MANCHESTER — Hundreds gathered in Manchester on Sunday for a political forum aimed at breaking through partisan divides.
No Labels hosted its Problem Solver Convention, which featured presidential candidates, members of Congress and a session with members of the audience voicing their concerns and criticisms about U.S. government and the people running it.
“We’re here to make America better,” said Joe Lieberman, the former U.S. Senator and Democratic vice presidential nominee who serves as national chairman of No Labels, a nonprofit political organization. “We’re not Democrats-first, Republicans-first or even Independents-first. We’re here to bring the country back together again — to solve its problems and seize its opportunities.”
According to many in the banquet room at the DoubleTree by Hilton hotel, the problems are wide-ranging.
National pollster Frank Luntz surveyed members of the audience, asking a group of people in the second row to summarize their view on Washington, D.C., with a word or a phrase. The responses included disunity, dysfunctional (twice), confusion, chaotic and out-of-control.
The event was open to voters regardless of party affiliation. A panel discussion featuring four Republican members of Congress and four of their Democratic colleagues encouraged some members of the audience that there is still hope for bipartisanship.
“I think it helps restore a little faith that there are people that can work together, which is not what you see so much of. It doesn’t make the news as much as the divisiveness,” said Doug Whitbeck of Milton. “People see that this country is being torn apart.”
Whitbeck attended with his wife, Gwen. The couple identified themselves as Democrats who have been longtime supporters of Bernie Sanders, but haven’t necessarily chosen who to vote for in New Hampshire’s first-in-the-nation primary next year.
“We try to go to as many things that they have as possible. I like No Labels. It’s nice that they think people should get along and work together. I remember when they did,” Gwen Whitbeck said.
Ron Janowitz of Manchester said he attended so he could learn more about the candidates. He said he was impressed by what he heard Sunday from U.S. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, but hadn’t picked a candidate yet. He also attended a No Labels event four years ago.
“I embrace the goals of No Labels, but I’m not confident that the approach that they are taking is going to work,” Janowitz said. “We have to get rid of gerrymandering and we’ve got to get money out of politics. As long as our Congress is bought by corporations and lobbyists, nothing is going to change.”
The event also featured a straw poll; more than 300 New Hampshire voters who were at the event took part, organizers said.
According to the straw poll, 18.5 percent favored Mayor Pete Buttigieg of South Bend, Ind. Two candidates who attended Sunday’s convention also fared well, with Gabbard polling at 17.5 percent and John Delaney receiving 14.2 percent after both candidates delivered well-received speeches in the crowded ballroom.
Among the candidates leading the Democratic primary field nationally, Joe Biden received 6.9 percent support, Elizabeth Warren 5 percent, and Bernie Sanders 3.6 percent.
That contrasts with a CNN poll conducted by the University of New Hampshire last week that put Sanders at 21 percent, Warren at 18 percent, Biden at 15 percent and Buttigieg at 10 percent. Gabbard, Amy Klobuchar and Andrew Yang were all at 5 percent.
Democratic presidential hopeful Marianne Williamson and former Massachusetts Gov. Bill Weld, a Republican who is seeking the GOP nomination, also spoke during the four-hour convention.
The common theme was working together to get beyond the partisan divide.
“We have three co-equal branches of government. People sometimes forget that,” Gabbard said. “You’ve got to be able to reach out and talk. You’ve got to communicate with leaders of Congress who are Democrats, Republicans, Independents — and the very foundation of communication is respect.”
Overcoming the current rancor, Weld said, will require working together.
“I call myself a New England Republican, meaning fiscally conservative and socially open and tolerant and welcoming and supportive,” Weld said.