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Why Have New Hampshire Democrats Gone Gaga for Bernie Sanders?

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They're out of sync with the state's history.

Bernie Sanders attends a town hall in Derry, New Hampshire, in October.
Bernie Sanders attends a town hall in Derry, New Hampshire, in October.
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The latest polls in New Hampshire place Bernie Sanders ahead of Hillary Clinton by as much as 31 percent. And that prompts a technical question from political scientists: WTF?

That is, why is Sanders, the democratic socialist senator from neighboring Vermont, who only months ago joined the Democratic Party after decades as an independent, clobbering the front-runner? The facile answers tossed about are that Sanders is from a next-door state and, thus, has a home-field advantage, and that many of those flinty New Hampshire residents like to vote as contrarians and don't mind sticking a sharp maple tree branch into the eye of the establishment. Here's the problem: These explanations for Bernie-mania don't make complete sense and are at odds with the voting history of the Granite State.

First, the neighbor thing. Candidates from nearby states often have an advantage in a primary because they start with high name recognition. Primary voters will usually know something about a senator or governor -- or maybe a House member -- from across the state line because media often crosses borders or simply because proximity does lead to familiarity. And there can be a sense a solidarity and regional pride (perhaps tempered with elements of rivalry) between the citizens of neighboring states. Yet folks I know in New Hampshire do say there's no deep or special bond between them and those who live on the western side of the Connecticut River. Sanders may not pick up many points in New Hampshire for having long ago relocated from Brooklyn to the Green Mountain State.

As for being a local brand name, well, Hillary Clinton is as known as any politician. The odds may be zero or below that any New Hampshire Democratic voter possesses less information about her than Sanders. And consider this: Last spring, in a series of polls in New Hampshire, Clinton trounced Sanders by between 10 and 44 points. If Sanders' next-door-enhanced name recognition did not help him at that point, there's no cause to think it's doing so now.

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