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Sometime afterwards this year, Carlos Cardona will endorse a presidential candidate. He will do so with a flourish. “There’s action to be a columnist absolution and a tweet,” he says, “and I plan on alone actuality with the applicant on the day I accomplish my announcement. Hopefully that advertisement will appear on my own porch.”
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Right about now, you may be combing your anamnesis banks, thinking: “Carlos Cardona, Carlos Cardona. Wait, who is that again? Is he one of those Silicon Valley billionaires? Is he a cine star?”
No, Cardona — 29 years old, 5-foot-5 with the attenuate body of a jockey, and 14 years removed from his built-in Puerto Rico — is the assembly administrator for a telemarketing abutting in Laconia, New Hampshire, a disturbing above comminute boondocks of 16,000 amid in the state’s best Trump-friendly county. He is additionally the armchair of the Laconia Democrats, an abrupt apostle for LGBTQ rights and an cool New Hampshire political mogul. In a accompaniment that is 94% white, with a academy average age than any accompaniment save Maine, this active Latino has leveraged a age-old bounded attitude — New Hampshire’s first-in-the-nation primary — to accumulate alarming political power.
I appear to be Cardona’s neighbor. I alive 10 afar from him in a abate Belknap Canton burgh, Gilmanton, home to 3,700 bodies and a distinct blinking stoplight. In May, I began endlessly by his abode parties and begin myself pond in affirmation of aloof how affiliated he is.
Already, in the countdown to the state’s Feb. 11, 2020, vote, Cardona has brought 15 presidential candidates to his hometown. Nine of these visitors accept staged meet-and-greet parties at Cardona’s house. Aback tech administrator Andrew Yang visited Laconia, he spent best of the day with Cardona and again aggregate his corpuscle number, saying, “Whatever you need, Carlos, I’m actuality for you.”
After Cardona brought Elizabeth Warren to town, the agent alone alleged her New Hampshire host to acknowledge him. Cardona says she told him, “I’m walking through the halls of Congress and about to allege on the Senate attic about impeachment.” (A Warren staffer confirms the alarm happened, admitting alone Cardona registered the tragedy of its ending: Cardona was at work, in a accurate architecture with bad corpuscle reception. He sprinted outside, his buzz to his ear, and in the action got burst from the senator. He got articulation mail aback he alleged back.)
Now, on Memorial Day, Bernie Sanders is authoritative his way to Cardona’s accommodating eight-bedroom abode, which is corrective anemic lavender and anchored a stone’s bandy from the bright amnion of Opechee Bay. Three hundred Bernistas accept aggregate in Cardona’s flat, blooming advanced backyard below thin, billowy clouds in an azure sky. An arrangement of bake-apple copse blossoms afore them, afresh mulched aftermost night by Cardona’s accomplice of 13 years, John F. Swain, with whom he shares a 4-year-old daughter. Two flags — Old Glory and the New Hampshire banderole — agitate from a aerial white pole, and Sanders’ longtime friends, the iconic Vermont ice chrism purveyors Ben and Jerry, are actuality below a tent, alone doling out chargeless scoops in artificial dishes. “Chunky Monkey! Cookie Dough!” says Jerry Greenfield, reciting the flavors available. “There you go! Booty a bonanza sticker!”
Over the accomplished several weeks, the candidate’s staffers accept fabricated seven screening visits to Cardona’s home to array through aegis issues. Two Sanders-financed plainclothes admiral are now afloat through the crowd, savoring their own ice cream. But it’s Cardona who’s authoritative aggregate run smoothly. Aboriginal on in the planning, he accomplished that the senator’s appointment airish a catechism that would abrade any acute host: Do you absolutely appetite to accompany an crumbling applicant accustomed for his acerbity through a circuitous mob on your advanced lawn?
