Since arriving in Manchester less than a week ago, I’ve seen over a dozen television advertisements designed to boost the campaigns of various presidential hopefuls. Clinton, Trump, Rubio, Bush, and Cruz are among the candidates whose approved messages have been played frequently enough that I have seen at least one of each in the approximately ninety minutes that I’ve spent paying attention to a T.V. in the last five days. Whether they are attack ads or those that take a more positive angle, each of these television spots costs money; each one has been professionally produced and played repeatedly on high-profile networks and during primetime hours. Many are funded by Super PACS or special interest groups, resulting in the allocation of significant funds to creating advertisements that garner much media attention.
Knowing this, it is perhaps unsurprising that I haven’t seen a single ad for the Bernie Sanders campaign, which has declined thus far all funding from the very groups that tend to back these broadcasts. This isn’t to say that Senator Sanders doesn’t have similar advertisements out there; rather, it seems that his campaign devotes significantly less money to ads and airtime than the other major Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton, one of whose Republican attack ads I once saw played three times in a twenty minute period.
Nevertheless, by the latest reports Sanders’ lead over Clinton in New Hampshire polls is only lengthening. In the Granite State, it seems that candidates are better served by small-scale organizing (like the phone banks held every weeknight at the Sanders field office that bring in more volunteers than there are places to sit) than by the high profile advertisements big money can buy. Through the hundreds of calls I have placed to voters in New Hampshire I have experienced firsthand a population that expects and demands to be paid special attention by presidential candidates and among which political interests run very high. Only in a small state like this one could a relatively small campaign such as Sanders’ garner such success. And thanks to its prominence as the first in the nation, the New Hampshire primary provides not only favorable ground for a successful grassroots campaign but also the attention that might bring such a campaign enough money and volunteers to sustain its momentum in upcoming contests and take a real shot at the nomination.
In the case of the New Hampshire primary, narrowing the playing field seems also to level it, allowing grassroots candidates to achieve crucial early support that they might only dream of if their momentum depended on first winning in a larger and more demographically diverse state. So while Sanders continues to lag behind Clinton in national polls, the ability to focus intensive small-scale efforts in this state has allowed him to pull ahead here. For better or worse, the stage the New Hampshire primary sets for the presidential nomination grants grassroots campaigns their key moment in the spotlight.
--Elizabeth Branscum is a St. Olaf sophomore from Oklahoma City, OK majoring in Sociology/Anthropology and Environmental Studies. She is in New Hampshire as part of a St. Olaf political science class studying the presidential election.