You Be My President?
natural occurrence: John Kerry, days before his victory
in New Hampshires Democratic primary, and a
Granite State road sign, with its uncanny likeness
to the presidential hopeful.
In New Hampshire, the Democratic candidates made their
offersand voters tried to decide which one had the goods
to take back the White House
by Travis Durfee
Photographs by Travis Durfee
the electability, stupid. That was the qualification
on most everybody’s mind leading up to last week’s New Hampshire
presidential primary. The candidate in question may have
a terrific voting record, a strong military background,
sound populous rhetoric or just be a handsome young devil,
but the question on everyone’s mind was, Could he beat Bush?
most important thing is that we’ve obviously got to get
Bush out of the White House,” said Cherri Sherblom, a medical
transcriptionist from Pittsfield, N.H., who was candidate
shopping over the weekend. “There are so many things that
Bush has screwed up that we really need someone in there
that can change it around.”
New Hampshire voters are in an unique position when comes
to determining which candidate they feel meets that criteria,
as residents of the Granite State have such easy access
to the candidates so early on in the presidential-election
cycle. Every candidate but Al Sharpton spent the weekend
stumping in New Hampshire—Rev. Al spent the majority of
his time gearing up for South Carolina’s primary on Feb.
3. By the time the candidates roll in to New York for our
primary, 15 other states will have chosen their candidates
to run for the White House. New Yorkers, and voters from
10 other states, get their chance to vote on March 2. By
then, the field will have been narrowed, the candidates’
platforms will have been honed to a well-rehearsed, market-tested
rhetoric, and face time with the individual candidates will
be slim, if it exists at all.
The weekend before the primaries, I spent three days zigzagging
the state of New Hampshire to capture as much primary circus
and splendor as possible. The trip spanned some 700 miles
of New Hampshire highways and back roads, past “Moose Crossing”
signs and exits designed solely for state-owned liquor stores.
The journey followed six of seven Democratic presidential
hopefuls to diners, middle schools, community centers and
colleges, as the candidates attempted to woo New Hampshire
voters. What follows are my thoughts on what the candidates
were offering last weekend.
as it ever was: Joe Lieberman.
(Jan. 23), noon
Lieberman decided to skip the Iowa caucuses in favor of
devoting all of his campaign’s energies to a strong showing
in the New Hampshire primary. For his efforts, the candidate
received endorsements from four of New Hampshire’s major
newspapers, including the nod from the state’s largest,
Manchester’s Union-Leader. Despite all that, polls
throughout the weekend showed that Lieberman wasn’t registering
much more support with Granite State voters than Al Sharpton
or Dennis Kucinich. Joe and his supporters were unfazed
by this Friday when the candidate took to the streets of
Portsmouth for some glad-handing at a few local eateries.
As “Integrity One!”—the painted charter bus carrying Team
Joe around the state—idled on Main Street, three dozen or
so paid supporters and volunteers bounced, cheering and
chanting with signs in hand, awaiting the candidate’s entrance.
A majority of Team Joe stood to one side of the bus’ door,
creating what must’ve looked like a wall of support to anyone
watching from home. In reality there was only a smattering
of press and Lieberman’s campaign staff on hand.
Lieberman spent a few minutes inside the first restaurant
asking for votes on Tuesday, then exited to answer questions
from small swarm of reporters covering the event. The candidate
spoke for a little over five minutes, and stayed true to
the path he has forged thus far: Joe Lieberman is a responsible,
moderate Democrat who is tough on security and supports
an array of social causes.
Republicans don’t want to run against me because they can’t
run their normal anti-Democratic games,” Lieberman said,
in his characteristic drawl. But Joe, doesn’t that mean
that they think you’re not a Democrat?
can’t say I’m weak on defense, because I’m not. They can’t
say I’m a big tax-and-spender, because I’m not. They can’t
say I’m weak or a flip-flopper, because sometimes to the
displeasure of audiences I say the same thing everywhere
I go,” he continued. Did anyone tell Joe that Democrats
are looking for a compelling candidate?
Lieberman then went on to quote President Bush, who has
apparently said that the Connecticut senator is the candidate
he’d least like to square off against in a presidential
election. To put it a little differently, Lieberman is trying
to use the president to campaign for him.
