MANCHESTER, N.H. -- The campaign manager for Bernie Sanders emphasized Thursday that New Hampshire is a critical presidential primary state he expects Sanders to win, but he's leaving room for a scenario in which Sanders falls short.
Faiz Shakir said he doesn't "like the language of must-win," though he does believe it is an important early voting state. But he said he still thinks Sanders could win the Democratic nomination without taking New Hampshire, though he acknowledges that the path to victory would be more difficult if Sanders doesn't.
"I see it as essential and critical to win," Shakir said. "But if it doesn't happen — again, go through the hypotheticals — is there a chance he could still win? Yeah. There's still a chance he could win. It gets harder if we don't win New Hampshire for sure."
Sanders represents neighboring Vermont in the U.S. Senate. He carried New Hampshire by 22 points in the race for the 2016 Democratic presidential nomination, which Hillary Clinton went on to clinch.
Yet the path to a New Hampshire victory in 2020 is less clear this time around.
Some Sanders endorsers have recently downplayed the importance of a victory in the New Hampshire primary. Sanders is also contending with a l arge field of Democrats this time around who see the state as an opportunity to gain ground in the race.
Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, Sanders' progressive rival who also represents a neighboring state, has campaigned more frequently in New Hampshire than Sanders so far this year, a development that Democrats evaluating the crowded field have noticed.
Sanders needing to win New Hampshire is "perception more than reality," said state Rep. Timothy Smith, a Manchester Democrat, who continues to support Sanders.
New Hampshire doesn't have a lot of delegates to the Democratic National Convention, Smith said, adding, "We're not California. We're not Texas."
"Sanders' strength is nationwide," Smith said. "It's not really isolated to one particular state. And I say this as respectfully as I can, I think that winning New Hampshire is more important in terms of how (the media is) going to craft that narrative, rather than the actual practical implications in the larger overall primary."