Hail, Carly

The day after the snow, the sun is out, and the car has only a thin veneer of frost; I start to scrape the windshield, but a few minutes with the motor running and all is clear; don’t even have to scrape the back window.

Today’s first event, for me, is a 10 o’clock town hall with Carly Fiorina in Goffstown, about 25 minutes west of here, at the Maple Avenue Elementary School.   The incisive reporter, ever alert to clues, knows that tonight’s Republican debate is at St. Anselm’s College; Christie’s town hall back on Tuesday was at Londonderry High School; and tomorrow, Rubio is at the same Londonderry High School: is there a pecking order here?  Does an event at an elementary school connote junior status?  Will we have to sit on those tiny chairs like at parents’ back-to-school night in second grade?

The room is large – it’s the school gym – but when I walk in at 9:15 there are just a few rows of chairs, set up on three sides of the speaking area, which is backed by a wall of curtains and a big Fiorina sign.  No platform.  And a first: the stool/mike/water setup is absent.  She must be some kind of radical.

I take a seat in the center, second row, and after a while start chatting with the couple behind me.  They’re in their 50s I’d say, and turn out to be friends rather than wife and husband.  He’s a Democrat from Massachusetts; she’s a Republican from Nashua.  They are checking her phone for an AARP site that, they tell me, compares candidates’ positions by issue, and they have been looking at social security as they can’t find Carly’s position.  The woman is undecided among candidates but this is her first in-person visit with one; she’s been working.  (Ah yes, some people actually have jobs; I’d forgotten today is Saturday.)  She says she works “in defense” and tells me that if she’d done what Hillary has done she’d have been fired and prosecuted.

The first introducer (not an actual job title) is a former New Hampshire state representative who served 8 years in that position.  She looks about 22 to me.  She asks us all to take a smartphone photo of the ‘letCarlydebate’ sign and send it out – “make it manifest.”  Twitter, hashtags.  I decline as it would impair my strict journalistic scruples.  Besides, I don’t know how.

The second introducer is a handsome large-chested middle-aged guy (I decided I should be equal-opportunity here and not just describe women) with the wonderful name of Ovide Lamontagne.  He’s Carly’s state campaign director and a partner with a northern New England law firm.  He says we need to picture Carly “as POTUS” and that she will make a great commander in chief.

All this time the staff has been bringing in more chairs, and they are all filled.  People are standing too, around the walls of the gym.  Ovide asks us a favor – he’s a friendly guy – that when Carly comes in, could we hold up those signs that were on the chairs, and wave them?  The press are here of course (besides me) and so are campaign videographers.

She enters and we all wave our signs and yell.  Me too; this is fun.  Carly (she’s very much a first-name candidate) looks smart in a grey and blue pants and vest outfit.  She says she started out as number 17 out of 16 candidates.  We’re now down to 8, but the game is rigged: since when do polls count more than votes?  She makes a strong pitch for being included in tonight’s debate.  I know ABC tv excluded her on some rational if slightly complicated criteria (poll standings and Iowa finish) but it does seem silly to have seven on stage when there are now just eight major candidates.

She tells how she started out as secretary-receptionist in a 9-person real estate office: It’s only in this country where I could become CEO of what we made the largest tech company in the world, and run for the presidency.  (She doesn’t say ‘run for president’ but ‘for the presidency,’ which appeals to my grammatical vanity, even though I believe both uses are correct.)  “All my life I’ve been told to sit down and be quiet.  I have always ignored that.”  Our government has become a giant corrupt bureaucracy that doesn’t work for the people.  We’ve been hearing the same promises for 30 years.  But we have to remember who we are as a country – it was never intended that we have a professional political class; this was intended to be a citizen government.

She’s big on zero-based budgeting.  Bills have been pending in the House a couple years now for this, but they don’t want to vote on it.  We need people and pressure.  From the White House, I’ll ask citizens to take out their smartphones and text 1 for Yes, 2 for No, on that proposal, put public pressure on Congress.  (She jokes how New Hampshirites seem attached to their flip-phones: “You may need to consider an upgrade.”)

After her brief but strong speech come the questions.  The first is from an atheist who says Ted Cruz said yesterday that atheists should not be qualified to be president.  Do you agree?   Fiorina starts out by saying her faith is very important to her; it’s the foundation of her empathy, humility, and optimism.  But she respects the questioner’s choice; “this country was built on religious liberty,” and that includes his non-faith.

Question on women being subject to selective service i.e. the draft (if we were to have one again).  Yes, but don’t lower the standards.  A question on how to help small business.  We need to radically simplify the tax code; at HP we could afford a whole bunch of accountants and lawyers to do the taxes, but a small business can’t, it gets crushed.  We need a three-page tax code.  “There’s a 20-year old plan in Congress for that, that nobody talks about or votes on: go to the smartphones!”  (To the barricades!: press 1 for Yes, 2 for No.)

Other questions follow, but two among the last questions stand out to me.  One is about increasing our military activity with our NATO allies.  Starting there, Carly states the case for American world leadership and what happens when it is absent, and moves to the lack of support for the embassy at Benghazi, and Secretary Clinton’s later response to Congress, “at this point, what difference does it make?”  In Fiorina’s view the policies and public attitude of the Administration told our enemies that it’s “open season on Americans.”

The other is a question on the ‘war on poverty’ which the questioner observes we ‘don’t seem to be winning.’  Carly talks about her role leading the world’s largest micro-finance organization: “we lent $8 billion out, $100 at a time.”  Her visit to the slums of New Delhi — we have poverty here but nothing on that scale or that depth — where she held a meeting, sitting on a rooftop, with ten women with no formal education, to whom her outfit had lent money.   Seeing focus and determination and hope in their eyes; talking business with them.  We have to stop incentivizing people to not work: a single mother here gets government support that she’ll lose if she takes a job, the risk is not worth it for her.  “This is the difference between conservatives and progressives: conservatives believe all people can do it, everyone is gifted by God so that with the right help up, they can make it.  Progressives believe some people are smarter than others, and we smart ones need to ‘take care’ of them.”  Her statement seems to me not only correct but fair to both sides.