Is Lieberman actually expecting Democrats to take Bush’s
words at face value? I’d bet the president would love to
see Lieberman win the Democratic nomination. After all,
if a candidate that uninspiring were to win the nomination,
it’s not too hard to imagine a bunch of left-leaning Democratic
voters going for Nader again, or maybe not voting at all.
Lieberman’s handlers ended the interview and the candidate
headed off to a bagel shop down the street. Most of the
reporters headed to their cars.
my name is Howard and Im a recovering rageaholic:
H. Charles Larracy Auditorium, Keene Middle School, Keene,
(Jan. 23), 6:30 PM
Howard Dean’s repeated comments that he was unashamed of
his exuberant display of emotion in his much-maligned nonconcession
speech following a poor showing in the Iowa caucuses, there
was no doubting that this was a subtler, more refined Dr.
Dean in Keene, N.H. He didn’t yell, didn’t roll up his sleeves
and, though he criticized their platforms, he never once
mentioned another Democratic candidate by name. Although
the candidate’s public persona had undergone a facelift,
no sea change in the candidate’s ability to draw a crowd
could be determined from the number of people who turned
out to hear Dean speak.
The school’s auditorium could hold approximately 1,100 people.
It was packed, and another 200 to 300 Deanizens overflowed
into the school’s cafeteria. Dean later announced tonight’s
rally was his largest crowd ever in New Hampshire.
Dean’s was a town-hall-style meeting, with a speech followed
by a question-and-answer period for audience members. Unlike
Lieberman’s event earlier in the day, Dean’s evening rally
was full of what appeared to be actual New Hampshire voters
out to hear a candidate’s platform. Anne Clement, of neighboring
Walpole, fell into that category.
She came to Dean’s rally as an undecided independent voter,
a hot commodity in the days leading up to the primary. Although
she wanted a leader who would be respectful of the current
administration, and Dean has been anything but, she was
willing to look past the candidate’s choice words for the
president to hear what he had to say about health care.
Clement lived in Vermont when Dean was governor and wanted
to hear how Dean would bring his health care proposals to
the national level.
I’m about to describe is not reform,” Dean said. “What I
want to do is expand the plan to include everybody and then
we can have a big fight, after everybody is already in the
program, about how to reform the system. . . . I really
don’t care what kind of system we have as long as anybody’s
Dean unveiled his plan to insure every single American by
expanding the current system of government-provided health
insurance: Anyone under 25 can receive free, existing health
insurance from the government. For a family of four with
household incomes below $33,000 a year, all family members
will be eligible for free government health insurance. Adults
over 65 will receive a prescription drug plan. Self-employed
people will be able to buy in to the same insurance plan
used by members of Congress.
At this point in Dean’s address, Clement was sitting up
on the edge of her seat, listening intently. In an age where
an edited newsreel becomes a late-night punch line, which
for some determines whether a candidate is fit for office,
Howard Dean proved he could play more than one note. He
has toned down the fiery rhetoric, but he is still a charismatic
speaker capable of delivering a message, his message.
see George Bush gave his State of the Union address the
other night,” Dean began, matter-of-factly. “On top of other
things, he’s promised us another trillion-dollar tax cut
on top of our half-a-trillion-dollar deficit, and he’s promised
us a trip to Mars,” Dean said, railing off a list of the
president’s expansive spending initiatives that have led
to a national deficit greater than Reagan’s. “Even the Democrats
say you can have a middle-class tax cut and they’ll promise
you health insurance, full funding of special education
and k-12 education, and scholarships for college.” He pauses.
know why 50 percent of the people in this country don’t
vote?” Dean asked. “It’s because politicians talk like that
before every election, and when they get elected they can’t
deliver.” The audience erupted in applause. “Right on Howard,”
shouted a voice from the crowd.
truth is you can’t have a tax cut, have health insurance,
help pay for college education, help k-12 education, help
pay for special education,” he said. Dean went on to tell
the crowd that he won’t cut their taxes. Dean said that
his international trade proposals, which would mandate that
our foreign business partners employ accepted U.S. domestic
labor and environmental standards, may lead to higher prices
on the products they buy.
need your help on Tuesday,” Dean said, and Clement was clapping
vigorously. Dean closed his address and headed off to the
overflow room to take questions from the few hundred who
watched his address on a television set in a cafeteria.
