GLOUCESTER DAILY TIMES: New England Council president shares thoughts on 2020 race
As originally appearing in

IPSWICH — The president and CEO of the nonpartisan New England Council said a few of the region’s presidential candidates have a good shot at the White House, or at least a win in the New Hampshire primary.

“This election is going to be very close again,” said Jim Brett, who gave his observations on the 2020 race at a North Shore Chamber of Commerce breakfast forum at the Ipswich Country Club Wednesday morning that was attended by more than 70 business people. The New England Council advocates on the federal level for issues such as education, transportation, energy and health care by working with New England’s 21-member congressional delegation.

Brett, a former Massachusetts state representative for Boston, has a unique perspective on the race through his involvement with the Politics & Eggs breakfast speaker series in New Hampshire. The New England Council, in partnership with St. Anselm College in Manchester, New Hampshire, hosts presidential candidates of both parties in advance of the state’s first-in-the-nation primary.

“The president could be reelected and lose by even a wider margin in the popular vote in 2020 than he did in ’16, but still win more of the electoral votes,” Brett said. “He is not somebody who should be dismissed … It’s very, very, very difficult to defeat an incumbent president,”  especially when the economy is good and the country is not in a major war. Incumbent President Donald Trump will also have amassed a $1 billion campaign fund, Brett said.

Among those running for president from New England are front-runner U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., and a recent entry into the race, former Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick. Then there is another Democratic front-runner from New England, U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, the independent from Vermont.

On the Republican side, former Massachusetts Gov. Bill Weld is making a long-shot bid against Trump.

Brett noted that U.S. Rep. Seth Moulton, D-Salem, campaigned in the Granite State before dropping out of the race in August.

“I mean, Massachusetts is very well represented,” Brett said.

The early knock on Warren, he said, was the uncertainty about her having all the ingredients to be a strong, viable candidate.

“I think that myth has been dispelled, to say the least,” Brett said. “She’s doing very well in Iowa. She’s doing very well in New Hampshire. Obviously her competition is Bernie … She has tremendous, tremendous energy and in Iowa, her organization is second to none. She’s been there a long time. She’s been there almost a year, and do not underestimate her.”

Both Sanders and Warren could win New Hampshire, Brett said. Sanders got 61% of the vote in New Hampshire during the 2016 Democratic primary, besting eventually nominee Hillary Clinton “big time,” he noted.

“Could he be the nominee in New Hampshire and do well? Absolutely,” Brett said of Sanders.

The race is fluid in New Hampshire, and South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg “could be a surprise up there,” Brett said.

Former Vice President Joe Biden, Buttigieg, Warren and Sanders are the front-runners in the state.

In early March, a week before Buttigieg announced, he spoke to the New England Council at Politics & Eggs, Brett noted.

“It wasn’t long before we saw that he just skyrocketed to the front of the pack,” said Brett, who described Buttigieg as articulate in command of the issues, even though he was the youngest candidate and represents only the the third-largest city in Indiana with 100,000 people.

“We’ve gone from ‘Pete who?’ to one of the leading candidates,” said Brett, noting the mayor was still an underdog due to his lack of support among African-American voters in states like South Carolina.

Brett said Patrick was well received at Politics & Eggs on Nov. 25.

“Many people agree that he is getting in very late,” Brett said. “He has no infrastructure, he has no money, and he has no staff, just very, very late. I will say this, he drew a very, very large crowd,” Brett said. Those who heard Patrick speak were impressed and the candidate got a standing ovation. He might surprise in New Hampshire and South Carolina, but Brett said he did not see Patrick’s path to the nomination.

“I think Jim has a good perspective on the fact that we have leadership in the New England delegation and for us to look as bipartisan at these issues as possible,” said Jamie Belsito, of Topsfield, who is running for Moulton’s seat in the Democratic primary next year. “In my campaign trail, what I’m hearing is, sure the impeachment is very important … but ultimately it’s the people that need the most support.” The focus needs to be supporting folks “back home,” she said.

Brett was introduced Wednesday morning by the new president of Endicott College, Steven DiSalvo, with whom Brett worked on Politics & Eggs for more than six years when DiSalvo was the president of St. Anselm College.

Staff writer Ethan Forman can be reached at 978-338-2673, by email at eforman@salemnews.com or on Twitter at @TannerSalemNews.

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