Meet The Man Who's Hosted All 2020 Democratic Candidates
MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:
My ALL THINGS CONSIDERED co-host Ari Shapiro is also in New Hampshire, where he's been talking to voters. And he is about to introduce us to one of them.
ARI SHAPIRO, BYLINE: Hi, Michel.
MARTIN: So where are we going today?
SHAPIRO: I'm taking you to the home of a man named Carlos Cardona. And he stands out in a lot of ways. He is a young, Latino Democrat in an overwhelmingly old, white Republican part of the country. This is Laconia, N.H., about an hour north of Manchester. And at his big lavender house on a lake with a rainbow flag flying in front, he has made it his mission to host as many Democratic candidates as possible.
MARTIN: So how many candidates has he actually been able to get to this rural, conservative part of his state?
SHAPIRO: He told us 30 - 30 candidates just over the last year. The first thing he showed me when I walked into his home was a big serving platter covered in the candidates' signatures.
CARLOS CARDONA: Joe Biden, this one - I think it's Bennet - Bill de Blasio, Marianne Williamson. Bernie Sanders had to sign it twice. I couldn't tell...
CARDONA: ...His signature very well there, so we had him sign it there.
SHAPIRO: You must be very persuasive to get them all to come to Laconia.
CARDONA: I - people either love me or they hate me. Like...
CARDONA: ...They - I'm Puerto Rican. We don't give up.
SHAPIRO: You know, resilience and determination are really built into his life story. In Puerto Rico, Carlos Cardona and his family lived in what he calls a shanty.
CARDONA: Plywood walls, red dirt floor. We actually used to name the mice that would come through our kitchen.
SHAPIRO: And as a teenager, when his family lived in Massachusetts, he came out of the closet, and he was homeless for a while.
CARDONA: I was 16 years old. I had left my parents. My mom was diagnosed with cancer. I had come out a year prior to that. It was very difficult in a very Catholic family.
SHAPIRO: So today, he takes his access to presidential candidates very seriously. He talks to them about what his relatives who are still in Puerto Rico have experienced since Hurricane Maria.
CARDONA: My father caught a bacteria from drinking bad water. He will forever be disabled.
SHAPIRO: I'm so sorry.
CARDONA: I lost an uncle who committed suicide because he didn't have enough to eat, and he didn't want to starve to death.
SHAPIRO: So you can tell this is someone who does what he sets his mind to. And he set his mind to bringing presidential candidates to his community. I'm going to play you some more of our conversation here.
CARDONA: And our first candidate was Andrew Yang. And, of course, a guy with no name recognition at the time because maybe the bigger names are a little reluctant.
CARDONA: And basically, I actually printed out pictures for you guys to...
SHAPIRO: Oh, yes. Show us. You've got Andrew Yang flanked by...
SHAPIRO: ...More than a dozen people.
CARDONA: Our committee came out in support of this venture. And I said to them, regardless of who your favorite is, please come out. There's a mission to this. The mission is to highlight not how we feel about a candidate but our community.
SHAPIRO: So - and here, I'm sure you've got Biden supporters, Bernie Sanders supporters, Elizabeth Warren supporters...
CARDONA: Looking at that picture, there's all - they...
CARDONA: Actually, I don't see an Andrew Young supporter in that picture...
CARDONA: ...Right now - people that I know. And, you know, it just shows that, you know, it just took a little bit of work at first of convincing people that this was the right thing to do.
SHAPIRO: You're able to get people to come to this small county in the middle of New Hampshire. And I'm sure that there are people in small counties all over the United States who would love to get the candidates and the attention, but because they're not in New Hampshire, they can't. Does that seem fair to you?
CARDONA: Do I want every state to have the same opportunity that we have here? Absolutely. People ask me, do you think New Hampshire should continue first in the nation? My answer is yes. New Hampshire is not like any other state. In places like Iowa, California, Texas, Florida, the conversation's maybe a little bit lost, especially because money is so driven in politics in those big states. New Hampshire being so small and so culturally - the culture here is so political.
SHAPIRO: But could I add another adjective...
CARDONA: Yeah, sure.
SHAPIRO: ...Beyond small and culturally political? White - I mean, this state is 93, 94% white. It's one of the whitest states in a quickly diversifying country.
CARDONA: Then I give this state even more prop putting somebody like myself in the position that they have put. I have never had an issue with race or with even sexual orientation here in this state.
SHAPIRO: I'm looking at this platter with all of the names of all of the presidential candidates you've hosted here in your home, and I'm thinking about the stories you've told us of growing up in what you describe as a shanty in Puerto Rico, of being homeless as a high schooler and now living in this big, beautiful house with a husband and kids and hosting presidential candidates. What's it like to look back on this journey?
CARDONA: For my mom, it's most emotional. For me, you can't help when you come from poverty to feel guilty with the people that you've left behind. I know I did it the right way. I know I did everything my family ever told me to do - work hard, it'll pay off. But, you know, you just can't help it. It's something that you're, like, I wish I could do it for everybody else.
SHAPIRO: And his mom, who he just mentioned, was upstairs helping to take care of his brand-new baby - born, as he told us, just a month before primary day.
MARTIN: Well, Ari, thank you for that. I look forward to hearing more.
SHAPIRO: You're welcome, Michel. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.