Clement and a handful of others followed.
President, Im crushing your head: John Edwards.
Shoppe, Laconia, N.H.
(Jan. 24), 12:30 PM
say that if you want to make a meal look big, you put it
on a small plate. If such was the strategy considered by
John Edwards’ handlers for the candidate’s appearance in
Laconia, they succeeded.
Some 200 onlookers, journalists and supporters crammed into
this wee downtown eatery to hear the candidate speak Saturday.
Despite the sub-freezing temperatures, crowds formed around
both of the restaurant’s big bay windows as folks just looked
in, unable to hear a thing. Photographers and reporters
were backed up into the kitchen, foiling the staff’s attempt
to keep the orders moving. Standing in front of the juice
machine, I had to help serve drinks if I wanted to keep
my spot. And I didn’t spill a drop, I’m proud to say.
Now, New Hampshire voters may take pride in the fact that
their state holds the nation’s first primary, but Saturday’s
event ratified the importance of the Iowa caucuses. There
is no way this many people, maybe more specifically this
many news people, would have shown up had Edwards not done
so astonishingly well in Iowa, placing second. Edwards would’ve
continued to receive a little ink here and there, but now
there is speculation that a strong showing in the Feb. 8
primaries, many of which take place in the South, could
propel him toward the top of the pack.
What Edwards has going for him is . . . well, by gosh, he
just seems such like a nice guy. Supporters say they like
the former personal-injury lawyer’s positive vision, but
above all else it’s the way he presents himself.
think he is more empathetic than the other candidates. He’s
the people’s candidate,” said Jane Flanders, a Laconia resident.
Her husband was an ardent supporter as well. “I just like
the way he talks,” Fred Flanders said. “It’s not doublespeak.”
To watch the man in action is a spectacle in and of itself.
campaign is not based on the politics of fear. It’s based
on the politics of hope,” he said with a slight Southern
lilt, gently pumping a clenched fist. “If you give me a
chance to take this fight to George Bush, I’ll give you
the White House.”
Like he’s working a jury for a settlement, Edwards oozes
compassion as he works a room. The candidate leaned forward
to take questions from the audience, tilting his head to
the side and nodding as they spoke. Edwards often employs
emphatic hand gestures when he speaks, but relies more heavily
on emotional facial expressions when speaking directly to
a questioner. He never says “I feel your pain” out loud,
but his exaggerated squints speak loud and clear.
does come across as a good fighter, and you can see it in
the way he talks. You know he has the experience as a trial
lawyer, and his confidence really shows,” said Carl Sherblom,
a self-employed wetland scientist form Pittsfield.
Edwards gave his standard “Two Americas” stump speech, promising
to rid Washington of the ever-creeping influence of big
corporations and lobbyists. He offered up a fair share of
seemingly sound policies, like offering young adults willing
to work a part-time job one year of free college tuition
to any public school, allowing prescription drugs to be
imported from Canada, and giving tax credits for people
looking to make a down payment on a house. Toward the end,
he answered a question regarding his proposal to combat
AIDS worldwide from a questioner on his right.
know people always think about Africa, and it’s such a serious
issue there, but it’s not just Africa, it’s Russia, it’s
India, it’s—” the candidate paused as a woman behind him
got up to leave. “Thank you for coming, by the way. I really
appreciate it. It was wonderful to see you,” he said, ever
the Southern gentleman.
have my vote,” the woman said.
you,” the candidate bubbled. “That’s what I want to hear.”
might not know me, but I want to be your president:
Diner, Littleton, N.H.
(Jan. 24), 1:30 PM
all have the dre-e-e-e-e-am. Now imagine the dre-e-e-am
team,” harmonized the redheaded man and woman, Dennis Kucinich’s
opening act, over canned hip-hop beats spewing from a synthesizer
and a tabletop amplifier. Earlier, the duo, who wore red-and-white
zebra-striped “Patriot Pants” and matching blue T-shirts
with sequined Kucinich for President emblems, were humming
and playing the flute. It was very new-agey in the Littleton
Diner Sunday afternoon.