Here she is speaking, and here am I giving sage campaign advice to my new pal:

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I came today to see her just because I wanted to see as many candidates as I could.  But she’s given me more than I expected.  When I go up to her afterwards I tell her, and mean it, that those were the two best answers I’ve heard from any of them.

I don’t get to vote this Tuesday.  Or at all: as a Democrat, I’m not eligible to vote in the Republican primary in New York, and despite Bernie Sanders’s popularity in New Hampshire, I expect he’ll be roadkill under the Hillary bus by the time it’s New York’s turn in April.  Carly might be gone by then too, and that would be a shame.

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The Big Show

Friday’s concluding event is a big Democratic fundraiser, officially the McIntyre-Shaheen 100 Club Celebration.  It’s the New Hampshire Democrats’ largest annual gala, and this year celebrates 100 years of the New Hampshire presidential primary.   The namesakes are two families at the top of the state Democratic food chain, represented most prominently by former Senator Tom McIntyre and current Senator, and former Governor, Jeanne Shaheen.  And the featured speakers are of course Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton.  Luminaries – perhaps too strong a word – in attendance include Sens. Al Franken, Cory Booker, Amy Klobuchar and Debbie Stabenow.

The gala is being held in the Verizon Arena, Manchester’s largest venue, where the hockey Monarchs, a minor league team, play.  I arrive about 5 p.m., on time and on foot, having walked from my grand abode; about 25 minutes’ walk.  Today’s snow has stopped and it’s a lovely evening, not too cold.  Dozens of supporters from both camps, and other causes, are outside the arena waving signs and being loud.

Inside, after the metal detectors, I make my way up to the main grandstand level.  Seats at tables for a buffet dinner on the main floor – tables set up where the hockey ice would be – cost $250 a person.  Above in the grandstand, tickets were $50 or $25.  I had chosen the latter, but it appears almost no one is sitting in the top deck; all of us peons have been filling the main stands; I hope the $50 ticket buyers are not upset.

The seating is a long horseshoe, with the large stage bedecked with flags at the open end.  I’m at about the 40-yard line, with the stage to my left.  As the stands fill, and the tables below remain fashionably empty, I form the impression that more than three-quarters of the crowd are Hillary supporters (I deduce this from their t-shirts, banners, hats, signs and even fleece jackets, all emblazoned with her name or the arrow-H logo).   As time passes I realize that the stands opposite me, the other side of the horseshoe, seem just as heavily Bernie as my side is Hillary.  I wonder if this was planned (and no one bothered to ask me or direct me) or is the result of impromptu tribal bonding.

One interesting effect of this is that during an introductory video, shots of Sen. Sanders alternate, more or less, with shots of Secy. Clinton, producing competing outbursts of cheering from alternating sides of the arena.  Hard to tell who’s winning but it’s very loud.

I do the math on the rows and columns of tables (and allowing for six short rows to leave room for the buffet stations) and get 85 tables.  Each holds ten people.  By 7 o’clock they are starting to fill up and the food smells good.  I again have not yet eaten today, except for that cup of soup in Exeter, so I head out to the concession stands and return with a couple of hot dogs and a Coke.  The New Hampshire Gay Men’s Chorus is singing.  I eat the hot dogs hoping a hockey game will break out.

The program begins – the Chorus belts out the national anthem, and then God Bless America.  We all remain standing to say the pledge of allegiance.  And I thought only the Republicans had stooped to that to begin all their events.  This is followed by state party functionaries, numerous and enthusiastic, each with his or her little piece to say.  The state party chair, fellow named Ray Buckley, proclaims there are 6,000 people here.  I’d say half that would be more like it but it’s hard to tell.  Hockey capacity is about 9,800 and all of the top deck, and half the main stands, are empty; still, it’s big and bright and noisy and he’s feeling expansive.

We’ve all been given a program, so I can follow our progress down the agenda.  It’s slow.  Then comes Debbie Wasserman Schultz, the DNC chair.  She says the Republicans want to drag us backwards, back to the days when healthcare was not a right.  Two more short speeches, and an award, and then it’s time for Bernie.

Pandemonium, especially from the opposite stands, as he enters – preceded by video accompanied by Simon & Garfunkel’s “America.”  (He also uses “Disco Inferno” at events.  If we go by music, he wins the election hands down.)  His speech does not disappoint – he is passionate, strong, righteous:  End this corrupt campaign finance system.  No nominee of mine to the Supreme Court will get that position unless he or she is very clear they will vote to overturn Citizens United.  We will create an economy that works for working families not just the people on top.  Raise the minimum wage to a living wage of $15 an hour.  Reform our disastrous trade system.  And public colleges and universities should be tuition-free.  Republicans want to cut Social Security — we will expand Social Security.  To corporations who shield money in the Cayman Islands and Bermuda: you are going to start paying your fair share of taxes.  Big banks, the pharmaceutical industry, people living in the shadows, criminal justice reform.  And we are tired of seeing unarmed people shot down by the police.   Finally, health care is a right of all people, not a privilege.

Citizen Sanders:

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He never mentions Hillary but takes a couple of shots at her: he opposed it (she didn’t) back in the 90s when Republicans “and many Democrats” said it was a great idea to deregulate financial institutions.  And of course: in 2002 – in the most important vote in the Senate’s recent history – GWB, Cheney and Rumsfeld (boos, hisses) said we should invade Iraq.  “I not only didn’t believe them, I voted against that war and helped lead the opposition to it.”  Leadership is about standing up and being counted when times are rough and you may be in the minority.  Here is a shot of the scene, in part:

IMG_0981    It’s an old fashioned stemwinder and he gets a huge ovation when he’s done.  But only about one quarter of the table guests are standing and applauding, compared to half those in the grandstands.

Between acts, as it were, the stage goes to Maggie Hassan, current governor who is running for senate, looking to unseat the much despised (in this room) Kelly Ayotte.  Both Gov. Hassan and senior Senator Shaheen endorse Clinton: “she will build on the progress  of the Obama administration.”

