabid.
“It sounds like some people are ready for a political revolution,” Sanders said to the cheering crowd.
Sanders stuck to his stump speech, vowing to take on the billionaire class and fighting for free public college.
Sanders also reiterated the message he offered this week to an audience of evangelical Christians at Liberty University when he argued family values is about more than opposing gay marriage and called for employers to provide 12 weeks of paid family and medical leave.
Sanders told the crowd a political revolution will be impossible without mass participation.
“We will not retain the White House, we will not regain the Senate or the House or win dozens of governors’ races unless we become the party of excitement and generate a high voter turnout,” Sanders said. “Democrats win when voter turnout is high. Republicans win when voter turnout is low.”
Earlier in the day, Aimee Margolis, of North Hampton, waved a Clinton sign and answered chants of “Bernie” with a chant of “Bernie’s too old.”
“Being president is a young man’s job,” Margolis said. “Reagan had dementia at 77 and Bernie will be 75 when he’s president. He’ll be older than Reagan and there are problems with dementia and other issues at that age.”
Lauren Wilson, of Exeter, discussed her support for Sanders.
“He supports students and veterans and he really listens to everyone,” Wilson said. “He’s trying to win in an ethical way and not take money from big donors.”
Wilson, who is black, said she believes Sanders is making inroads with black voters, who Sanders has been trying to woo during recent campaign swings through South Carolina.
“I think since he was interrupted by the Black Lives Matter people, he’s really taking efforts to listen,” Wilson said.