Cardona approached his neighbors to ask if he could accelerate a car — aloof one car complete a agent — bottomward their driveway. Never apperception that the neighbors both voted for Donald Trump; Cardona can assignment both abandon of the aisle. (He generally meets for coffee with a bounded abbot who favors about-face analysis for gays.) And so, actuality is Bernie Sanders axis into the neighbors’ driveway, en avenue to a alien aboideau that sits at the rear of the Cardona-Swain property. Cardona is continuing beside that aboideau — waiting, pacing. He’s acid a gold Bulova watch, a cottony white shirt and a Bernie tie. “Are you nervous?” I ask him.
“I’m consistently nervous,” he says. He smiles, his face beaming for a moment, but anon Sanders is there, bear-pawing his hand. I apprehend the shuttering of cameras nearby. Again the two men, adolescent and old, footfall into the house, anniversary one ensconced in his own arrangement to adapt America.
We alive in a nation of 327 actor people. How did one clandestine aborigine accumulate such disproportionate adeptness and access? The acknowledgment begins, of course, with the appropriate cachet of New Hampshire, which aback 1920 has hosted the nation’s aboriginal primary — all but acute presidential hopefuls to army actuality in droves. To win the state, candidates can’t aloof be telegenic. They allegation to get into residents’ active rooms, up abutting and personal, and they allegation bounded adeptness brokers to host them.
Sprightly adolescent Carlos Cardona has now become one of those go-to hosts. Roger Carroll, the managing editor of the Laconia Circadian Sun, says the acumen is simple. “There are no cool high-profile Democrats in Laconia,” he says. “Carlos is Laconia’s Democratic Affair chair, and attributes abhors a vacuum.”
Personally, I anticipate that Cardona is added a shaper of affairs than a beneficiary. The guy somehow has the adeptness to be everywhere. In 2007, when, he says, a accompaniment trooper pulled him over and asked to see his bearing certificate, Cardona filed a complaint that accomplished New Hampshire’s governor and anon begin himself on a gubernatorial assignment force aimed at convalescent troopers’ affinity with minorities. The aforementioned year, Cardona abutting a New Hampshire-based LGBT affiliation abetment Barack Obama and begin himself dining with Michelle Obama. He told me he’s met the above aboriginal adult assorted times, and aback I asked him for proof, he beatific me Michelle-and-Carlos selfies. On argument message, he’s manic. Anniversary time I abode him, his acknowledgment bubbles up instantly on my screen.
In New Hampshire, area presidential backroom is a advancing industry shored up by a affectionate bunch of underpaid adolescent attack staffers, Cardona is a admired insider. About 50 abutment cadre from seven campaigns afresh came to his abode for a affair that culminated with a late-night basin swim. Andrew Yang was assimilate article aback he active up to be Cardona’s aboriginal Laconia visitor, reckoning, “Everyone wants to assignment with Carlos.”
But I’d say that Steve Marchand, a New Hampshire Democrat who ran for governor in 2018, summed up the bearings best aback he and I met at a Yang attack assemblage that Cardona had orchestrated. “That guy!” Marchand said as Cardona sprinted about the room, abashed hands, sending texts and straightening tables. “I adulation his motor!”
And area are you now?” It’s a dank, arctic May afternoon, and Cardona is continuing alfresco a bashful Laconia home, not his own, talking on his cellphone to a staffer for long-shot presidential applicant Eric Swalwell who, in his scrambling through the hinterlands of New Hampshire, has drifted off course.
“Oh,” Cardona says. His chargeless duke is biconcave to the earpiece, careful the wind. “OK, ok.” We’re actuality on the barrier because Swalwell, a 38-year-old California congressman, has accustomed Cardona’s allurement to altercate opioid addiction at a men’s abstaining abode on one of Laconia’s grittier backstreets. The abode is sided with burghal shingles. It looks out assimilate the parking lot of the Salvation Army, and beyond the artery is a alone lot.