Hillary is the last speaker.  Similar ovation, now from my side of the arena.  And she delivers a barn-burner too; no sense holding back among friends.  But to my ears she is not as fluid as Bernie; it’s second nature to him, but she has to work at it and sometimes it clunks a bit.

The best part, for my taste, is her opening quote from Daniel Webster: “New Hampshire is a small state, but there are those who love it.”  She is one of those, ever since “we” came here in 1992.  Bernie Sanders has a big lead in the polls “but New Hampshire has never quit on me and I am not going to quit on you.”

“Both Bernie Sanders and I want to stop bad things from happening in America.  But I want to start good things happening!”   We need to break down barriers of racism and sexism; remove the obstacles to people achieving their best.  She picks up what husband Bill said in the intro video we saw: “those of us who have more yesterdays than tomorrows still, believe it or not, spend most of our time thinking about the future.  I know I do.”

Her peroration asks us to ‘imagine a tomorrow’  — where the minimum wage is not a poverty wage; a tomorrow without Citizens United; without gun violence.

She recalls she first came to New Hampshire in 1968 to campaign for Gene McCarthy.  (I wonder how many of the screaming young women around me in the grandstand know who Eugene McCarthy was.)

She says let’s build on the ACA, not start a whole new system (i.e. Bernie’s ‘Medicare for All’) that will be divisive and lead to gridlock that won’t help anybody.  “I’m a progressive who likes to get things done!  You need to be both a dreamer and a doer.”  And then one of her tag lines:  everyone in the audience knows and shouts the response with her: “If standing up for women’s rights, equal pay, reproductive rights, is playing the gender card — then DEAL ME IN!”

She ends with “I’m fighting for each and every one of you.”  And leaves to cheers, and the show’s suddenly over.

So now I know how the other half lives, or at least what they live on.

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The Bern, and The Snow

Friday afternoon.  Still snowing heavily as I drive, carefully, up to Exeter where Bernie Sanders is to speak at the Town Hall.  Not just hold a town hall-style meeting, but address a crowd at an honest to gosh real New England Town Hall.   Doors opened at 11 and the event is set for 1 o’clock.  It’s a bit after noon when I arrive, and I feel I’m living right when I pull in at a corner across the street from the Town Hall, wonder if I’m far enough from the curb to avoid a ticket, and then see the couple who belong to the van parked immediately in front of me approach their vehicle to drive away.  I slide into their spot and I’m golden.

The line for admission stretches down from the front doors of the building, along to the corner, around it and halfway down the long sidewalk running the length of the place.  As I take my place at the end of the line, more people keep arriving and it grows.  Many but not all are young, looking like college students.   We stand cheerfully as the snow comes down.  I admire the girl who gets in line behind me.   She is attractive but I mostly admire her fur-lined hood.  I have not brought a hat.

Gradually we move up as people are admitted to the hall; they are going through security so it takes a while.  I reach the corner, then the small plaza in front of the building, then the foot of the steps — about 20 people from the entry doors.  And then they close!  Sorry, it’s full.  Can’t admit any more.  And please everybody clear the steps and portico, in case we have to get the people inside out.  The police are friendly but firm.  Cries of disappointment in the crowd near the doors.  The rest of the line, that still stretches around the corner and beyond, doesn’t grasp it yet.

If I wanted to be politically snarky – and who doesn’t these days? – I’d say this is what socialism is like: lines of people waiting hours for something, only to be eventually told we’ve run out of it, go away.  Get used to it, Bernie fans.  But I won’t say that.  In fairness, socialism Russia-style is far different from socialism, Sweden-style.  But both involve lots of snow.  Which is why I linger on the portico and approach the folding table where a couple of nice middle-aged lady Bernie volunteers are selling campaign goodies — including hats!  I buy a nice white knit hat to pull over my head once I can first dry off my hair.  The hat says Feel The Bern and has a silhouette of his hair and glasses.  I feel I’m involved.  I’m an agent of social change.  Yes we can!  oh wait, that was last time.

I later notice the little tag inside that says, Made in Vietnam.  This may be Bernie’s subtle way of reinforcing his complaint about companies sending American jobs overseas.

I’ll just have to catch Bernie tonight instead; there’s a big Democratic fundraiser I’m attending, so I will see him then.  Meanwhile, I stop into Me and Ollie’s Bakery — not owned by English teachers, one hopes — and get a cup of tomato bisque (today’s special) to go.  I have it in the car while plotting my route home, and it is excellent.  Although the free slice of bread they added – an airy wheat bread with little somethings in it – isn’t worth eating.

Google Maps shows me that just a couple blocks from where I sit is Phillips Exeter Academy.  I have some time, so I drive in circles on one-way streets til I figure out the maze and drive into campus, park and walk around a bit.  It’s 2 p.m. Friday afternoon.  Still snowing, and hardly anyone outdoors (perhaps they are all in classes).

What an absolutely gorgeous school.  It looks exactly as it should, and with all the trees heavily filigreed with snow, it’s perfect.  I take some pictures.  Going to a school like this would make anyone want to be smart.  For some reason I take great pride in this school.   I have no connection to it, probably couldn’t have got in, much less have afforded it.  (Was there much financial aid in the 60s?)  I’m just proud that this place exists, and in my very own country.

I attach pictures.

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(These don’t convey the light but maybe as I learn more I can improve that; I’m pleased I have figured out how to add images at all. )  Just for fun here is the Exeter Town Hall — you can tell it is, because it says so:

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On the highway back from Exeter to Manchester, I catch up with the Christie campaign bus and pass it.  I hide the Bernie hat, in case anyone in there is looking out the window and taking down license plates.  As I reach Manchester the snow stops falling and I can see a sliver of clear sky near the horizon.  It will be a good night for a party.

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Country Club Republican

I’m up Friday about 8 o’clock to travel to Atkinson, about 27 miles southeast of Manchester, for a John Kasich town hall that starts at 10; the doors open at 9.  Although my sumptuous pied-a-terre here in Manchester is on a grimy but quiet street, this morning sounds quieter than usual.  Snow!  It’s coming down quite heavily and there are a couple of inches on the ground already.

My loving wife had made sure I had a car brush in the car, along with a scraper, a shovel, and a container of salt.  Readiness is all.

