Philly-area volunteers join final New Hampshire primary blitz with extra urgency

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Penn students (from left) Ben Moss-Horwitz, Ethan Kaimana, Jay Vaingankar, Jana Pugsley and Amira Chowdhury, are headed to New Hampshire to spend the weekend canvassing for presidential candidate Bernie Sanders. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

Penn students (from left) Ben Moss-Horwitz, Ethan Kaimana, Jay Vaingankar, Jana Pugsley and Amira Chowdhury, are headed to New Hampshire to spend the weekend canvassing for presidential candidate Bernie Sanders. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

Some are on a “Bernie Journey.” Others are official “Warren Road Warriors.” Many other supporters lack a catchy title — but all made the long trip from the Philadelphia region to New Hampshire over the weekend to try to sway the outcome of Tuesday’s first-in-the-nation Democratic primary.

The dozens of volunteers traveled by plane, train, car and even a big yellow school bus, whose charm wore off quickly for the 30 or so Bernie Sanders-backing university students who endured the six-hour ride.

“Yeah, it was brutal,” said Lilly Ivarson, a Drexel University sophomore and New Hampshire native, who traveled alongside Penn and Rowan University students. “It shows how passionate Bernie Sanders supporters are.”

Students from Penn, Drexel, and other area universities board an old school bus headed for New Hampshire. About 30 in all, they will canvass for presidential candidate Bernie Sanders. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

Once there, the volunteers bundled up against freezing temperatures and fanned out into neighborhoods, serving as force multipliers for campaigns desperate to win over the roughly two-fifths of likely New Hampshire primary voters who say they have yet to settle on a candidate.

They acknowledged extra urgency following the muddled caucus results in Iowa last week.

“I’m kind of looking at New Hampshire as our first — hopefully — clear look at what the state and the nation is thinking about in terms of the Democratic Party and who our top candidates are,” said Johanna Mudry, a 40-year-old Elizabeth Warren supporter who made the trip from Philadelphia.

Stephanie McClellan, a Delaware native who traveled to New Hampshire on behalf of Joe Biden, described the scene in the city of Manchester as a political frenzy playing out against the backdrop of everyday living.

During a walk through town, she encountered a BBC crew broadcasting from a coffee shop and a crowd gathered in a storefront to listen to Colorado Sen. Michael Bennet, one of several struggling Democratic candidates for whom a poor showing in New Hampshire could force them to rethink their campaigns.

And then as McClellan knocked on voters’ doors, “you have people coming to their door in their bathrobes, Sunday morning, with a cup of coffee in their hands, or they’re fixing their car in their garage,” she said.

“You can tell that there’s this big moment that’s happening in American politics, but yet these voters are just living their lives, just trying to bear through it,” she said. “They probably will be so happy when it’s over.”

Ivarson, for her part, described moments of somberness — like meeting a woman who said she could afford medicine or food for her children, but not both — and others of exuberance.

“I’ve had a couple people drop their windows down and they were like, ‘Yeah, go Bernie! Feel the Bern!’” she said. “And I’m yelling back, throwing my fists in the air.”

Philadelphia-area supporter groups for Pete Buttigieg and Andrew Yang did not respond to messages seeking comment for this story.

At stake in Tuesday’s primary in New Hampshire is 24 delegates. That’s less than 1% of the pledged delegates in the Democratic nominating contest, but the outcome could also give candidates momentum heading into the Nevada caucuses on Feb. 22, the South Carolina primary on Feb. 29, and the delegate-rich Super Tuesday contests on March 3.

Voters in Pennsylvania and Delaware will get their say in primaries on April 28, while New Jersey voters will have to wait until June 2.

Depending on whether there’s a clear Democratic front-runner by the time of those elections, voters in the Philadelphia region may see the teams of clipboard-wielding canvassers migrate to their neighborhoods in the coming months.

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