For Cardona, who is acid a sleekly tailored, arrested accepted shirt and a adapted gold watch, it was important to accompany a applicant to this place. Aftermost year, 12 bodies died of opioid overdoses in Laconia; this in a accompaniment that at aftermost calculation had added such fatalities per capita than all others save Ohio and West Virginia. In 2009, John Swain’s brother Josh died at age 26 afterwards a continued action with heroin addiction. “We can do things differently,” Cardona says. “We could accomplish abiding that there are acceptable accomplishment in our communities, acceptable educational opportunities. We can’t accumulate bringing bodies to such a border that they booty their own lives with drugs.”
When Swalwell arrives, finally, in a minivan, there’s a flurry of activity. Swalwell’s wife, Brittany, is traveling with him, as are the Swalwells’ two kids, a toddler and a baby. There are car seats, a adventurer and countless blankies; the congressman, who played academy soccer, finds himself continuing beneath the hatch, affective accessory about with able-bodied panache. Cardona watches admiringly. “That’s what a alive dad looks like in 2019,” he tells me.
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Inside the abstaining house, eight association army into a baby kitchen. The men are tattooed and stubble-chinned and acid ski hats and chamois shirts adjoin the awkward chill. They accomplish adventures — about, for instance, affairs drugs in bastille — and Swalwell affirms them with calm, chaste remarks. A brace of times he looks over at me and asks to go off the record, so he can allege afterwards inhibition. “I’m from rural Iowa,” he says, “and there are agnate issues there.”
Watching Swalwell, Cardona nods appreciatively, accordant with him, and I bethink article he told me earlier: “I’m action to accord every applicant a fair chance.” Will abstruse Eric Swalwell be the one he endorses?
No, as it turns out: Swalwell alone out in July. But alike if he’d backward in the race, his allowance of acceptable over Cardona weren’t attractive great. Afterwards in the afternoon, as he hovers abreast the aback of a army of 30 bodies sitting in folding chairs in his kitchen, Cardona asks Swalwell a question: “Do you abutment authoritative Puerto Rico the 51st state?” Swalwell pauses a moment, searching. Again he punts. “I think,” he says, “that we allegation to let the bodies of Puerto Rico decide.” Cardona takes in Swalwell’s acknowledgment with his accoutrements crossed, his announcement blank. “OK,” he says. “Thank you.” I can about see the bubbliness he’s agitated all afternoon blow into attenuate air.
Andrew Yang comes to Laconia on a hot Friday in June, and moments afterwards dispatch into Wayfarer Coffee Roasters, a cafe, he enfolds Cardona in a balmy embrace that ends with the brace continuing ancillary by side, animated for the two TV cameras on hand. “The approaching admiral of the United States,” crows Yang, apropos to Cardona. “The sky’s the complete for him!”
Soon Yang, who’s authoritative his third Laconia appointment of 2019, apprehension into his butt speech, sans microphone. Twenty or so cafe-goers cull their chairs in to accept as a few others abide alien and disinterested, analytical into their laptops. “It’s not left. It’s not right. It’s forward!” Yang declaims afore acquainted that he’s got roots in New Hampshire. “I went to Phillips Exeter Academy,” he says, citation a arrant boarding school.
I can’t advice but anticipate how adapted Cardona’s origins were. The activist grew up in a zinc-roofed, dirt-floored abode in an breezy adjustment on the outskirts of Aguadilla, a baby littoral burghal in Puerto Rico. Cardona’s ancestor was a boner for a bazaar chain, and he fabricated $250 a week. As a adolescent child, Cardona supplemented the family’s assets by affairs craven eggs, aggregate from a backyard pen, for a dime apiece at Aguadilla’s artery market.
When Cardona was 5, his affectionate grandfathering began accustomed him on his amateur to political rallies. Luis Lebron Morales was a hardly association janitor, but, as Cardona remembers, “he wasn’t abashed of anyone.” Once, at a burghal lath affair in 1996, Cardona says, his grandfathering stood up and accused Aguadilla’s ambassador of acid off the electricity in neighborhoods that did not abutment him politically. Cardona’s mother, Maira Lebron, recalls handing her son a dollar about the aforementioned time. “When I’m older,” she remembers him saying, “I’m action to be on a dollar bill, aloof like George Washington.”
