Gio Zanecchia is so enamored of Bernie Sanders that he made a five-hour drive with his wife and infant son from South Jersey on Saturday morning to catch a glimpse of the progressive firebrand.
But what if Sanders loses the Democratic nomination? Asked whether he will be there to vote for the Democrat in November should Sanders falter, the 34-year-old union mechanic reacts as if the question is insane. There is not a chance, he insists, that he would ever support Hillary Clinton.
“She’s establishment,” Zanecchia said. “Most of the guys I work with think she’s a criminal.”
Usually, that sort of primary-season hostility means little when the general election rolls around. Even after bitter battles, voters generally coalesce around the goal of beating the opposing party.
But Sanders voters are a unique lot, and Clinton campaign strategists are growing concerned about whether they will be there for her should she be the Democratic pick.
This is not a group that is particularly loyal to the Democratic Party. While liberal Democrats make up a big chunk of Sanders’ support, many other backers are independents. Some mistrust the party so much that Sanders supporters booed the party chair when she took the stage Friday night at a dinner at which the candidates spoke.
Zanecchia’s second choice for president is Donald Trump.
Before a single ballot has been cast here, Clinton is already reaching out to the voters she knows will be deciding against her in Tuesday’s primary, particularly the younger ones, who so far are showing her campaign little love.
At a rally in Manchester on Friday, Clinton had a message for New Hampshire’s young voters: “I know you may not be for me now, but I am for you,” she said. She made the same gesture Saturday at a town hall at New England College in Henniker, an event her campaign advertised on the “Students for Sanders” Reddit page.
But even such olive branches turn off some Sanders voters.
“It’s condescending,” said Caitlin Conley, a 19-year-old student at Franklin Pierce University in Rindge. “It’s like she doesn’t think young people can have an opinion and know what they are talking about.”
Many are bothered by Clinton’s posture toward Sanders, whom she has accused of engaging in an “artful smear” of her reputation. Sanders supporters are protective of the 74-year-old democratic socialist, whose professed aversion to rough campaign tactics and poll-driven messaging are a big part of his draw. He’s been railing for decades against the billions of dollars Wall Street infuses into politics — not just since the matchup against Clinton got heated.
Some Sanders backers were put off when Clinton charged her rival with sexism. When Sanders said common-sense gun reforms were getting blocked by all the shouting between gun-rights and gun-control activists, Clinton framed the remark as a man accusing a woman of “shouting.” Unjust, Sanders supporters said.
“Being ugly is not going to help her win support,” said Michelle Boslun, a 49-year-old Vermonter who says she will vote for Clinton in November if it comes to that, but worries other voters in the Sanders coalition will not.
“Even if she ends up winning the nomination, she is going to end up losing support in the long run. I hope she will back off,” Boslun said.
Clinton’s tone certainly isn’t endearing her to Sanders die-hards like Kerry West.
“I'd write Bernie in” if Clinton is the nominee, the 43-year-old independent said while gassing up his car in Rochester. “I don't believe anything she says.”
At the state party fundraising dinner Friday night in Manchester, Sanders supporters occasionally booed as a procession of New Hampshire’s top Democrats explained on stage why they had endorsed Clinton.
It became too much for Sen. Jeanne Shaheen to ignore during her remarks at a dinner that was named partly in her honor.
“You know, one of the things that I really appreciate about New Hampshire is that we are respectful of other people’s points of view,” the second-term senator, former three-term governor and schoolteacher said sternly toward the Sanders seating section. “So I hope that everybody here will be respectful of whatever choices each of us make in this primary election. Because we need each other come November.”
That may be a tough sell for Casey Beat, a recent graduate of Franklin Pierce who came to see Sanders at her alma mater Saturday. The only way she might cast a ballot for Clinton in November, she said, is if the alternative is Donald Trump, whom she reviles more.
“Hillary Clinton is a liar, and she is fake,” said Beat. “She’s been degrading toward Bernie. I think she is a terrible person.”