The snow is wet and heavy, but the morning is not cold and there is no ice on the windshield.  Driving, however, is tricky, especially the first several blocks until I reach more-traveled roads, which make all the difference.  (Robert Frost was walking; good for him.)   The Kasich town hall is at the Atkinson Country Club.  ( Later I’ll chat with a guy who likewise wonders why the candidate or his staff picked such a relatively out of the way venue.)  Once I’m off the highway, still eight miles from my goal, I have slowed to under 20 mph and the roads seem to have been ‘plowed’ only by earlier drivers.  A trip that normally should take maybe 35 minutes looks like it will take an hour.  As I get closer the roads get more narrow and hilly and I’m not sure I am going to make it.  I’m glad to turn finally into the long path into the club’s grounds, which has been plowed.

Although it’s 10 o’clock the candidate has not appeared yet.  He’s soon introduced by fomer U.S. Senator John E. Sununu, son of New Hampshire Governor John Sununu.

Kasich, rhymes with basic, is tallish but slouched, folksy, weatherbeaten, comfortable.  There are about 100 of us in chairs on four sides of a small platform with the obligatory setup.  He thanks us for getting here, and jokes that when he heard it was a country club, he’d expected to play golf.  He introduces a lady in the audience, Ruth Alpert, as the great-great etc. granddaughter of Josiah Bartlett, early governor of New Hampshire and signer of the Declaration.  (No relation to Josiah Bartlet of The West Wing.)

Kasich describes himself as neither “establishment” nor “anti-establishment” and briefly recounts his achievements as head of the Budget Committee in Congress when it balanced the budget (under Bill Clinton) and now as Governor of Ohio.   He gets right into questions, but starts by saying hello to a young girl of 6, Catherine, asking her if she wants to be here (no) or would rather be out in the snow (yes), promising not to be too long.  She is shy and he has to pull the answers out of her, but does so with great gentleness.

First question is from a young woman who’s with the Global Zero group and whom Kasich recognizes from past town halls he’s done.  She asks wouldn’t he be willing to make a deal  with Putin to reduce our respective nukes from 7,000 to 1,000 which ‘experts’ have said is sufficient for defense.  When Kasich asks which experts have said that, she is ready with one: General James Cartwright.  He’s definitely a heavy hitter even a neocon like me could love, but now, in his retirement from the Marines, he’s a Global Zero advocate, who also has endorsed Obama’s Iran agreement.  Kasich accepts the expertise but says Putin would have to take some other steps before he, Kasich, would be willing to sign a nuclear-reduction treaty with him; did the questioner know that the Russians are bombing Syrian rebels and withholding food from starving Syrian families?  No deals without talks on that first.

Question about healthcare.  Kasich says it’s too opaque, consumers can’t compare.  It’s “easier to interpret the Dead Sea scrolls than a hospital bill.”  No incentives for hospitals to change.   In Ohio he got hospitals and insurers to meet and work out sharing the savings where services could be improved.  He didn’t force them to; says “I’m a convener.”

Question on fixing social security.  Kasich goes into how the level of partisanship in DC has risen; when he was there we had an impeachment and government shutdowns, but we still balanced the budget.   His parable: sheep herders and cattle ranchers used to have range wars, because sheep eat the grass so close that cattle can’t graze there.  But the herders and ranchers, while they fought, never poisoned the watering holes, because then they’d both lose.  Too many watering holes in DC have been poisoned.  (I take this as an endorsement of my drinking view of politics: if Dems and Repubs in Congress are still willing to go out and get drunk together, things will get done; if they’re not, things won’t.)

He wants a constitutional amendment to require Congress to balance the budget.  He thinks we can get enough states to adopt this; says we’re close.  Wisconsin and West Virginia are the next ones he expects.

Question on foreign policy: questioner faults Obama for ‘leading from behind’ and calls the present world a tinderbox.  Surprisingly to me, Kasich reins in the characterization.  He says when he was a kid in 1962 we were hiding in school cloakrooms because the Soviets were going to bomb us; at that time, they had 15,000 warheads aimed at us.  (I was a kid in 1962, and he’s right.)  Says it’s a matter of perspective.  Now, he says, much of the world feels in common about terrorism; see France, Belgium, Egypt, Gulf states, Germany.  Only candidate of either party I’ve heard to say current problems are not worse than ever; Wednesday night Ted Cruz used the phrase ‘brink of the abyss.’

Other questions on jobs, right to work, taxes.  Before a final question he turns back to Catherine to tell her in stage whisper: “Good news — it’s almost over.”  But he’s surprised to learn the kids are not in school today, as it’s a snow day.  “Snow day? but this is New Hampshire, this ain’t Maryland.”  Kasich has definitely won the heart of this audience, he’s not being scolding as often portrayed, and he’s funny and smart and highly normal, but I don’t know if he’s won any votes.

Leaving the meeting I get interviewed by a reporter from the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.  He’s daunted by the prospect of travel: ‘We don’t do snow.’

He’s right to be worried. My drive up to Exeter for a Bernie Sanders rally there is mostly on back roads and is a bit harrowing.  I want to get there on time but I’m scared to speed up.  The snow is still coming down heavily.  And I’m a reporter on a mission!

But despite the worries of missing the event or of sliding into an oncoming car or truck, I’m forced to notice how beautiful the fields and forests and houses look.  And how quiet it is, with only the steady swoosh of tires on snow.  You can see where the Frost guy got his inspiration.  It’s downright peaceful – and ready to pounce on you at any moment.  Eyes on the road, please.  Promises to keep.

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Cruzin’

This post concerns the third event of Wednesday, Feb. 4th, and that evening.

The drive down from Dover to Amherst is uneventful but takes a good hour.  My thoughts keep drifting to the Cruz event site: Joey’s Diner.  I haven’t eaten yet today, and it’s now 4 p.m.  Would he mind if I ordered something while he was speaking?  My other concern is that I will be late and may be unable to get in: the event officially starts at 4:20, with ‘doors open’ at 4, and how big can a diner be?  Although he trails Trump substantially in New Hampshire, Senator Cruz is fresh off his Iowa caucuses victory and will likely draw well.