Cardona’s parents afar aback he was 12, and anon afterwards that he confused inland, forth with his mother and two adolescent brothers, to Caguas, the built-in burghal of his mother’s new boyfriend. Activity became harder. As Cardona’s mother approved analysis for cancer, her careful accomplice exhausted her. “Sometimes I’d see my mom aching up and crying,” Cardona says. “Sometimes my brothers and I had to get in the average of the action to stop it.”
“I anticipation the daydream would never end,” Cardona says. “But again my mom met up with an old friend, and she bought us all alike tickets to the U.S. We larboard afterwards cogent him.” Aback Cardona and his ancestors landed in Haverhill, Massachusetts, 45 account arctic of Boston, in 2005, it seemed at aboriginal like heaven. But Cardona was 15 at the time, and as he began exploring his sexuality, he activated his mother’s Catholic sensibilities. Aback he came out, on Mother’s Day 2005, she told him, “Just leave the house.”
Eventually, through a New Hampshire acquaintance he’d begin on MySpace, Cardona met John Swain. He ran abroad from home to alive with his new adulation aloof alfresco Laconia, in Franklin, New Hampshire. He was still 17 and afflicted that Franklin wouldn’t acquiesce him to accept in its aerial academy afterwards affectionate consent. Intent on alteration that rule, he ran for the Franklin academy lath and won. He’d become, according to his Twitter bio, New Hampshire’s “youngest adopted official.”
Nonetheless, he acquainted — and still feels — accordingly angry to Puerto Rico. His ancestor charcoal in Aguadilla, and Cardona talks to him about daily, in allotment because his dad is, at age 50, in poor health. Afterwards Hurricane Maria in 2017, Carlos Cardona Sr. drank attenuated baptize and came bottomward with leptospirosis, a bacterial disease. Adeptness outages and floods afar him from medical affliction for weeks, and the ache eventually formed its way into his abashed system. He now suffers amusement and is clumsy to work.
The Puerto Rican statehood catechism is a litmus analysis for Cardona. “I accept four belief for candidates,” he tells me aback we accommodated on his balustrade one afternoon. “How do they see Puerto Rico? What is their action against opiates? The ambiance and education.” Cardona pauses as I author in my notebook. “Actually,” he continues, “there’s a fifth criteria. You accept to appear to Laconia. If you don’t appear to Laconia, you don’t get my vote.”
Whenever Cardona is able to allurement a applicant to town, he does his best to ensure the acquaintance is affecting. In February, presidential applicant Tulsi Gabbard, a congresswoman from Hawaii, accustomed Cardona to absorb over two hours demography her about the city’s burghal in a snowstorm afore they drove, aloof the two of them, to addition New Hampshire city. In the process, Cardona told Gabbard — who aboriginal in her political career was adamantly anti-gay — the aching account of his advancing out to his mother. In June, Gabbard told me, “It was alarming to allocution to addition who’s been through so abundant affliction and acquainted not anger, but a complete admiration to advice his community.”
Now, on his porch, Cardona says article that makes me anticipate that maybe Gabbard will be his presidential pick. “I adulation an underdog,” he says. “Popular candidates aloof go with the flow. It’s the underdog that makes the best changes.”
Cardona’s partner, John Swain, has adapted political views. A 38-year-old Belknap Canton native, Swain tells me at the Sanders assemblage that in 2016 he voted for Trump. “Hillary was aloof too angry into Obamacare and accumulated taxes,” he explains. “I know: I’m gay — I should abutment the Democrats. But I can’t do annihilation that would put me out of business.”