Kucinich arrived a few minutes later, and though he smiled
and shook hands with the diners’ patrons, he appeared frustrated.
Who could blame the guy, really. Here he is pushing similar
ideas as candidates Edwards, Wesley Clark and John Kerry
(universal pre-k by age 3, greater UN involvement in Iraq,
no privatization of social security), and he’s polling as
well as Lieberman, yet he hardly receives any recognition
in the mainstream media.
Sadly, Kucinich is even forced to defend his own record
on such boilerplate Democratic issues as the invasion of
want to read a quote to you that comes from Sept. 4, 2002,”
Kucinich said, reading the transcript of a fiery speech
he gave against the buildup to war with Iraq. “This was
the leadership I brought to the nation as we were sliding
toward war, and this is the kind of leadership I’ll bring
to the White House.” Maybe it is his modest campaign finances,
maybe it his more radical ideas (like creating a cabinet-level
Department of Peace or withdrawing from the WTO and NAFTA),
but as far as the media are concerned, Kucinich’s campaign
is already over.
Though Kucinich trudges on in spite of media indifference,
the candidate’s supporters are faced with a difficult quandary:
In a year when the stakes are so high, should they vote
their ideals, or for the candidate who stands the best chance
of unseating the president?
first I think, why should I draw the line this year? I’ve
always voted for my principles,” said Natalie Woodroofe
of Littleton, N.H. “But the more I think about it, the risks
are so dire this year. Considering all the havoc [Bush]
has wreaked on this country over the past four years, think
what he’ll do with four more. And he won’t even have another
election to hold him accountable.”
Following the candidate’s address Sunday, Woodroofe posed
her predicament to Kucinich.
me out. No presidential candidate I’ve ever supported has
ever been elected,” she said, as knowing/supportive/empathetic
laughter spread throughout the room. “I voted for McCarthy,
McGovern, Ralph Nader in 2000.”
did I,” one man announced, shaking his head.
did I,” another chimed in. This was beginning to sound like
a support group.
is the responsible thing for me to do on Tuesday?” Woodroofe
continued. “I want Bush out of the White House.”
Not missing a beat, Kucinich said he was in a singular position
to challenge the president on the invasion of Iraq, having
voted against the war resolution. But then again, he’s a
politician: Could you really expect him to acknowledge her
fears that this might not be the year to follow her conscience?
in New Hampshire can change the face of this election,”
Kucinich said in closing. “The question I pose to you, is
how much change do you want? How much change do you want?”
ideas: Wesley Clark.
College, Henniker, N.H.
(Jan. 24), 4:30 PM
had been a tough week for the general. Wesley Clark, like
Lieberman, decided to skip the Iowa caucuses and focus his
campaign’s energies on a strong showing the nation’s first
primary. With a sizeable war chest and the other candidates
flaying each other in the Midwest, the general set up nine
campaign headquarters throughout the tiny state of New Hampshire.
Clark’s poll numbers steadily crept upward, and New Hampshire
seemed it was like his for the taking. But the story quickly
changed when the other candidates showed up from Iowa. It
was now John Kerry, not Howard Dean, whom Clark was chasing.
Clark baited Kerry to join an ill-advised pissing match
over the candidates’ military careers, the general insinuating
that he had done more for his country then the Massachusetts
senator, who served as a lieutenant in Vietnam. Much to
his credit, Kerry declined to enter the fray. A poor showing
at last week’s debate (where Clark became so frustrated
by one of the moderator’s questions the general accused
him of carrying out a Republican agenda) set off a series
of political missteps, and all of a sudden Clark’s future
looked to be on shaky ground. Things got so bad for Clark
that eBay bids for his maligned argyle sweater, which the
candidate donned earlier in the campaign to soften his image,
dropped from $16,000 to a mere $5,404.
But at least 300 of the nearly 500 people who showed to
hear Clark speak at New England College wouldn’t bow their
heads because of their candidate’s recent slide. Granted,
they were all paid staff or eager volunteers, but they were
still enthusiastic. Too eager, actually. The crowd actually
seemed kind of like the wife who’s just been told her husband
is cheating on her right before the big Christmas party.