As I arrive I see the diner, which looks big.  I also see that its substantial parking lot is full.  And both sides of the street are full of parked cars, for at least two blocks, it turns out.  But there just down the street from the diner is a church!  With a parking lot!  It’s closer to the event than where many of the people have parked along the street, and the lot is almost empty.  I notice the sign that says “Parking for church events only.”

This briefly troubles me.  But I look up and see the cross on the roof — this is a Christian church.  And I’m here for Ted Cruz!  Ted is short for Theodore (although that’s not the senator’s name) and Theodore in Greek means A Gift from God.  And Cruz in Spanish is of course, cross.  As in The Cross.  Surely, surely this is a message that it is OK for me to park here for this purpose.  Thank you.

Inside the door I see it’s crowded and I tell the lady I have rsvp’d online for the event.  She says that’s great but you don’t have to, you can come anyway.  I do get a nice little Cruz sticker to go with my H sticker, my marcorubio sticker, and my Jeb! sticker.

Joey’s Diner is huge, as diners go.  It is square rather than trailer-shaped, with a long counter and stools along one side, and tables and booths everywhere else.  And everything is mirrored: walls, columns, parts of the ceiling.  What’s not mirrored, or windows, is red or silver.  It’s a snazzy place.  And it is absolutely packed.  Every inch that’s not needed for waiters to walk through — they’ve still been serving, at least up til recently, as I can see the empty plates and cups on the tables — is jammed with people sitting, standing, leaning.  I squeeze into a spot near the end of the counter.  The man is not here yet but former Senator Bob Smith, of NH, is speaking as warmup.  The good news is I’m pretty near him, across a low divider separating the counter area from the seating area which is up two steps; the bad news is he’s facing the seating area, with his back to me.  No matter; there isn’t anyplace else to go.

I start talking with a little group: there’s a tall blond kid who turns out to be from Norway and is doing what I’m doing, except more so as next week he’ll go to South Carolina for the next primary, and beyond.  There’s a short young black man who is undecided but leans toward Rubio.  There’s a woman in her 40s who leans to Cruz and is confounded by Trump’s followers.  And there’s a middle aged white guy who is solidly for Cruz.

We are standing near a corner door that turns out to be Cruz’s entry way.  Photographers and videographers start gathering there, and soon after, here he is, in dark blue zipper sweater, dark gray slacks, dark shiny hair.  He’s not particularly tall, about my height, and up close has a boyish look.

He starts in at the mike, and someone at a table to my right yells ‘we can’t hear you.’  Instead of talking louder Cruz stops his speech, goes over to where some controls are (I can’t see them) and fiddles a bit; an aide comes over and does the same; Cruz tests, tests again, and we’re good to go, with the sound now louder and clear.

He looks happy.  The pundits were all wrong in Iowa!  Big cheer.  He talks about growth, have to have it to have any chance of reducing the deficit.  Jobs.  Get regulators off the backs of small business.  Repeal Obamacare – premiums are going through the roof.  A simple flat tax; just two deductions, mortgages and charitable contributions.  Then abolish the IRS.  Very big cheer.  Defend our constitutional rights.  Obama suing the Little Sisters of the Poor to compel them to provide their employees abortion-inducing contraception.  “If you’re litigating against nuns, you’ve probably done something wrong.”  Defend the Second Amendment.  Its purpose wasn’t deer hunting or skeet shooting – though those are fun – it was to let you defend your home.

Rescind every illegal and unconstitutional executive order.   Protect the Tenth Amendment. Defend the borders and end sanctuary cities.  Federal government’s powers are limited; its first role is to keep the country safe.  But it has no role in education, that needs to be state and local.  Repeal Common Core.

Tear up the Iran agreement.  Stand with Israel.

Today is like the late 1970s under Carter; same failing economic policies, same feckless foreign policies.  “But I’m so optimistic because we know how that story came out.  It took Jimmy Carter to give us Ronald Reagan.”

Supports term limits.  For justices of the Supreme Court too.  (I was following along with the happy crowd until that last point.)

Then lots of questions.  No roving crowd mikes, so Cruz repeated the questions so we could hear.  Immigration.  Bio-fuel subsidies.  (Point of honor to Cruz: opposing such subsidies in Iowa, where they are holy, and still winning there is impressive.)  Minimum wage.  Military strength.  How to pay for it what needs to be done?  Only growth will work, he said.  If you taxed all the millionaires at 100% it wouldn’t be enough without growth.  In the Reagan years, all income levels went up.  GDP growth in ’84 was 7.2%.  Average since WWII is 3% but average in the Obama years less than 2%.  (These are my recollections of what he said; don’t hold me or him to my numbers, but you get the idea.)  He projects confidence and certainty.  Anyone who argues in front of the Supreme Court is good on his feet, and he is.  If only his lips and his hair didn’t remind me of George Wallace.  Probably an unfair comment.

He appeals for our votes.  If everyone here calls ten friends, family, co-workers, etc.  Then the crush of handshakers and photo ops.  I do not enter the mob but manage to ask a waitress for a Coke in a to-go cup.  I even think ahead enough to use the men’s room.  And outside, it has stopped raining!

On the drive back, with no urgency of a next event, I’m congratulating myself on a productive day.  Then suddenly I’m blind — not really blind because I can see objects in the car, but not outside. Is the windshield covered?  Have my headlights stopped working?  Then it clears.  I’ve driven through a patch of fog.  And here comes another one; nothing but gray brightness, can’t even see the lines on the road.  This comes and goes for the next ten minutes and is scary.  I slow down in them, but not too much because I don’t want whoever is behind me to hit me.

Back in the welcome lights of Manchester I drop off my stuff at the palace, change to slightly spiffier garb, and head out on foot for downtown.  I chose my lodging for its location; downtown is 15 minutes’ walk.

