By John Whitesides and James Oliphant
KEENE/NASHUA, N.H. (Reuters) – A day before New Hampshire votes in its Democratic presidential primary, Bernie Sanders and Pete Buttigieg sought on Monday to build on their strength as front-runners in an up-for-grabs race as an energized Senator Amy Klobuchar gained ground.
Buttigieg and Sanders, who emerged first and second in delegates in the opening nominating contest in Iowa last week, face eight rivals in Tuesday’s vote. But Klobuchar pulled into third place in two opinion polls.
The man they are seeking to take on in the November election, Republican President Donald Trump, held his own raucous rally on Monday night in Manchester, New Hampshire, in a move to distract from the Democratic nominating contest.
The large number of Democratic candidates and undecided voters makes the outcome of the New Hampshire contest unpredictable, said Ray Buckley, chairman of the state Democratic Party.
“This is anyone’s race to win,” Buckley told reporters on Tuesday. “That makes these final hours even more exciting.”
One undecided voter, 65-year-old Stacy Sand, showed up to see U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren but remained torn between her and Klobuchar.
“I might just be deciding as I head into the polls,” Sand said.
Here is a look at Monday’s action on the campaign trail:
Sanders, 78, a progressive who represents neighboring Vermont in the U.S. Senate, has long led in opinion polls in New Hampshire. But Buttigieg, a 38-year-old moderate and military veteran who served two terms as mayor of South Bend, Indiana, has picked up ground since Iowa.
In Plymouth, Buttigieg tried to reach out to undecided voters, referring to “future former Republicans” who he said were more than welcome to back his campaign.
“It’s decision time,” Buttigieg said. He took a shot at Sanders, saying that the self-described democratic socialist would have a hard time pulling in moderate voters. “Knowing how much depends on bringing Americans together, we cannot risk alienating Americans at this critical moment,” he said. “And that’s where I part ways with my friend Senator Sanders.”
In a separate event, Sanders aimed his attacks at Trump.
“I know not everybody agrees with everything I say, but I think what we can agree about is that we cannot continue having a president who is a pathological liar,” Sanders told a crowd at a sports club in Manchester.
On Monday night, Sanders draw a large crowd in Durham, where U.S. Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a progressive star, and rock band The Strokes joined him for a rally.
‘LONG TIME COMING’
A pair of polls released late on Sunday and early on Monday showed Klobuchar pulling into third place behind Sanders and Buttigieg following the party’s debate in New Hampshire on Friday.
“We feel the surge, for me it’s been a long time coming,” said Klobuchar, a moderate from Minnesota, noting she had visited New Hampshire 23 times since she entered the presidential race a year ago.
Klobuchar told a crowd of more than 200 at Keene State College that she was the candidate who could appeal to independents and Republicans disenchanted with Trump’s divisive policies and rhetoric.
“There are a bunch of moderate Republicans and independents out there who feel this and know just what I’m talking about,” she said. “You need a candidate with big coattails who brings people with her.”
Although she criticized Buttigieg in Friday night’s debate, Klobuchar refrained from mentioning any of her rivals on the campaign trail, sticking to her promise to unite the country, lower drug prices, improve infrastructure and increase funding for treatment of drug addiction and mental health issues.
A Boston Globe poll, conducted with Suffolk University and WBZ-TV, showed Sanders with 27%, Buttigieg with 19% and Klobuchar with 14% among 500 likely voters polled over the weekend in New Hampshire. The survey had a margin of error of plus or minus 4 percentage points.
A separate poll by WHDH/Emerson College also showed Klobuchar pulling into third.
Klobuchar rose after former Vice President Joe Biden, a fellow moderate, stumbled in Iowa and showed an uneven performance in New Hampshire, where he called a voter on Sunday “a lying dog-faced pony soldier,” making a joke with phrasing adapted from John Wayne movies.
‘IT COMES TO YOU’
At a crowded rally in Manchester, Trump poked fun at Democratic candidates’ crowd sizes and bashed his impeachment by the Democratic-led House of Representatives as a “hoax.”
“With your help on November 3rd, we are going to defeat the radical socialist Democrats. We are going to win new Hampshire in a landslide!” Trump said.
Trump narrowly lost New Hampshire in 2016 to Democrat Hillary Clinton.
Warren, aiming for a stronger-than-anticipated finish in a state neighboring her home state of Massachusetts, kept her focus on the president, declining to criticize her Democratic rivals or to draw sharp contrasts between their policies.
“It comes to you, New Hampshire, to decide, when there’s this much fear, when there is this much on the line, do we crouch down, do we cower, do we back up, or do we fight back?” Warren said to a standing ovation in Portsmouth.
Biden, coming off a disappointing fourth-place finish in Iowa and trailing in New Hampshire polls, likewise focused on Trump.
“Trump is going to tell us over and over again the economy is on the ballot this year,” Biden told a crowd of fewer than 100 people in Gilford, adding that the president was benefiting from economic policies put in place by his Democratic predecessor, Barack Obama, and did not deserve credit for America’s robust economy. Biden was Obama’s vice president.
Support for Biden, the one-time Democratic front-runner tumbled nationally after the Iowa contest by 5 points to 17%, behind Sanders’ 20%, according to a Reuters/Ipsos poll released on Monday.
(Reporting by John Whitesides, James Oliphant, Simon Lewis, Amanda Becker, Michael Martina and Steve Holland in New Hampshire and Doina Chiacu, Susan Heavey and Lisa Lambert in Washington; Writing by Scott Malone; Editing by Paul Simao and Peter Cooney)