This conversation has been edited and condensed for clarity.
Edward-Isaac Dovere: The cliché is that Iowa picks corn and New Hampshire picks presidents. It’s not exactly clear what Iowa did this time. So what’s New Hampshire going to do?
Chris Pappas: I’m not sure what happened in Iowa either. And we’ll see if we have all the final results before the votes are counted in New Hampshire.
Dovere: How do you defend your states getting to go first anymore?
Pappas: In 2016, people came to New Hampshire, heard about the opioid epidemic that was ravaging our communities, heard about some really heartbreaking personal stories. As a result, the national candidates all were talking about their plans to address addiction.
The intimacy of New Hampshire provides us with the opportunity to affect the conversation in a meaningful way. And that’s why we’re so proud of our primary … What happened in Iowa is a function of a complicated caucus system. That’s not something you’re going to see in a primary state, where the votes are going to roll in about a half hour after the polls close. We’re going to have a decisive result unless, of course, it’s, you know, a too-close-to-call race with a recount, which can happen in an election.
Dovere: You’re young—not yet 40—and you represent a district that skews older. How do you bridge that?
Pappas: Being someone of a younger generation, you actually find a lot of support from folks that are of an older generation. They’re really looking to pass the torch on. And they’re excited to see people stepping forward to take ownership over what’s happening in their community and in their country. It is hard to draw conclusions, but the real test here is going to be for Democrats: How does this process all come together in the end with a nominee that gains the confidence and an ability to build a broad coalition? There are so many voters in the middle right now that are dissatisfied with what they’re seeing out of the Trump White House, out of Washington. They want change. We’ve got to have someone who’s able to speak to those voters.
Dovere: You were at Harvard a few years ahead of Pete Buttigieg, though you didn’t know him. He’s spoken about wrestling with feeling then that he couldn’t be open about being gay and have a career in politics. Did you feel that?
Pappas: It was a struggle, and I think everyone dealt with it in their own way. And it certainly was a time period where it wasn’t always safe or easy to be out. Maybe it was on a college campus, but probably not in a small town in New Hampshire or Indiana, for that matter.
Dovere: The opioid crisis has gotten more attention since 2016. What are we still missing about what’s happening?
Pappas: The profound and lifelong impacts that addiction has on individuals. You know, when someone is in recovery from opioid abuse, they’re there for a lifetime. That’s why, as policy makers, our job is so important—to make sure that we can sustain the funding and the efforts that we’ve tried to put in place. We also need to understand that it’s not just about opioids. I mean, this crisis has gone from overprescribing pain pills to heroin to fentanyl. Now we’re seeing a crystal-meth epidemic in my state and in other places … As a society, we need to make sure we’re always looking at this as an illness that can be treated and not as a moral failing.