The Show Comes Early Up North
New Hampshire's primary is months away, but the frenzy has begun
MANCHESTER, N.H.In a cold and steady drizzle here last week, the high hopers and lost causers lined the road to Saint Anselm College, pumping signs for Obama and Hillary and Mike Gravel, clapping plastic thundersticks, and decrying the Iraq war and global warming and genocide.
Farther up the road, a crush of supporters chanted for the eight Democratic candidates who would be debating on campus minutes later, at times threatening to overwhelm the waist-high metal gates that kept them corralled like cattlein this land of "Live Free or Die."
Even the damp New England chill conspired to make it feel as though the state's first-in-the-nation presidential primary, which anoints early winners and losers, was just a few frantic weeks away. But this year, politically speaking, June is the new Octobermaybe even November. And though Granite Staters won't mark their ballots until January 22, the circus has officially come to town.
The mad rush by states to assert their national political influence by moving up the dates of their primaries and caucuses has already transformed this year's presidential nomination process. Not only has the intense hand-to-hand politicking in New Hampshire and Iowa, which holds its caucuses January 14, started months earlier than usual, but the front-loaded schedulemore than 20 states now plan primaries or caucuses on February 5means that presidential hopefuls are making wrenching decisions about how and where to best spend their money. Whether this scrambling of the schedule represents a thoughtful way to choose presidential candidates is far from certain; in fact, some veteran political observers find it all profoundly troubling. But this much is clear: There's no turning back.
As a result, the candidates are behaving differently from previous cycles. Just last week, Republicans Rudy Giuliani and Sen. John McCain said they would skip the traditional Iowa straw poll in August, historically seen as a barometer of support. The $3 million it would cost to participate, Giuliani's campaign said, could be better spent elsewhere. "I never dreamed I'd be up here campaigning for a candidate this early," said Giuliani supporter Frank McGrane of Waterville Valley, N.H., at an event for the former New York mayor last week in New Castle. "We're sitting here chitchatting in June. It's ridiculous."
Early migration. The boarding gates for cheap Southwest Airlines flights from the Washington area to Manchester are already peppered with political and media types. Hillary Clinton adviser Mandy Grunwald and Washington Post columnist and television pundit E. J. Dionne were among those spotted at the terminals last week. And JD's Tavern at the Manchester Radisson Hotel has resumed its status as the go-to place to find politicos and pundits like former Rep. David Bonior, now serving as former Sen. John Edwards's national campaign director, and Arianna Huffington, of the online Huffington Post. After the Democrats debated, Donna Brazile calmly polished off a sandwich at the packed bar, while Richard Schiff, an alumnus of The West Wingthe television show, not the White Househung out across the way.
Jill Hazelbaker, New Hampshire communications director for McCain's campaign, said that when the Arizona senator made his last White House run in 2000, it was August before most staffers were being hired. "Now we're already on our third debate," she said, while her boss answered questions from a few hundred folks who crowded the Gilford Fire Rescue station to see him on the day of the Republican debate at Saint Anselm.