My political junkie brother proposed a trip to New Hampshire in advance of the Tuesday primaries. I thought it a brilliant idea and am embarrassed that I had not thought of it. That would make me one of the few such junkies to not have done so.
We met a number of interesting people on our trip. While my intent was to get the thinking of the state’s residents, most of the people we met were also political junkies. The first two people we met were not only from Massachusetts, but one was from our home town. Then there was the Philadelphia resident who had been making this journey since 1984. Going to our second event of the day, we met three people who had come from the same event we were at, but one of them actually lived in the state.
We went to three events on Sunday, the day following the debate that will forever be known as the “Rubio debate” should his promising campaign collapse. We planned a second day in which we hope to see two of the most personality-challenged Republican candidates – Carly Fiorina and Ted Cruz. A major snow storm targeting Massachusetts forced us to cut our trip short and miss “Coffee with Carly.”
Serendipitously, our first event was a Rubio pancake breakfast in Londonderry scheduled for 8:30. I was surprised to see a table offering muffins and fruit before the pancakes, but was even more surprised to hear that there would not actually be pancakes. According to the campaign, the anticipated crowd of 800 forced them to abandon the plan. We then, however, had to wait 90 minutes for the candidate to appear, who then said that he “hoped” there was food. I had hoped there was food too since I had not had breakfast. But, the campaign could not find a Legion hall, Rotary, or local church that could handle pancakes for a crowd?
Rubio delivered a standard stump speech, including the comment about the President knowing exactly what he is doing – perhaps the only thing he has said that I agree with. In fairness, however, I do not fault him for that. I just drove around to three events that day and did not have to deliver a speech or otherwise perform, and I was tired at the end of it.
So Chris Christie’s event – yet another dose of serendipity – was a surprise. I arrived late because I was talking to a real live New Hampshire voter in the parking lot. He lived in the neighborhood and was taken aback by the number of cars which he estimated to be twice that of a recent Donald Trump event. He is also the only person who told me who he was going to vote for – Jeb!
When I got in the Christie event, he was in shirt sleeves taking questions from the crowd, so I do not know if he began with his own stump speech. There was none of the surliness or bullying that have often been ascribed to him. (By the way, how can you bully someone running for President as some commentators accused him of doing with Rubio in the debate?)
The guy is a natural and gifted politician. He was thoughtful, knowledgeable, charming and funny. If New Hampshire is indeed a retail politics state where its voters appreciate direct contact, it is difficult to see how Christie could not be successful.
He had several compelling anecdotes. One was about the little girl crying because her home had been destroyed by Hurricane Sandy and his response to her – “Your home is with your parents.” Another about running into James Gandolfini at a Broadway play and being told “You know it’s all make believe.” It wasn’t clear whether he was referring to his TV show, the Mafia or politics – or all three.
But his line that brought the crowd to its feet had to do with who would be the strongest candidate to face Hillary Clinton at the first debate. Christie observed that she did not want to see him walk on stage “because she’s been running away from Federal prosecutors for six months.” Not true, of course, but it got the crowd going.
From there it was on to a Bernie Sanders event. I had been carrying a large camera bag to the previous venues without anyone asking to look into it. This time it – and I – were searched by Secret Service agents. If you thing the TSA is intrusive, don’t go to something being secured by the Secret Service. When we got into the hall, there was a media corral that looked like something you might see at a major sporting event.
Sanders delivered his standard stump speech, and the event seemed more like a rally than a town hall sort of thing in front of undecided voters.
When we left and walked to our car in the distant overflow parking lot, we started counting the number of New Hampshire license plates. It may not have been one of every ten cars, but it was surely at most one in eight. And many of the people we met at the earlier events were from out-of-state. While we attended three packed events – we could never sit down – it is not clear what percentage of the crowd were potential voters on Tuesday.
Yet there were New Hampshirites (Granite Staters?) who said they were undecided and attending events to learn more about the candidates. It’s a testimony to our political system that so many were willing to wait 90 minutes, many standing the whole time, to participate in the process.
I was also struck by the people who were not only undecided, but undecided about which primary they would vote in. I was surprised to hear that for some the choice was Bernie Sanders or one of the Republicans.
Yet another impression I had was that two candidates were viewed with a high level of animosity – Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump.
So in a campaign that has produced surprises within each party, confounding the pundits and other “experts,” I think we can expect more of the same from New Hampshire and down the road. As someone who often writes about horse racing and enjoys the occasional wager, I cannot end without a longshot prediction. He may not win, but I think Jeb Bush is primed for a surprisingly good result tonight.