Swain owns the telemarketing abutting Cardona works for. Launched in 2010, JC Swain Enterprise serves above resorts by calling -to-be audience and scheduling them for visits at vacation spots area timeshare condominiums are for sale. In 2015, according to cloister papers, it was earning $3.5 actor a year. Swain and Cardona are able to drive analogous white Chevy Tahoe SUVs as they abide in a about 1872 abode congenital by a hosiery magnate. (Both men’s mothers additionally alive in the house, forth with one of Cardona’s brothers.)
But it’s not been an absolutely bland ride for either Swain or Cardona. In 2002 — afore he met Cardona — a then-22-year-old Swain was bedevilled of a abomination and bedevilled to 22 months in bastille afterwards he approved to advertise able to a New Hampshire accompaniment badge officer. Later, in 2010, Cardona was arrested on a calm abandon allegation afterwards a acquaintance of his alleged the Franklin badge to abode that he and Swain were fighting. He was never convicted, but the row fabricated bounded newspapers and, in a bourgeois boondocks abundantly aloof of his activist politics, he begin himself in hot water. He accommodated from the academy board.
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Then in 2012, anon afterwards affairs the home he now shares with Cardona, Swain stepped into a New Hampshire gun shop, Average Joe’s Hunting & Fishing, and bought a Taurus pistol. In gluttonous a admittance for the weapon, he did not acknowledge his 2002 abomination and was anon begin accusable of falsification. He was beggared with an abate armlet for a year. In 2014, his biologic problems resurfaced aback badge begin in his appointment over 100 pills, some of them complete buprenorphine, an opiate. Swain was handed a abeyant sentence. “John’s consistently action to struggle,” Cardona says. “I aloof apperceive that we adulation anniversary added — and that I will abide to abutment him.”
I sense, as Cardona and I airing about burghal Laconia one gray afternoon, that he has the aforementioned adherence to his city. We’re accord with a abode that is, like any blood-soaked person, a mix of both abeyant and ravages. Cardona and I esplanade by a high-end bike shop, MC Cycle & Sport, again canyon Raw Fitness, a yoga and claimed training studio. Inside an alone beautician shop, there’s annihilation but an American banderole and a handwritten assurance announcement the barber’s new address. Many storefronts accept affectation windows that assume banausic aback the 1980s. We change eventually to the Belknap Mill, congenital in 1823. Cardona tells me how he came to the four-story structure, now a concert anteroom and rough-hewed appointment building, in 2007 to booty in a attack accent by then-Sen. Barack Obama.
“I fabricated my aboriginal political addition anytime that day,” he says. “I put a $5 bill into a can.”
In 2018, Cardona ran for accompaniment representative. In a chase with eight candidates allusive for four seats, he placed aftermost — but the challenge was close: Incumbent and champ Peter Spanos, a Realtor, came in first, with 2,985 votes to Cardona’s 2,337. During the campaign, Cardona annoyed accoutrement aback he published, in the Laconia Circadian Sun, a letter saying, “If you like burst anchorage and potholes everywhere, aloof vote for Peter Spanos.”
Three afflicted belletrist to the editor ensued, and one correspondent, Republican accompaniment Rep. Tim Lang, of Sanbornton, was reminded “just how low backroom has sunk.” “Carlos,” he wrote, “went afterwards your fears, not your hopes.”
Cardona contends his antagonism suffered because in Laconia he’s perceived as a newcomer. Lang disagrees. “New Hampshire is a melting pot,” he tells me, “and actuality a constant aborigine is no belief for accessible office. I myself accept lived in all four corners of the country.”
A anniversary afterwards accident the election, Cardona chose to advance his continuing as a bounded by autograph a additional letter to the Sun. “I feel added Laconian today than ever,” he wrote. “It’s not actuality built-in actuality that defines us but what we do for our community.”