The bar at the Radisson is busy.  Wide range of ages, couples and little groups, some solos like me.  In any other bar you’d hear all kind of talk: sports, gossip, music, movies, daters sharing deep thoughts, jokes, pickup attempts.  Here, it’s all politics.  Every couple or group I overhear is talking politics, and from a professional perspective, not arguing over whose guy is better, but trading business talk — it’s about scheduling, advance men, press coverage, funding, endorsements, staff gossip.  I don’t know any of these people, but they don’t know me either – I could be somebody! – and I feel cool.  And someone I do recognize walks in; it’s Al Hunt.  Sans Judy Woodruff, but with some non-bimbo on his arm, some 50-something short woman with glasses and what appears to be interesting conversation.

Most people are drinking beer but as an important journalist I feel a responsibility to have a drink.  My gin and tonic is a lot stronger than the ones I make at home.  And I still haven’t eaten; it’s now about 9 o’clock.  Accordingly I exercise self-restraint and make the sensible decision to ask the bartendress to make the second one a little lighter.

I watch the interviews on the tv above the bar – some political talking heads of course.  Then I look down the room and see the same interview being conducted about 30 feet from me.  I see the people in profile, bathed in bright light.  It’s odd to look up at the tv again; now I’m trying to see if I can see myself in the background.

Between interviews the station runs news items.  As usual at bars, the sound is off but the words are streamed on text at the foot of the screen, presumably typed by some unseen minion in real time.  One item shows Pres. Obama at a mosque, giving a speech.  I gather he’s saying something about the importance of pluralism, but the text on the screen says “puerilism.”  If that’s not a word, it should be, and it’s perfect.  We are grateful for these small happenstances.

I walk over to the Red Arrow Diner and complete my evening with a chocolate frappe, excellent iceberg wedge salad, and a reuben sandwich with fries.  If you’re going to eat just once a day, have whatever you want.

 

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Among The Faithful

Upon returning to my palatial digs in Manchester I planned the rest of the day.  I rsvp’d to a Ted Cruz town hall at Joey’s Diner (that sounds promising) down in Amherst southwest of here, opening at 4 p.m.   My neighbor at the Rubio event had said Hillary Clinton was appearing today in Dover at 1:30.   Google tells me Dover is northeast of here, near Portsmouth.  I should be able to make it, but the return straight from Dover down to Amherst would take an hour.  If I go to see Clinton I might be too late for Cruz.  This is what comes of not having a large efficient staff.  Or planning ahead.  What would Bob Woodward do?  I have to try to see Clinton; she’s the big kahuna and unlike all these Republicans, she’s someone I know will actually be her party’s nominee.  (I look forward to seeing a Bernie event, but really…)

The drive to Dover, still in pouring rain, is fine.  I resort to having the iPhone talk me through the directions as I didn’t have time to write them down in advance.  Clinton’s event, billed as a ‘get out the vote’ event rather than a town hall, is in the Rivermill at Dover Landing, which sounds like a catering hall or upscale condo development.  It turns out, as I drive past it (“destination reached” says the lady in the phone)  to be a real mill.   It’s a large old brick building at the edge of the river, no longer a working mill but now apparently offices, a restaurant or two, etc.   The river is the Cocheco, an Indian name, and Dover was settled in 1623, oldest spot in the state.  Unfortunately neither the English colonists nor their 19th century successors, despite being admirably commercially-minded, thought much about parking.  This oversight becomes problematic as I cruise around without finding a spot not already reserved for businesses in the building.  The maze of surrounding curving streets, other large mill buildings, heavy rain, and this damn river always popping up in the way, do not ease my mind.   I eventually park on the main street a half mile away.  It looks like a legal spot, no meters or signs in sight, but as I start walking I see a parking pay station on the next block, with signs about hours, so I buy the max three hours’ time, quite reasonable at $2.25, and go back and stick the slip on my dashboard in case it applies to me.

Ten minutes later I enter the event site and encounter a first: a police and Secret Service presence, complete with emptying one’s pockets and being checked by metal detector.   Umbrellas are to be left at the door.  The large room is already full, seating arranged auditorium-like all facing a low stage platform (mike, stool, water bottle in place).   I stand along the side of the room with others, but with a good view as the lane in front of us is being kept clear by police and campaign workers.

The crowd, about 300, covers all ages.  I see only one black person; he’s sitting in the reserved seats in the front row.   The difference I notice from other crowds is that this one is two-thirds, maybe even three-quarters, women.  There is another difference I can’t put my finger on for some time but finally see: this group is more affluent than the ones I’ve seen to date.  They aren’t necessarily dressed formally, no suits and ties or dressy dresses, but their informality is fashionable, women in tailored slacks and scarves, men in long sweaters that tie with a belt.  No work-clothes, overalls, heavy coats.  It looks like Larchmonters in church.  If they came from work, it was in an office.

Hillary is 40 minutes late.  Before she arrives, a video shows scenes from her public life, back to Children’s Defense Fund days, but it breaks down a couple of times so we are all glad when her introducers come on stage.  Two of these four women read their remarks from papers in their hands.  Note to campaign staff: tell them not to do that.

But now here she is!  Huge applause, great enthusiasm.  Hillary is energetic, perky, smiling; great to be back in Dover:  “Some people” say I should just skip New Hampshire, but “not on your life!”  “I’m fighting as hard as I can!”  Big applause.

But her speech does not much refer to Bernie.  The theme is the Republicans and Clinton says the “most important priority is that none of the Republican candidates be elected.  What they stand for is so wrong.”  To the extent she mentions any Republican’s proposals or statements they are one person’s: Trump’s.  More generally she notes that the Republicans who came in after her husband used the same trickle down economics that didn’t work before, and we ended up with the great recession.   The Republicans will take us backward; Hillary will take us forward.

She is in favor of ‘common sense’ gun control laws ‘without being inconsistent with the Second Amendment.’  We must preserve the Affordable Care Act; in the next sentence she actually says ‘and make it affordable.’

And we must change or repeal Citizens United, “even if it takes a constitutional amendment.”  (At the risk of abandoning my bloggeristic impartiality, which probably is already shot, I must say I shudder at the thought of messing with the First Amendment.)

