2020 Election
U.S. Senator and presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren speaks during a town hall event Dartmouth College in Hanover, NH on Oct. 24, 2019.
Boston Globe via Getty Images

For Sen. Elizabeth Warren in New Hampshire, the challenge is clear: in an early primary state where Sen. Bernie Sanders won 60% of the vote in 2016, she needs to both cut into his young progressive base and expand her appeal to older voters who may have picked Clinton in 2016.

Even though Sanders and Warren are friends and ideological allies, the two senators are circling each other in the Democratic presidential primary, often discussed in reference to one another and competing for overlapping groups of voters. In dozens of conversations with Warren supporters in New Hampshire on Thursday, Sanders repeatedly emerged as a reference point: younger voters said they supported Warren because of her similarities to Sanders, while older voters said they supported her because of her differences from him. Most of her younger supporters said they had supported Sanders in 2016 (even if they hadn’t been eligible to vote yet), while most of the older supporters had supported Clinton.

Sanders’s campaign is on the upswing again after his heart attack in early October. His campaign has been focusing on expanding the electorate of voters, with a strong debate showing and a major Queens rally featuring a coveted endorsement from Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, and he plans to return to campaign in New Hampshire this week.

While Sanders won New Hampshire in 2016 by more than 20 points, Warren is currently leading in the state by a hair, partly because of her cross-generational support: in a recent Franklin Pierce University/Boston Herald poll, young voters supported Sanders at nearly twice the rate of older ones, but voters of all ages supported Warren at roughly equal rates.

In 2015 and 2016, Sanders was the obvious choice for college students, as Clinton failed to attract big crowds on college campuses and decisively lost the youth vote. “The crowd sizes for Bernie Sanders were big and easy to convert into volunteers, unlike Hillary Clinton who had a a challenge cultivating early volunteers,” says Mike Ceraso, a New Hampshire Democratic strategist who worked for Sanders in 2016 and South Bend, Ind. Mayor Pete Buttigieg earlier this year. “Warren is cutting into the backbone of [Sanders] field organization in ’15 and ’16.”

More than a thousand people came to Warren’s event on Thursday at Dartmouth College in Hanover, N.H., and students waited in line to take a selfie with the Senator and to pet her dog Bailey. Sanders came to Dartmouth in late September and spoke to a crowd that was roughly the same size, and many of the students at the Warren event said they had also gone to the Sanders one.

Some said they supported Warren because they saw her as Sanders’s natural heir. “I love Bernie,” said Jackson Harris, a 21-year-old geography and computer science major at Dartmouth. “He’s done a lot of really great things in his life, but this is not his time for the Presidency. It’s time for Warren to get it done.”

“He’s so old, and Warren’s so similar to him,” said Harris’s friend Juan Lainez, a 21-year-old senior majoring in government and Latin American studies. “Everyone who was for Bernie four years ago is now for Warren.”

Underneath it all, the students said they wanted someone who could win. “I think Warren can pull it off,” says Em Morris, a 22-year-old graduate student in experimental and molecular medicine who enthusiastically supported Sanders in 2016. “Any of them can win, but I think Warren will put up the best fight.”

A few hours later, at an event at Newport Opera House in Newport, N.H., Warren gave a nearly identical speech to a much older crowd, but the selfie line was just as long. Here, the crowd was full of people who had voted for Clinton in 2016, who were skeptical of Sanders’s far-left ideology and saw Warren as a more practical alternative. Many were senior citizens themselves who were concerned about Sanders’s age.

“Bernie’s not a bad guy, but she’s more plan-oriented,” says Sally Caltrider, a 65-year-old registered nurse who voted for Clinton in the 2016 primary. “I was upset with Bernie at the end of the primary last time, I don’t think he did enough to support Hillary.” Besides, she added, “his health concerns me.” Other older voters shared that concern. “Bernie’s too old,” said Lisa Matthews, 64, “I wish he’d get outta there.”

“If she can’t beat Trump, nobody can,” said Mary Edes, 71, a retired teacher who also voted for Clinton in 2016. “I’m hoping it’s not going to be a man.”

“I think some people think she’s too far left, but if people listened to her, they will come away with a different opinion,” says Cindy Martin, a 66-year-old retiree. “I don’t think she’s aligned with the far-left socialists. She’s not as far left as Bernie Sanders.”

Other older supporters said they were heartened by Warren’s ability to reach the young. “I think she’ll inspire the base of the party,” said Benson Bobrick, a 72-year-old historian who traveled to Newport to hear Warren speak. “Young people in particular.”

Write to Charlotte Alter at charlotte.alter@time.com.

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