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The New Hampshire Primary From A Democrat's Point Of View

Madison's Stephen Davis tours New Hampshire right before the primary, this year for the 11th time since 1972, in the company of about 70 friends from Madison and from as far away as Canada. In this letter, he tells us all about it.

The New Hampshire Primary From A Democrat's Point Of View


This past Saturday, Madison's Stephen Davis, a registered Democrat, ran a tour of New Hampshire in advance of today's primary, for the 11th time since 1972. , he explains why:

“It’s a civics lesson,” said Davis. “We bring kids and people who have different political perspectives.” Davis [at a Romney rally in Derry, NH] was clutching the candidate schedules, planning on visiting the Obama headquarters next. He was carefully concealing his Obama buttons as he said that while he thinks Romney is the biggest threat, he doesn’t think he would be that strong in a general election. “(Romney) has shown that in Massachusetts he was able to bring in independents and Democrats when he was governor,” said Davis. “On the other hand he faced a much less difficult opponent than Obama.”

Davis also brought along his 16-year-old son Gabriel, who has been making the trek with his father since he was one.

Both father and son are natives of Connecticut, but said that the [members of their group come] from all over.

Reprinted below is Davis' summary dispatch to his friends.

Stephen Friends:

From the morning convoy to the dinner discussion, it proved a memorable 11th quadrennial New Hampshire Primary Tour this past Saturday.

Here, for those unable to join us this year, is a log with some personal impressions.

First I have to note something truly remarkable: the weather. It was a weirdly comfortable 42F/6C, with zero snow or ice anywhere in southern New Hampshire. I can remember no similar conditions there ever since I started going up on the Saturday before primary day in 1972.

Somehow the temperature took an edge off the day as people glided rather than battled through streets.

About 70 people participated this year, compared with about 150 in the double-primary year of 2008. For our part, the convoy left port in Newton at 8:00, cruising to Stop 1, a Romney rally in Derry. I was a bit worried that we would be shut out, as arrival would be halfway through the event. But apart from an enthusiastic group of Ron Paul backers outside the Pinkerton Academy gym, there did not appear to be any hordes of supporters forced to wait outside.

In fact, there was no problem getting in as the gym was only perhaps half full--maybe 500 people. We had missed the warm-up by South Caroline Governor Nikki Haley, but got there just as Romney was winding up his speech. It was standard issue stuff--Romney believes in America, apparently--and the audience seemed far more attentive than inspired.

One of our number later noted that many who listened were there not so much because they were convinced but because they were trying to make up their minds. If so, they may have wound up unsatisfied--about 80% scooted out as soon as Romney finished. A few dozen stayed as Romney and Haley gamely shook hands.

But there was a massive international media contingent. Some in our group got interviewed by El Mundo , Patch, Washington Post and other outlets. That could be because all the actual New Hampshire voters had left, of course.

At about this time I got an email from another couple in our group who had decided to start their day with a Santorum "meet and greet" scheduled for a restaurant in Manchester. Their note is worth reproducing here: "At Juliens Kitchen having breakfast. The Santorum stop is no longer listed on his web site. His staff probably finally did their research and found out the two guys who own and run it are gay. They thought it was pretty funny."

More on Santorum later.

Believe it or not, there is in fact a Democratic primary alongside the GOP race on Tuesday. Despite the presence of no fewer than 14 candidates, there is no drama about who will win. But to get a sense of how Obama is handling the election challenge in the first state where voting takes place, we next visited the president's headquarters.

Located in a renovated factory building at the edge of Manchester, it is the nerve center of telephone and door-to-door canvassing. I had earlier contacted Kate Malloy, the campaign's crack coordinator, to see if she could give our group--augmented by the minute with incoming folks!--a detailed briefing on what is happening. She was very kind to do so.

The atmosphere at the office was worlds different from 2008. There seemed a modest stream of volunteers, but this is a steely, defensive campaign with teeth gritted for the task. This time around the fight is not so much about changing the nation as making sure the other guys don't get in to do that.

I also noted far fewer young people.

Kate told us that the Obama campaign assumes a tough race here as everywhere, and so is working early and hard to build a grassroots organization--more for November, in other words, than Tuesday.

Stop 3 was Occupy New Hampshire, which promised a tent encampment in the heart of Manchester, across from the Radisson Hotel. I had envisioned a raucous scene of protesters and competing, full-throated sign-holders from rival GOP campaigns. I warned Tour folks that parking could be tough amid the crowds.

Instead, though, Manchester was sedate.

Not even Ron Paul groupies were in evidence. We had our pick of parking spaces. And the Occupy site, spread out under a banner that read 'In Occupy We Trust,' was more like a little New England village than tent city. There were a couple of dozen disciples, including someone dressed as Ben Franklin, another robed in bright red, and a sleepy-eyed Occupier who had spent time horizontal in a tent labelled 'Sacred Space.' Stacks of home-made 'Money Out of Politics' banners stood ready for volunteers in the evening's scheduled Funeral for the American Dream march.

And there was, memorably, a chalked message on the sidewalk next to a pile of condoms. "I Don't Need Sex, I Get …… by the Government Every Day!" Someone would periodically take a microphone to rail against something before a crowd of five or six people.

