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Connecticut Democrats head to New Hampshire to canvass for candidates ahead of primary

David Yaccarino could’ve spent his Saturday doing any number of things, but the 36-year-old from East Haven decided to take to the streets of Manchester, N.H., knocking on doors for Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders.

Yaccarino, who supported Sanders during the 2016 presidential campaign when he ran against Hillary Clinton for the Democratic nomination, said he donated money to Sanders' campaign in 2016 and again this year but wanted to do more.

“To be this close to a state that has an early primary and where it can make an impact, I felt like I had to do it,” Yaccarino said Saturday morning, standing at the Manchester campaign office for Sanders before heading out to talk to voters in Somerville, a fairly densely populated neighborhood on the east side of the city.

Connecticut’s primary election isn’t until April 28, but in the meantime Nutmeggers are volunteering their time to make the trip to New Hampshire to rally support for the various Democratic presidential candidates. New Hampshire's primary is Feb. 11.

Mark Gardner, 28, of Manchester, a volunteer with the Sanders campaign who has been organizing carpools from Connecticut, said he’s noticed an uptick in volunteers from the 2016 presidential election, when he last did this. He estimated that about 40 Connecticut residents were in New Hampshire on Saturday to canvas for Sanders. That included 15 students from Wesleyan University in Middletown.

“What’s nice is people over the past four years understand that stuff like this wins elections,” Gardner said.

Sanders handily won the New Hampshire primary in 2016, defeating Clinton by 22%. Clinton narrowly defeated President Donald Trump in New Hampshire in the general election, garnering 46.8% of the vote. Trump got 46.5%.

As of Saturday, with 10 days left until the primary, FiveThirtyEight showed Sanders leading in the Granite State with 23.4%, followed by former Vice President Joe Biden with 16.5%, then former South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg with 13.7%, and Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren with 13.1%. The remaining Democratic candidates are polling below 10% in New Hampshire.

Sanders has been gaining in the polls in New Hampshire for several weeks, while support for Biden has dropped. At the same time, Warren and Buttigieg have seen slight declines.

About 7 miles southwest of Manchester, 62-year-old Steven Sheinberg, chair of the Democratic Town Council in Fairfield, Conn., was knocking on doors for Warren in Bedford, an upscale residential town with a population of about 22,000.

By 2 p.m. Saturday, Sheinberg had hit about 60 homes and estimated his “contact rate” was about 35% to 40%. At homes where no one answered, he slipped campaign literature — what he called “war cards” — into screen doors or under door handles. Sheinberg checked an app on his phone showing him the houses in his turf to see where to head next, then proceeded up a long, steep driveway, jogging part of the way.

He smiled at what he saw when he reached the top. The car in the driveway was spattered with bumper stickers for several of the presidential candidates such as Warren and Buttigieg — even New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker, who isn’t in the race anymore — and one that said “Anyone but Trump 2020.”

A woman who answered the door said if the election were that day, she’d likely vote for Warren — “primarily because she’s a woman and I feel like it’s time” — but added that she’s still undecided.

“I believe she really cares about the people, the little guy, not the big guy,” the woman said.

Sheinberg left the house with the hope that he helped persuade her to vote for Warren. “That’s the whole idea of canvassing. With technology and everything, politics has changed, but one thing that hasn’t changed is that you’ve got to go to a person, eye to eye, and ask for support and so door knocking is essential,” he said.

Sheinberg said he was one of about 70 people from Connecticut in New Hampshire canvassing for Warren. A group of 40 people, including a large group of Wesleyan students and Connecticut state Sen. Matt Lesser from Middletown took a bus to Rochester, a small city in the northeast part of the state, to drum up support for her.

One of those people was 19-year-old Maya Gomberg, a sophomore at Wesleyan. She said a number of Warren’s proposals appeal to her, such as Medicare-for-all, canceling $1.6 trillion in student loan debt and trade policy. These are ideas that resonate across America because they serve “working families, not just the elite,” Gomberg said.

This will be the first presidential election Gomberg gets to vote in. She woke up at 7 a.m. Saturday to make the trek to New Hampshire, arriving about noon in Rochester, where there was a line of volunteers out the door of Warren’s campaign office, and she is planning to come back next weekend to canvass again in the days leading up to the primary.

Gomberg said she was 16 when Trump was elected president, and at the time “not particularly aware” of politics.

“My political awakening was in large part in tandem with him becoming our country’s president, so I think I have a slightly different perspective than a lot of people ... I don’t have that fallback of 'Oh, and the government can work in this other way,'" she said. "This is really the way that I see our government and so I see the really present need of changing it.”

Back in the Manchester area, 20-year-old Bryan Chong, a junior at Wesleyan, was canvassing for Bernie. Chong, who is from Hong Kong and not able to vote, since he isn’t an American citizen. He said he sees a lot of similarities in Sanders’ campaign, which he called a “mass movement,” and protesters in his native Hong Kong standing up against “one of the most authoritarian governments in history.”

“As someone coming from a background like that, I see the same kind of enthusiasm, energy and willingness to stand up and fight back in the Bernie campaign and that is why I think as a Hong Konger, as someone who has had experience in mass movements and civil protests why this is the campaign to go,” he said.

Before knocking on a door, canvassers check an app on their phone that tells them some information about the registered voter inside — his or her name, sometimes age, whether he or she is leaning toward a particular candidate — data the campaigns have spent months garnering. The focus in New Hampshire is getting out the vote: confirming people are voting, reminding them of their polling location and helping them make a plan to get to the polls.

Chris Sullivan, 43, a Democrat on the Representative Town Meeting in Branford, Conn., was back in New Hampshire, having first come up to knock on doors for Sanders several weeks ago.

“Donating money is nice but doing on-the-ground leg work is very tangible and real and it’s something that matters,” he said.

He described Sanders as the “most authentic and consistent candidate,” and said he thinks Sanders has the best chance of winning the general election and is most likely to pull from Trump’s base.

Leaving the home of an undecided voter in Manchester, Sullivan types notes on the app in his phone indicating the man who lives there is still on the fence.

“So undecided, which means somebody will come to his door again tomorrow,” Sullivan said.

j.bergman@theday.com

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