MANCHESTER, N.H. – New Hampshire isn't used to being neglected.
The most prominent candidates in the 2020 presidential race spent months last year making their case to New Hampshire voters, but many of the White House hopefuls have been largely absent from the state in January amid the Senate impeachment trial and the upcoming Iowa caucuses.
Iowa may come first, but if the contest delivers a muddled result, or multiple candidates claim victory, New Hampshire could serve either as a crucial case maker or a critical blow to the remaining candidates' presidential hopes.
The New Hampshire primary comes Feb. 11, eight days after Iowa's first-in-the-nation caucuses, allowing for what is expected to be a packed week of frenzied last-minute campaigning in the state.
Heading into that week, however, New Hampshire has been less of a focus after a 2019 filled with candidate appearances that evolved from intimate house parties to larger rallies. In recent days, voters have been more likely to see a surrogate for some of the top-tier candidates stumping in New Hampshire than the candidates themselves.
"It just seems like they haven't been around," said JoAnn Fenton, a Democratic activist in Keene who is leaning toward supporting Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar.
Other than former South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg, most of the candidates in the top tier have had five or fewer events in New Hampshire since the start of the year.
Joe Biden has held only two formal campaign events for voters in New Hampshire this month but has had more than 20 in-person events in Iowa, according to his campaign. At his two New Hampshire events, the former vice president skipped taking questions from the crowd in the town hall format New Hampshire voters are fond of in favor of extensive time on the rope line visiting with admirers. He also stopped by a Manchester campaign office during last week’s trip.
Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren held four events in New Hampshire this month, and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders held five over a two-day visit. A Sanders campaign spokesperson said he's done 21 Iowa events this month, while a Warren staffer referred to The Des Moines Register candidate tracker showing the senator attending 15 January events in Iowa.
And Klobuchar, who has had 25 events in Iowa this month, has visited New Hampshire only once in January for a college convention appearance.
That’s left the candidates' campaigns, and an army of surrogates, to fill in. Last week alone saw prominent figures like Massachusetts congressman Joe Kennedy III visit the state in support of Warren, while Ben & Jerry’s ice cream co-founders Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield campaigned for Sanders.
"(Sen. Warren’s) been here an awful lot ... not just over the course of the past several weeks, but over the course of years,” said Kennedy, a close Warren ally. “People know her here."
Hawaii congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard and businessman Andrew Yang have been among the most prolific campaigners in New Hampshire since the start of the year along with fellow long shots Colorado Sen. Michael Bennet and former Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick.
Of the senators remaining in the race, Bennet has spent the most time in New Hampshire in January after placing his slim presidential odds on the state.
On Sunday, he was the only senator in New Hampshire as Klobuchar, Warren and Sanders had already bolted to Iowa to focus their energy there while away from the impeachment trial.
Asked if he thought the top tier was ignoring New Hampshire, Bennet said, “I think they have, and it's one of the reasons I'm here.”
“I think New Hampshire wants to meet candidates and see candidates and have conversations. And I really think they want to have the chance to ask questions and have those questions answered,” Bennet said.
While New Hampshire has a history of humbling front-runners and producing historic upsets or comebacks, even voters who have been attending recent candidate events have indicated they’re leaning toward a particular candidate but are not yet fully committed.
Some in New Hampshire, like Molly Forgaard, have noticed a drop in attention. At this point, the 25-year-old independent voter supports Buttigieg but is "open to having my mind changed by something unexpected."
"Selfishly, as a New Hampshire resident, I like being able to see all the politicians in person, and I am a little bummed that I haven't gotten to see as many as I would like because they've been over in Iowa," Forgaard said. "But I do also think that Iowa and New Hampshire's outsized influence in the election is kind of unfair."
Even one of the most veteran Democrats in the state found it was hard to say how important the contest will be this year, saying it depends on the outcome.
"If it's a draw, if everyone is within one or two points of each other, I think there's no winner, so it could be that," said Bill Shaheen, a Democratic National Committee member from New Hampshire who recently endorsed Biden. “New Hampshire has the potential of being important, but it also has the potential of being, hey, people haven't made up their mind yet.”
Associated Press writer Sara Burnett in Davenport, Iowa, contributed to this report.
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