LACONIA — Thursday’s Union Leader co-sponsored candidate forum on the health and growth of the economy comes at a critical juncture for its featured speaker, former hedge fund billionaire and Democratic hopeful Tom Steyer.
Steyer, 62, has spent more than $83 million on advertising his personal story as a California businessman who six years ago sold his hedge fund to work full-time on environmental activism, youth organizing and more recently to promote the impeachment of President Trump.
Steyer will be at the Lakes Region Community College forum likely still waiting to learn whether he will have enough support in early state polls to win a spot on stage at the next Democratic National Committee debate Jan. 14 in Des Moines, Iowa.
Last week Steyer cleared the other debate hurdle, securing at least 225,000 unique donors to his campaign.
Steyer entered the race late last spring, but despite all his spending he has yet to make it into the top tier of Democratic hopefuls, which includes former Vice President Joe Biden, 2016 New Hampshire primary winner and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren and former South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg.
Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar often has polled out in front of Steyer as well.
When he filed in November to be on the New Hampshire ballot, Steyer insisted the campaign would remain wide open, perhaps all the way to the Feb. 11 primary.
“Campaigns are wild animals and you aren’t sure where they are going to twist or where they are going to turn,” Steyer said. “I expect there are many twists and turns left in this race.”
Former Executive Councilor Dudley Dudley of Durham is probably Steyer’s most prominent New Hampshire supporter.
“This is a real talented field but he speaks truth to power in a way that a lot of the other candidates can’t,” Dudley said of Steyer during a recent interview. “He’s also coming at this with an agenda that’s unique.”
Steyer’s main theme has been that corporations have a stranglehold over the federal government, preventing systemic change.
More than his rivals, Steyer has placed emphasis on term limits, changing the Constitution to allow citizens to adopt their own federal laws and undoing the U.S. Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision that concluded corporations were people in the sense they had free speech rights.
“There have been a lot of stupid decisions by the Supreme Court over the past 200 years, but I think it’s one of the stupidest,” Steyer said while campaigning here.
Steyer also supports climate change action, a wealth tax and a health care reform plan that retains private insurance while creating a more powerful government-run or public option than Medicare and Medicaid.
Steyer’s $1.6 billion estimated net worth came largely from his investment firm, Farallon Capital, which he started in the 1980s and left in 2012.
Steyer since has said some of those past investments were “mistakes,” including big ones in private prisons, subprime lending and fossil fuels.
Before becoming a candidate, Steyer was best known for founding NextGen America in 2013.
He spent hundreds of millions to support youth organizing and on environmental issues at 20 college campuses here and in battleground states throughout the country.
The group was widely seen as playing a part in the narrow U.S. Senate victory of Democrat Maggie Hassan over Republican incumbent Senator Kelly Ayotte in 2016 and the flipping of both houses of the New Hampshire Legislature from Republican to Democratic majorities in 2018.
“Through his work at NextGen among the operative class, the student organizing class, he definitely has a lot of residual credibility because of the investment he made and the impact that group had,” said Lucas Meyer, president of the New Hampshire Young Democrats.
Steyer condemned Gov. Chris Sununu for signing legislation passed by the then-GOP led Legislature to beef up residency requirements to voters.
“It’s very wrong; I am absolutely opposed to it,” Steyer said.
“I view this as a classic attempt to intimidate voters and take away their franchise because young voters mobilized and effected change at the ballot box.”
The forum with Steyer starts at 1:15 p.m. in the CAT building (Room 216) on the Lakes Region CC campus. The doors open at 12:15 p.m.
The Community College System of New Hampshire is a co-sponsor of of the series, along with Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses.
Steyer’s next visit to the state begins Wednesday with a town hall forum in Hanover. His schedule Thursday also includes a speech to the New England College Convention in Manchester and a house party in Concord.