Sidewalks that in 2008 were swarming with campaign volunteers and button vendors were strikingly empty.

We strolled up Elm Street to the Gingrich headquarters. It was packed--but mainly with a State Department tour for foreign diplomats. Volunteers seemed relieved and thrilled when actual voting Americans came in to ask for buttons. But there weren't many of those. We got a quick tour from a staffer who was wholly enthralled by the former Speaker.

But Gingrich himself had scheduled only one public event that day before an evening debate. And that was up north in Wolfeboro. One of our group did make it there and, at dinner, described a packed house and compelling address.

It is perhaps tempting to read too much into Manchester's uncharacteristic quiet. For one thing, Republicans in New Hampshire tend to do their political business with a minimum of shouting and fanfare. I recall the 1980 tour; insurgent John Anderson had a headquarters bursting with people and energy. By contrast, Ronald Regan's main office was like a crypt. I came away thinking Anderson was a sure surprise winner. When Reagan won, I learned a lesson about assessing Republican races by counting boots on the ground.

It was nearly lunchtime, so we walked to the Radisson, where I had booked us a table at JD's Tavern. I'd done that because in 2008 restaurants were overflowing. This time, JD's was dozy--even though it sits in the complex that houses almost all media and visitors.

ABC News's George Stephanopoulis was having lunch there, though. And nearby we encountered NBC's Chris Mathews, who spent about 20 minutes with our group chatting about politics and JFK (the subject of Mathews's new book).

The next stop was NBC News headquarters located, as it always is, in the Armory section of the Radisson/Center of New Hampshire complex. This year, as before, I had been able (through friend Bob Meyers) to prevail on the kindness of the top network's senior producer to allow a group in for a look.

Robert Dembo went beyond the call, though. After greeting me with a blunt "Now tell me again what the hell you are doing?", he ushered our nearly 50 people in and proceeded to deliver, with help from the national political chief ("Rob--Come!") a 30-minute master course on how a national network covers New Hampshire's first-in-the-nation primary.

He was particularly proud that a designer had recast the cavernous room in cool, red and blue lights, but he was also proud of the quality that his people aim to deliver to viewers. I know he inspired our four journalism students visiting from Ottawa, and impressed everyone else.

On a good day, he reminded us, maybe 600,000 watch Fox. But 8-10 million get their news from NBC.

From there we hopped in the car for the quick ride to Hollis, where former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum was holding a town hall forum followed by a meet-the-voters event at a general store. We aimed for the store, and got there at just the right time. A crowd of a couple hundred people (and a scrum of media) waited, and Santorum drove up in a big black car.

Smiling and wearing his signature sweater vest, he got out, smiled more, but said little, shook some hands, and headed into the store. The crowd was quiet and respectful rather than loud and visibly excited.

And, in truth, the store visit proved somewhat bizarre. Santorum plowed in through one aisle to where a minister or priest was standing, asked a blessing for his speech, and then reversed course. Few could see him, and no one gave him something to stand on so he could be seen.

Outside again, Santorum shook hands for a few minutes, apologized for needing to leave, and off he went. Hardly the retail politics of old.

From there it was back to Newton for dinner. Some 45 gathered at the saintly Alfreds to exchange stories and insights from the day. It was great hearing people, as they introduced themselves, say that this was their x time doing the tour. This crowd was overwhelmingly Democratic (um, actually, there were no Republicans by the time conversation started), so for them the biggest motivator in 2012 was fear of the alternatives to Obama.

Most everyone predicted Romney as nominee, though some found Gingrich more interesting and Santorum more genuine as candidates--even though they espoused views participants found horrifying. Some younger speakers expressed frustration with the pettiness of the campaign. Excitement ignited--but only when talking about Elizabeth Warren, the expected Democratic nominee against incumbent Massachusetts Republican Senator Scott Brown.

To our pleasure, several newbies said afterward that they so loved the experience that they intend to mount a similar tour for friends in 2016. My favorite observation (other than [my son] Gabriel's!) came from a friends's daughter, who told the group that she had come to understand that while 2012 is the first year she can vote, there are so many ways of making political change that casting that ballot might turn out her least important contribution.

Thanks to everyone for a great conversation. One last thing: make sure to save a Saturday in January 2016 for the 12th quadrennial New Hampshire Primary Tour. Should be a doozie and, if climate change picks up, positively balmy! Thanks to [my wife] Clo, as always, for making everything about the day unfold elegantly, beautifully and with warmth,


Editor's note: To get involved in the political process at the ground level, the best place to start is your local town committees.

In Madison, Republicans can find out more about the Republican Town Committee at their website or email Contact@MadisonRepublicans.org.

Madison Democrats can find out more at the Democratic Town Committee website or email info@madisondemocrats.org.

Both town committees will be having a caucus Thursday to elect members and associates for the next two years. Now is a great time to check it out and get involved. The RTC will be meeting at 6 p.m. at and the DTC will be meeting at 7:30 p.m. at . The town campus is located off of Duck Hole Road, just north of the Hammonasset Connector.

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