portland independent media center  
images audio video
newswire article reporting united states

government | political theory

history, magic and new hampshire

is the new hampshire primary still relevant?
(Cambridge, MA) A few days ago, former Massachusetts Governor, and 1988 Democrat Presidential nominee, Michael Stanley Dukakis joined a gathering of students at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government in the first in a series of discussions on the 2008 New Hampshire primary. "The History and Magic of New Hampshire", found citizen, now Distinguished Professor of Political Science at Northeastern University sometime, and sometime Visiting Professor of Public Policy at UCLA, Dukakis, across from Sue Casey, an advisor to four presidential candidates and author of "Hart and Soul: Gary Hart's New Hampshire Odyssey and Beyond". In their attempt to peel back the onion and provide an insiders look at the process, a sensitivity rarely captured in the current American political genre, emerged.

For those of us who've rolled through the frozen front wars of New Hampshire, you can't get past the memory of a Casey, taunt and raging, head in hand and quizzical as to just why you didn't fill the phone bank or cover a precinct. At the same time, it's such true believers who spring, out of pocket, for beer, for pizza, and for fries and shell out a couch or floor or phone to call home for a novice campaigner far, far from the hinterland and deep in "the cause".

Regardless as to where one comes down regarding Mr. Dukakis, there's the ultimate conclusion that he's a decent and honorable man. Yet that hardly reduces the cackling which arises around "the tank", "Willie Horton", and his hijacked message, twisted by a pastiche of accusations, boxed and bowed, and hurled at his efforts, ultimately jack-hammering his campaign into comic fodder for late night television ghouls.

History will ultimately elevate, or chastise both for their engagements and entanglements. Gov. Dukakis testified that candidates, for the most part, are "too deeply involved in being good candidates to be deeply involved in all aspects", of the day to day happenings of their campaigns. Yep, history does hold for such an accounting, and often those numbers just suck... .even for the most promising of them.

Prior to 1952, New Hampshire garnered little notice aside from baggy woolens and this or that ski slope or covered bridge. As Ms. Casey bled in her presentation, "Eisenhower was still in Europe", above the political fray. At best, its primaries were "beauty contests". As latter day candidates emerged, amongst them 'Smilin Jack' Kennedy (D-MA) from neighboring Massachusetts, in 1960, the 'granite state' gained more importance. By 1972, Ms. Casey pointed out, New Hampshire exploded, with the help of the media, as "magical". It's an "open primary", and ergo party affiliation need not be declared. Although cloaked in a fašade of opportunity for "Independents", or un-enrolled voters, or just those who've runaway as far as they can from things they've grown to complain about, New Hampshire, in spite of it's greasy dinners and it's "Elks Lodge", is hardly a demographic replicate of the nation as a whole.

At the forum, Mr. Dukakis referred to his campaign experience in New Hampshire as being similar to those early on in Brookline, MA, the door to door, getting to know you style. Retail politics? Somewhat. In his presentation, the governor never drifted far from his core values of family, of stuff being local... all stuff. The parasites of his presidential campaign, and others for that matter, now live large on consultant fees, running other trains from their tracks. Yet what apparently set that crew on their heels, at that time, was not only an internal power struggle, but an altering of the game, a "Super-Tuesday" awaited them, changing the game, both scaring and denting the candidates plan over the long haul. Adrift and under siege, his initiative crashed like the ships of Ulysses and dragged on the breakers of "the business".

There's an ugly edge to the rodeo there at politics time. With the invasion of all that youth in such times, with all the testosterone, no one falls in love in New Hampshire. In lust maybe, but not love. There is shouting. There is misery. There is laughter and moments of self-indulgent exhilaration. There's drama. Nothing is toned down and nothing "just happens". There are players. There are intentions. There is disaster and cataclysmic consequences where there is neglect. And there other struggles await candidates should they emerge victorious and perhaps with a "bump" and increase in finances.

The former governor ruminated on the roll up to his decision to seek the presidency. Having just been elected to a third term as governor, "Massachusetts had become something of a model, with our targeted regional economic development", he shared. "I was happy being governor, and I had a wonderful staff."

'Potomac fever' has long been a communicable disease among Massachusetts' politicos, as unique as Seurat's impressionism when compared to other states. At the time, Dukakis' Chief of Staff, John Sasso, had been around the track as manager of Geraldine Ferarro's ill fated vice presidential effort. Mr. Sasso had been joined by Jack Corrigan, another Dukakis senior staffer for the Ferraro run. Several others with national campaign experience penetrated the administration in the "off season" and were jockeying for a trek with someone, somewhere, anywhere in the 50 states with cell phone contact to "Chauncy Street".

Prof. Dukakis explained the thought process he took toward reaching a decision to seek the presidency. "I'd been approached by several people whose opinions I valued and respected. I took three months, and listened to a variety of folks. My family wanted me to run," he said. "All of the kids were either in college or doing other things. I'd have never, never done it if I had a kid in high school, and Iran-Contra, that was just intolerable to me." Continuing, he referred to the lack of rational in the process as is. Iowa, with its caucus system, is obviously a test of the organizational ability of a campaign organization.

Perhaps now we should begin to view the New Hampshire primary for what it is, an overweight dowager in fishnets and a mini-skirt, wallowing in unmerited revelry. It is a place far from being demographically representative of the rest of the nation, with its media set-ups of brightly colored vans and satellite discs, its brisk hotel and bar business, but only in that "first in the nation" season.

Aside from Mr. Dukakis' backhands at republican presidential candidates Romney and Giuliani, ("Romney is a fraud, and Giuliani is nuts") he resisted reverting to vapid partisanship. He did, however, concede that the importance of the New Hampshire primary needs a closer and more realistic review, and that the powers that be, those who carve out and regulate the matters, may better serve the republic with six regional primaries over a three month period.

Senator Carl Levin (D-Mich.) recently addressed the untidy situation which campaign fatigue and state leapfrogging have brought on. "There's just no possible justification for one or two states that are not particularly representative to have a dominant role in this process. It's not fair to other states."

Republicans continue to campaign in Michigan, for example, while Democrat candidates Barack Obama, John Edwards, Bill Richardson and Joe Biden have withdrawn from the January 15 presidential primary. Oddly enough, Michigan holds far more of a demographic resemblance to the broader nation than the other two jump start states. "It's yet another reason", Mr. Levin was quoted, "why we need to get rid of Iowa and New Hampshire going first."

Campaigns and candidates adjust and target their visits, staff placements and media buys to front loaded states. "It's too bad," Michigan Democrat Party Chair Mark Brewer said , "that Democrats think this election is going to be run in Iowa and New Hampshire and are ignoring the rest of the country."

Whether the Duke is a technocrat or a visionary, he may very well be on the money on that regional thing.