She delivers a red-meat speech for blue-state voters and the audience interrupts frequently with cheers.  Unlike the other candidates I have heard thus far, Clinton does not ask for their votes.  It strikes me that she assumes, probably correctly, that this crowd loves her and will vote for her.  She is not trying to convince them she’s the best choice; she is exhorting them to do what they all know needs to be done.

When question time comes, four of the six people called on do not ask questions at all.  The first is just a thank-you, from a young woman who says she is a legal immigrant from Mexico, now a U.S. citizen, who says she ‘reacted’ to a person who told her, if you’re a legal immigrant you must be a Democrat; she says she replied No, I’m not a Democrat for that reason (i.e. she is a Democrat for other reasons).  Clinton thanks her.

The next is from a man who left Damascus recently; he mentions an orphanage there.  He is in tears and has trouble finishing but says we ‘need to clean out ISIS.’   Clinton says “I certainly believe ISIS must be defeated – they are a cancer.”  The crowd is silent.  When she goes on to say she refuses to put American ground forces into Syria, they applaud.

The third is from a girl of about 7, held in her mother’s arms and standing on a chair: “What laws would you change?”  Clinton thanks her for being here, and discusses fairness in application of the law.

The fourth is from a man I actually know of, John Dore, who is a professional arbitrator.  He asks about labor-management animosity.  Clinton notes that collective bargaining helped build the middle class, but she notes we need ‘balance’ between unions and capital/management.   It’s a good answer.

The fifth is from Barbara from Maine who is a former Clinton convention delegate, presumably from 2008.  She asks Hillary to talk about methadone clinics in view of New England’s addiction crisis.  Clinton supports creating more recovery programs.

The staff is saying time’s running out so Clinton, in a show of fairness to the many hands still raised, says her campaign aide next to the stage will now point to the last questioner “with his eyes closed.”  I scan the crowd in the area he is aimed at and surprise myself by correctly picking the person he is about to choose: she is in her 20s and tall with blonde pigtails and big glasses — Heidi by way of Vanity Fair.  I would have chosen her myself.  Turns out if we think she is harmless we are both wrong – she is a plant (I believe) from an outfit called Governing Under the Influence, which tries to get the money out of politics.   She asks about two large campaign contributions to Clinton from big oil.  Clinton’s  smile vanishes.  She says “I don’t know anything about that” and goes on to her points on campaign finance and Citizens United.

With that, it’s over and she leaves the stage to cluster with fans; selfies and handshakes all around.  I am thinking I probably can’t make the next event in time but it’s worth a try, so I depart.  Good thing I do – I forgot we will all need to find our umbrellas in the huge pile of them on a table out front.  I find mine in about two minutes of searching, but when the main crowd hits, it won’t be pretty.  And it’s still raining.

But at least I don’t have a parking ticket.

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Apres Marco, Le Deluge

The forecast for Wednesday was rain, but when I got up at 6 a.m. – can you believe it, seeing dawn two days in a row!  – it was clear and bright.   Today’s first stop was with Marco Rubio who had a town hall scheduled for 8, doors opening at 7, about 20 minutes north near Hookset at a place called Fieldhouse Sports.

Fieldhouse is a great facility: basketball courts, tennis courts, batting cages, you name it, and all clean and new-looking.  A snack bar from which the Rubaiyats were handing out free coffee.  We were on a basketball court, with folding chairs set up around four sides of a square platform that was raised about ten inches off the court and that held the mandatory props: microphone, stool, bottle of water.   Every candidate so far has had this same setup.

The crowd of about 200 is varied in age, with 20-somethings mixed in among middle-agers and as always, enough gray heads that I don’t feel old.  Country music playing but not too loud.  I’m sitting next to a guy my age who’s a fellow political tourist, not his first time, up from New Jersey with two buddies.  They are across the way in a small grandstand but he came over to this side as the lighting told him the candidate would likely have his back to the grandstand.   He turns out to be right.  I’m gaining lots of useful insights here.

I see two youngish black men in the crowd; they’re the first African-Americans I have seen at an event.  As a veteran political reporter I grasp immediately that this means Sen. Rubio will be our next president.

The candidate is introduced by some state representative career politician Irish type from central casting, a thinner Tip O’Neill, who is happy to be here and happy we’re here and happy to introduce the senator.   He is a former Pataki supporter!!  (So there really was one!)  I grasp immediately that Sen. Rubio will not be our next president.

The candidate himself, heedless of fate, now appears and bounds onto the platform.  His speech is fairly short as he’s really here for the Q&A, but the speech is notable to me for not mentioning his rivals, of either party, and not even much mentioning himself, except the obligatory note of his immigrant parents.  Instead he talks about the country and especially about the future, with enough reference to the best things in our past to show what we’ve been given to build upon.  It’s a serious speech and an uplifting one, delivered with conviction and a lot of eye contact.

Then he turns right to the questions, and the first is from a woman who says she has her own small business (but not too small: 15 employees) but is disabled (in some undisclosed way that seems to be mental or developmental) and wants to know how to get big companies to find ways to better employ people with disabilities.   Rubio’s answer is fairly detailed, about evaluation and non-stereotyping, matching the right jobs with the right people, not limiting the disabled to entry-level or lower-level work.  It lets him talk about how both his grandfather (polio) and father (a sandlot baseball injury, of all things, that left him with nerve damage and a dropped foot) were disabled and struggled to find work they’d be allowed to do.  It’s a lengthy answer and midway through I stop watching Rubio and watch the woman who asked the question, about ten feet from me.  She is not rapidly nodding like the social-issues voters I see ask about Planned Parenthood or gay marriage, who hang on the automatic affirmation they know their candidate will give.  This woman is just listening, carefully.  At the end she pushes her lips together, raises her eyebrows and sits back, and nods her head once.

Questions follow on military procurement, nuclear power (it’s clean, it’s safe, he supports it), ‘Medicare Advantage’ (he supports it; I don’t know what it is); the corporate tax rate (should be 25%, don’t push companies out of the country), and others.  Rubio then stays while a large scrum of people converge to shake his hand, get his autograph, take a picture.  (Yes I got one, to be posted.)   His aides keep telling him he has to go, and he keeps ignoring them until everyone is satisfied.