She goes anyway, knowing that her absence would cause an
unnecessary scene, but in trying to act normal she overcompensates,
The Clark folks were just way too peppy for a political
rally. They were dancing in the aisles. Clark volunteers
were prompting the audience to do the wave. It was silly.
That all of the gaffing, nylon barriers and PA equipment
read “Political Production, Inc. Washington, D.C.” in bright
white letters wasn’t unexpected, but it served as another
piece of evidence that this would be the most obviously
ready-made campaign event I would visit.
When Clark finally took the stage, he stressed one thing
above all else: family values. But I think he stressed them
a little too much. To Clark, everything was a family
value. When Clark said that funding universal pre-k was
a family value, I was with him. When Clark said his $100
billion jobs program was a family value, I knew where he
was going. When he said that reinstating environmental proposals
rolled back by the Bush administration was a family value,
I thought it was a stretch. But when he said that the first
thing he’d do as president was issue an executive order
to import cheaper prescription drugs from Canada, and that
that was a family value, I thought he was taking
it a little too far. When he went off saying that those
were “the kind of family values that we as Democrats should
own,” and that “no Republican should have those values,”
because they were “our Democratic party family values[!],”
I knew I was right.
Not to knock Clark, who seemed to be a genuinely nice man,
but he is a political neophyte. His performance in Henniker
made it painfully obvious that Clark’s credentials—a four-star
general, a former NATO commander, a Rhodes scholar—carry
more water than his political prowess. Methinks he’d make
a fine vice president.
J. Flanagan Community Center, Somersworth, N.H.
(Jan. 24), 9 PM
Kerry had a decided advantage heading into Tuesday’s primary:
You can’t move in New Hampshire without bumping into his
likeness. Kerry’s profile is a ringer for the Old Man of
the Mountain, the craggy, natural-rock formation that looked
strikingly similar to the profile of a human face (sadly,
the Old Man crumbled in May 2003). The Old Man is New Hampshire’s
state symbol, and it appears on every Granite State license
plate and state-route road sign. There is no telling what
kind of effect seeing such an uncanny rendering of a political
candidate had on New Hampshire voters, but I’m betting it
was pretty significant. He did win, didn’t he?
Kerry’s event was supposed to begin at 7:30 PM, but the
candidate showed up an hour and a half late. While potential
voters waited, Kerry’s New Hampshire campaign managers,
Jeanne Shaheen, the state’s former governor, and her husband,
Billy, answered questions about Kerry’s campaign. Max Cleland,
the former Georgia senator, was also on hand to speak to
Kerry will . . .” Shaheen said, beginning an answer to an
audience- member’s question.
right Jeanne, what John Kerry is going to do for this country
. . .” Billy followed up.
Kerry is starting to piss me off,” said a man seated behind
me after about an hour of this.
That fewer than a dozen of the roughly 500 people who filled
the community center left before Kerry arrived was a testament
to Kerry’s pull with New Hampshire voters. Kerry, who apologized
profusely for his tardiness, said he was going to keep the
address brief since it got started so late. But the candidate
was still taking questions and talking to voters at 10:30
PM, rebuffing one of his handlers’ request to wrap things
It’d had been a hell of a two-week stretch for Kerry. Earlier
this month he was chasing Howard Dean, whom polls showed
Kerry trailing by a double-digit margin. Sure, he was sensible
and had a good record, but Kerry wasn’t coming across well
with voters. His campaign was thought to be dead on arrival.
Maybe the other candidates thought so as well. It seemed
that at least Howard Dean did; the candidate focused much
of his energies pulverizing Dick Gephardt in Iowa, and Kerry
crept from third to first. Dean’s reaction after he did
so poorly in Iowa likely sent voters running Kerry’s way.
They’d dabbled with the candidate who made them feel good,
but now they wanted the security of the solid one they could
trust. Leading up to Tuesday’s election, bumper stickers
and lawn signs spread across the state bearing what would
prove phrophetic: “Slept with Dean, Married Kerry.”