MANCHESTER — Dudley Dudley, environmental activist and New Hampshire’s first female executive councilor, is perhaps the highest-profile New Hampshire figure to endorse Tom Steyer’s run for president.
As the Democratic presidential candidates woo voters in New Hampshire, endorsers are one tool they use to show they are worth considering.
But political scientists who observe the New Hampshire primary are skeptical that endorsements are making a difference for voters this year.
Dudley said she is backing billionaire businessman Steyer this cycle because of the progressive activism he has undertaken since he left the hedge fund that made him wealthy. “It’s not a record of personal involvement as an officeholder; it’s a record of someone who has a great record of accomplishment,” Dudley said.
Some candidates are using their list of endorsers to show their strength. In Concord on Friday, Sen. Cory Booker touted his long list of New Hampshire endorsements as a measure of his support here — though recent surveys show he is the top choice for less than 2% of likely primary voters.
Dante Scala, a professor in the University of New Hampshire’s Carsey School of Public Policy, said endorsements are almost always overrated.
“They’re interesting to observe, in that you get an idea of elite opinion about the candidate,” Scala said. “And they’re good ideological signals.”
The announcement of an endorsement might create a little buzz around a candidate in the short term, but Scala said he was skeptical about the long-term impact of endorsements — especially in the New Hampshire primary.
“Look at Trump,” he said, who received few endorsements from Republican party elites in 2016.
Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., got Dudley’s endorsement in 2016.
“Not this time,” she said. “It’s not his year.”
Dudley is one of a few prominent 2016 Sanders endorsers who have thrown their support behind other candidates — like former Portsmouth Mayor Steve Marchand, who has endorsed businessman Andrew Yang — or who have not endorsed anyone yet.
The Sanders campaign in New Hampshire did not respond to an inquiry about endorsements.
Chris Galdieri, an associate professor in Saint Anselm College’s Department of Politics, said the splintering of support for Sanders is indicative of how different the Democratic race is from the 2016 contest — it does not necessarily spell trouble for Sanders, he said.
“Sanders was the only game in town if you weren’t on board with the Clinton candidacy,” Galdieri said of 2016. This year, progressive-minded voters have more options.
Endorsements can boost a campaign if they help with fundraising and organizing, Galdieri said. Current and former elected officials can provide lists of donors and volunteers to the campaign, for example.
But Scala said not many New Hampshire politicians have that kind of clout.
The most helpful endorsement, he said, would be that of a sitting governor. A governor’s political network extends statewide and New Hampshire’s biennial elections keep them fresh.
New Hampshire’s four Congressional delegates also can be key endorsements, but Scala noted Sens. Maggie Hassan and Jeanne Shaheen, and Reps. Ann Kuster and Chris Pappas are all sitting on the sidelines this primary.
“They seem a little shy about endorsing,” Scala said, possibly worried they could get dragged into a bruising primary fight.