When I get to the doors I see the skies have opened and it’s absolutely teeming outside.  Fortunately my umbrella is safe in the car, not at risk of going out in the rain getting wet.  Why did I park so far away?  I hustle out but can’t miss the chance to stop for a second and take a photo of Rubio’s campaign bus , which wasn’t there when I arrived.   It’s really nice looking; I bet they even have towels inside.

 

 

 

 

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Small Matters

Today was Groundhog Day; if I wake up tomorrow back in Larchmont, ready to hit the road – again – at 6:15 a.m., I’ll know it’s all just a movie.  I did start my drive that early, as I learned the day before that Jeb Bush was holding a town hall meeting at 10:30 at Franklin Pierce University, in Rindge, New Hampshire, and it looked like my best chance to see him.

As my tech skills are rudimentary, I used my usual hybrid approach to the Maps app: I had it plot the route and directions, then I copied down the latter on paper.  I don’t like my cellphone talking to me while I drive.  The directions were accurate and despite traffic at Hartford and Springfield, I made the 195 miles by 9:40 after a stop for gas.

The setting of Franklin Pierce’s campus is striking, perched above a (frozen) lake (Monadnock?) and with views of Mt. Monadnock; I was informed it is the second most climbed mountain in the world, after Fuji.  (who counts these things?)

I will not describe Jeb’s town hall talk much as I do not want to show off my note-taking ability, but he was much more impressive than I’ve found him in the televised debates; lively, personable, humorous, relaxed.  He’s tall and on tv looks a bit stooped; in person he looks lanky, and younger.   After an intro by Sen. Lindsey Graham, Jeb spoke pretty briefly and then took questions — on the national debt, drug addiction crises and incarceration issues, the New England Pipeline (a local issue I’d seen signs protesting), Israel, immigration, education, small business.  His answers were definite, detailed, and in almost all cases responsive.  (On the pipeline he said he did not know the local facts.)  After a good hour of Q&A he hung around talking and getting photos taken, ’til everyone was satisfied.

I took his picture while he was chatting with handfuls of people.  I’ll insert it when I figure out how.

In late afternoon, I attended a similar town hall featuring Chris Christie.  He was almost exactly as seen on tv: familiar, direct, very much the straight talker — and occasionally very funny.  He did a brief impression of Mr. Trump that was dead on.   He spoke of his readiness, and contrasted that with his declining to run four years ago when he felt he was not ready, and with our electing, in his view, a president eight years ago who was not ready.  And he contrasted the responsibilities of governors with those of senators, using a boy of about 12 in the audience, Matthew, as his foil:  Matthew, do you have to show up at school at a certain time?  D0 you have an assigned desk to sit at?  Do you have questions you know you’ll be expected to answer?  Do you get a lot of time off in the summer?  All of these were “Just like Congress!”  compared to the 24/7 and unpredictable responsibilities of governors (and presidents).    Actually Matthew at first denied having to show up at school at a set time each morning, and Christie came back to him several times on this theme, by which point they both were laughing.   Later, during the lengthy Q&A, one of the questions came from a woman whose first words, on getting the mike, were “I’m Matthew’s math teacher,” which brought the house down.  She admitted Matthew was having a little fun with the governor and in fact did have to show up each day at 8:30.

Christie’s answers fulfilled his advance guarantee to the audience that he would do two things: actually answer the question they asked, and explain his position so we would understand it.  He granted we might not agree with him, but we would know where he stood.  Among others he answered questions on the US nuclear defense triad (and noted that he knows what the triad is, unlike a certain other candidate; not lost on this audience), Supreme Court appointments, ISIS, education, North Korea, immigration, veterans’ care and educational recognition, and equal pay for women.  This last was from one Paige who looked to be about 14 (and an admitted friend of Matthew’s).   Christie did not promote any new rights, mandates or benefits on this point; he said equal pay laws are on the books and they need to be enforced.  But he also turned the question personal with references to his mother (a very strong woman who took no guff from the men she worked with) and his wife (who “has out-earned me every year we’ve been married;” it will be 30 years this March), and his two daughters (‘we’ve told them their value comes from themselves, it will not be conferred on them by any man’).

Yes I was impressed with both candidates.  And expect to be impressed by certain others, even some I oppose.  Some of these people speak clearly and fluidly, connect with people, and project integrity.   And their ability to answer all parts of a rambling multisided question in a coherent way is pretty special: these folks listen hard and can organize their thoughts on the fly.

But I was most impressed by the audiences.  Not that the questions were all brilliant, or even all well-expressed.  But the overall seriousness of these people, their engagement, attention and diligence, gives me some optimism.  It is the smallness that allows it and fosters it.  No number of televised ‘debates’ or mass rallies can reveal the candidate as a person the way answering questions from a group of say 200 neighbors can.  New Hampshire is tailor-made for this; it’s a small state, full of small towns, full of people who expect presidential candidates to spend time talking with them and not just at them.  Iowa is similar but the wider spaces and lower density mean people must drive far to show up.  From my spot here in Manchester, virtually all the candidates, at their various appearances, are within 20 or 30 minutes away.

These good people here are doing our job, because in many ways we no longer can.   I hope to thank them, in part, by running up large bills at the Red Arrow Diner.  And I haven’t even hit the hotel bar at the Radisson, which my source tells me is ground zero.  But that’s another story.

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Travel Plans

I plan to drive to Manchester, NH, on Tuesday February 2, and return Sunday February 7.  I’ve started checking the various candidates’ sites for events during that time.  I have also been in touch with two teachers at Mamaroneck HS, Joe Liberti and Evan Madin, who are taking a group of students (in political science and journalism classes) to New Hampshire from Saturday the 6th to primary day, Tuesday the 9th.  If our schedules permit we might meet up for a discussion; the j-students may be interested in interviewing this example of what Mr. Liberti called ‘political tourism.’   I hadn’t thought of my venture in quite those terms; sounds rather superficial.   I was thinking more Tocqueville.  This is a good reminder that it’s never too soon to start lowering expectations.

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In The Beginning

I will travel to New Hampshire the first week of February to see how retail campaigning looks.

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