On the campaign trail: Democrats scramble for lead in New Hampshire

by Reuters
Saturday, 8 February 2020 17:49 GMT

(Adds details on reproductive rights forum, paragraphs 13-18)

By Joseph Ax and James Oliphant

CONCORD, N.H., Feb 8 (Reuters) - Democrats scrambled to gain an edge with voters on Saturday on the last weekend before the party's next presidential nominating contest in New Hampshire, which could help boost one candidate above the pack after a debacle in Iowa.

U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders and Pete Buttigieg, the former mayor of South Bend, Indiana, ended up in a virtual tie as results trickled in from Monday's Iowa caucuses, with both candidates claiming victory. U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren followed in third place, while former Vice President Joe Biden trailed in fourth.

The problems that plagued the caucuses overshadowed any victory bump the candidates could claim before New Hampshire's contest on Tuesday and cast a pall as the Democratic Party began the process of picking a nominee to face Republican President Donald Trump in November.

Here is what is happening in New Hampshire on the campaign trail.

AN EDGE FOR BUTTIGIEG

Buttigieg, at 38 the youngest candidate in the Democratic contest, overtook Sanders, at 78 the oldest, in a Suffolk University tracking poll of New Hampshire Democratic voters.

Friday's results showed Buttigieg at 25% and Sanders at 24%, within the margin of error and a clear split between the moderate ex-mayor and the party's progressive standard-bearer from neighboring Vermont.

Warren, Sanders' fellow liberal from next-door Massachusetts, was third with 14% and Biden finished fourth with 11%, the poll showed. The other candidates were in single digits with 7% of voters undecided.

The two-day tracking poll of 500 likely Democratic primary voters had an error margin of plus or minus 4.4 percentage points. Buttigieg has risen 14 points since the first tracking poll was published Feb. 3.

With the latest poll showing him in fourth place, Biden braved the northern New England wind and cold and spent part of the morning meeting volunteers and handing out food at a community food bank in Manchester. He did not make remarks.

At the presidential debate on Friday, Biden conceded that he likely would not win the state, prompting local media to ask afterward whether he was writing off New Hampshire. His campaign maintained that Biden would continue to campaign in the days leading up to the primary and expected to finish competitively.

ABORTION AND THE COURTS

Biden was the only top-tier contender absent from Saturday's presidential forum on reproductive rights and the courts in Concord that drew eight other Democratic candidates including Buttigieg, Sanders and Warren.

There is broad consensus among the Democratic candidates on abortion rights, an issue that is drawing intensified debate amid Republican-backed state laws that restrict a woman's right to end a pregnancy.

Candidates vary on ways to protect those rights, with some advocating structural changes to the Supreme Court. Buttigieg wants to change the way the high court's justices are appointed to keep it from becoming "just another political football." One possibility, he said, would be to allow the court's sitting justices choose one-third of appointments by unanimous vote.

Sanders rejected expanding the high court, an idea embraced recently by some leading Democrats, saying it would inevitably lead to presidents of both parties taking turns packing the court with more justices.

He did vow to apply a litmus test for any judicial appointment - the 1973 Supreme Court ruling Roe v. Wade, holding that a woman has a constitutional right to abortion.

"I will never nominate anybody to the Supreme Court or any federal court who is not 100 percent pro-Roe v. Wade."

(Reporting by Joseph Ax and James Oliphant in Concord, N.H. Additional reporting by Ginger Gibson in Los Angeles Writing by Doina Chiacu Editing by Matthew Lewis)

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