Shaheen’s Comments on Not Voting For Third Parties Highlights a Weakness For Democrats

Sen. Jeanne Shaheen urged voters, who are still upset with the defeat of Bernie Sanders, to not waste their vote on a third-party candidate.

Her speech at the Labor Day breakfast on Monday, sponsored by the AFL-CIO, was to introduce the Vermont senator in his first campaign appearance for Hillary Clinton and Gov. Maggie Hassan since the Democratic National Convention in July.

“I hear from a lot of people that they’re not excited about either candidate in this race, or that there’s no difference between them,” Shaheen said. “You know, the last time I heard that was in 2000. And Al Gore lost New Hampshire by 7,000 votes, while Ralph Nader won 19,000 votes. So we got George W. Bush. We got the Iraq War.”

This isn’t the first time that Shaheen used the political ghost of Nader to prove a point. But her tune has changed a little over time.

Shaheen brought Nader up in an interview with NHPR after Sanders spoke at the DNC. She was asked if Sanders brought the party together with his speech and encouraged voters to rally behind Clinton.

“I am reminded of the 2000 race between Al Gore and George W. Bush when people who were not happy with Al Gore in New Hampshire voted for Ralph Nader and swung the state’s four electoral votes to George W. Bush and that was the election,” she said. “And what we saw then was tax cuts for the wealthiest in this country, an invasion of Iraq, which was a legacy that we’re still involved in, and a very different country than we would have had if Al Gore had been president.”

In an interview with the New Hampshire Union Leader on the same day, she brought up the 2000 election again, but had a softer tone of encouraging people to be politically active in this election.

“And that was the end of the election,” Shaheen said of the 2000 defeat of Gore. “That is a strong message to people out there that you can’t sit on the sidelines.”

The former Green Party presidential candidate is often blamed for taking votes away from Democratic nominee Al Gore and giving the election to Republican nominee George W. Bush.

Andrew Smith, director of the University of New Hampshire Survey Center, doesn’t believe Shaheen’s rhetoric has changed that much. He said she’s just reiterating the same point, in a different way.

“To some extent, it’s reiterating the same broad point of don’t stay home and don’t vote for a third party,” he told NH Journal. “I’m not surprised Shaheen made it. It’s something they [Democrats] have to be concerned about. It’s going to be a close election all the way down to the wire and a lot of the discussion you’re hearing now from Shaheen and other Democrats is a reminder to voters that we can’t think this election is over. We have to remember what can happen in elections, like in 2000.”

Smith said there are similar characteristics from the 2000 election to today’s presidential race. Nader took progressive Democrat votes away from Gore, similar to how Sanders was able to compete with Clinton in 2016. But the difference now is that Sanders has endorsed Clinton and is campaigning for the Democrats.

“We are not talking about personalities,” Sanders said at the breakfast about his endorsement. “We are talking about which candidate will better represent the needs of the American people.”

A reason for Shaheen’s bluntness about voting Democrat down-ticket is because Clinton has the “biggest potential problem of losing voters,” Smith said.

“The weakest part of Clinton’s electorate are the young voters, similar to the ones who voted for Nader,” he said. “If they don’t show up, it hurts Clinton’s chances of winning and it hurts the rest of the ticket. They were huge for [Barack] Obama and they’re the least likely voters to vote. If they’re not happy with the Sanders episodes during the primaries, that’s really going to hurt Democrats.”

At the breakfast, people were still protesting Sanders’s loss. Signs reading “Still Sanders” and “No Clinton Corruption” were seen. Bumper stickers and supporters for Green Party candidate Jill Stein and Libertarian Party candidate Gary Johnson were visible.

For Sanders supports who don’t want Clinton or #NeverTrump voters, they are looking to Stein or Johnson as a viable option. Shaheen’s comments about not voting for a third-party candidate legitimizes Democrats’ concern that their voters could go to Stein and Johnson, but most Republicans would only go for Johnson, Smith said.

“That’s the fear Democrats have and it’s not going to be as one-sided as with Nader and Democrats,” he said. “Gary Johnson will split the vote among traditional Republicans and Democrats.”

Author: Kyle Plantz

Kyle Plantz is a reporter with NH Journal.

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