LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:
To New Hampshire now and Democratic voters there three years ago. Many of them wanted more options besides Hillary Clinton, so they went with Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders. This campaign cycle, there are plenty of candidates to choose from. Nineteen presidential hopefuls showed up to speak at the New Hampshire Democratic Convention yesterday. NPR's Asma Khalid reports.
ASMA KHALID, BYLINE: The state convention felt like a high school pep rally. When I got there around 8 a.m., hundreds of party activists were already waiting in line to get inside. New Hampshire Democratic officials say this was the largest political convention they've ever held. Some 9,000 people bought tickets.
Just outside the main arena, I met Kathleen Eames, a local Democratic leader. She told me she's still torn between two candidates - former Vice President Joe Biden and Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren.
KATHLEEN EAMES: Biden is, like, stayed and true. He's been there. He's done that. He has across-the-board experience in foreign, you know, domestic - and I love Elizabeth Warren. She's got the fire - who's got the enthusiasm. She's got the new plans.
KHALID: Political analysts don't think of Warren and Biden as being on the same ideological plane. But for voters like Eames, instincts and personality matter more than where a particular candidate fits on the ideological spectrum. Warren and Sanders have the advantage of being neighbors to New Hampshire. And in presidential primaries here, neighbors always seem to do well.
Sanders still has some goodwill from 2016, but it's Warren who is resonating more this year. She's seen as the ultimate insider-outsider candidate. She speaks in Sanders' language but appeals to Clinton supporters like Donna Mombourquette. I met her as she grabbed popcorn from the concession stands. She had a Go Blue sticker on her cheek that was hard to miss.
DONNA MOMBOURQUETTE: Going too far to the left I don't think is something that's sustainable.
KHALID: And for that reason, Mombourquette does not have Sanders on her shortlist. But she does include Warren, even though the two have nearly identical policies. Mombourquette admits that on some issues, like "Medicare for All," Warren is further left than where she is. But she thinks the Massachusetts senator is brilliant and seems like a pragmatist.
MOMBOURQUETTE: I am thinking that her message may Modify over a period of time.
KHALID: If crowd cheers can be a metric for anything, then Warren's support was more enthusiastic than any of the other 18 candidates onstage. Her supporters beat those inflatable thunder sticks so loudly as she walked onstage that the applause continued for a solid two minutes before she could begin speaking. And when she did, she made an appeal that many could have interpreted as a reference to Joe Biden.
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ELIZABETH WARREN: I get it. I get it. There is a lot at stake, and people are scared. But we can't choose a candidate we don't believe in because we're scared.
KHALID: But in general, the convention had a friendly festival vibe. Supporters didn't just cheer for their own candidate; they gave standing ovations to lines they liked, regardless of who spoke them.
And sure, there were still some loyal Bernie Sanders supporters in the arena. I noticed Heather Baldwin buying a Sanders T-shirt, and so I asked her if she's already decided who she's voting for.
HEATHER BALDWIN: Oh, I definitely will vote for Bernie. But if I don't get to vote for Bernie as president after the primary, I will vote Democratic because we've got to get rid of what's festering in the White House.
KHALID: And that urgency for unity is a fundamentally different tone than 2016.
Asma Khalid, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.