As abundant as I alone attending advanced to casting a crazily consequential vote in New Hampshire’s primary in February, I apprehend there’s article adulterated about a political arrangement that accords my small, broken accompaniment — citizenry 1.3 actor — such massive clout. And what can absolutely be said in aegis of how acutely the New Hampshire primary concentrates adeptness in the easily of a few bodies like Cardona — the burghal and canton chairs, the aristocrats of New Hampshire politics, the kingmakers who adore an alone befalling to admix with, and additionally shape, the approaching leaders of the chargeless world? Actuality — absolve me — I accept to resort to the bounded vernacular: Jeezum Crow! It’s absolutely ridiculous!
And yet, alike if you antipathy the arrangement that gives individuals in New Hampshire disproportionate power, you still accept to adore Carlos Cardona for authoritative the best of it. The bold of backroom is about alive the rules, about absurd, to your advantage. That’s absolutely what Cardona has done, in the action announcement two quintessentially American virtues: backbone and civic-mindedness. This man is an complete alien in his community, a displace from a abandoned island that has no voting adeptness in the U.S. Congress. His claimed activity has been aggress by challenges. And still he has dived abrupt into the political fray.
At one point, I asked Swain what apprenticed a Trump-supporting agent to a corybantic advanced like Cardona. His acknowledgment was quick and clear. “I adulation Carlos,” he said, “because he’s a fighter.”
Swain was right. Cardona is consistently wheeling, consistently dealing. The aftermost time I accommodated him, at Wayfarer, the coffee shop, he tells me that he’s aloof lined up applicant Seth Moulton to appear to his home for a abode party. “Seth Moulton?” I ask, bewildered. “The Marine from Massachusetts who was cut from the agitation roster? He’s absolutely action to accept to do a above relaunch, isn’t he?”
“Yeah,” Cardona acknowledges, “but he’s starting in the appropriate place. He’s advancing to Laconia to accommodated with Carlos.”
In the minute or two I absorb avaricious my coffee, Cardona plunges into a Twitter war. Beto O’Rourke has aloof adapted his attitude on Puerto Rico. In March, O’Rourke had said, “The alone way” to break Puerto’s Rico woes is “to ensure that they are a state, they accept two U.S. senators who can vote.” Now, he’s aloof gone all Swalwell on Cardona, cogent a accumulation of Latino policymakers, “I appetite to accomplish abiding that Puerto Rico can adjudge its fate. As president, I will chase the accommodation of the people.”
“I’m disgusted,” Cardona says, “especially because Beto has an LGBTQ action that I love.” In January, Cardona was allotment of the New Hampshire “Draft Beto” team. But now as I’m sitting beyond from him, he dashes off a argument bulletin beef to Soham Pandit, agent administrator of O’Rourke’s New Hampshire campaign. Not 20 account later, Pandit volleys aback with a agilely crafted three-paragraph aegis of his candidate. O’Rourke, he writes, is artlessly “opposed to banishment anything. It doesn’t change annihilation about what he said in March.”
Cardona shows me the text, and his aperture aberration into a acerb coil as he shrugs, indifferent. “Anyway,” he says, “I’m 99% abiding now who I’m action to endorse. I’ve alike agape on a few doors to advance this person.” Again he adds as a qualifier: “Behind the scenes, aloof to feel out the ground.”
He won’t acquaint me who his applicant is; the endorsement is still pending. Earlier, though, he had said of Elizabeth Warren, “She’s a barbarian aback it comes to policy.” I alpha accomplishing the algebraic — the affable buzz call, the abundant praise. “So,” I ask Cardona, aggravating to be deft, “what do you anticipate of Elizabeth Warren’s acceleration in the polls?”
I watch for the blink of a smirk, some adumbration that I’m right. Annihilation — and Cardona takes this moment to accent that he’s befitting his options open. Indeed, he tells me, he could about-face his adherence alike afterwards authoritative an endorsement. “I’ll accumulate listening,” he says, “to whoever keeps advancing to Laconia. We’re all acquiescent until the day of the primary.”
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