Between Barack and a Hard Place
Like Iowa, the airwaves are once again cluttered with campaign ads, this time from candidates of both parties. Different are the yard signs stacked in nearly every snow bank at intersections and along major highways, representing all of the candidates still in the race, not just the frontrunners (yes, Rep. Duncan Hunter and former Sen. Mike Gravel are in the house). Also evident is the tremendous influx of interest groups from across the eastern seaboard. Within seconds of parking my car in Concord I encountered a student dressed as a snowman, on hand to elevate the issue of global warming at a McCain rally. Also present were many critics of the Iraq War, including veterans, and an anti-immigrant group critical of McCain's so-called "amnesty" bill.
I even encountered a group of women from Arkansas, 75 strong, who knew Sen Clinton from her time there when her husband was Governor, and traveled here to help her in the fight for her political life. The overwhelming presence of Rep. Ron Paul surrogates at every candidate rally and their storming of media outlets is difficult to dismiss, as was the airplane flying overhead with a Paul banner. Paul is even on the air with radio spots contrasting his tough stance against immigration with those of his GOP rivals.
My day began once more in Chicago as my flight sat on a runway at O'Hare awaiting the landing of Airforce 1 and the arrival of President Bush. I was more than a little frustrated, eager to land in Manchester and race to see the men and women who want his job. Arriving more than an hour late, I missed my chance to see Huck and Chuck, the tag team of former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee and aging action hero Chuck Norris. I made it to Concord just as they departed, leaving their sign-waving surrogates on the street corner as I made my way to the longest-serving statehouse in the nation.
John McCain arrived more than a half-hour late to an impressive crowd on the statehouse steps as the Straight Talk Express pulled up to chants of "Mac is Back." He reiterated his typical slogans about fiscal discipline and the "transcendent challenge of our time, Islamic terrorism." He did depart from his playbook at one point, embracing the cause of climate change and promising immediate action on the issue. His Concord stop was one of seven today, typical of the vigorous pace set by a man set to turn 72 by inauguration day. Polls show him clinging to a single-digit lead over Mitt Romney in New Hampshire, an attempt to reprise the magic of 2000.
Rudy Giuliani was also late and attributed his tardiness to traffic across New Hampshire, a product of campaign caravans canvassing the state. Outside were two protesters with megaphones critical of the abortion and gay marriage positions of America's Mayor. Inside Adams Memorial Opera House in Derry, Giuliani stuck to his talking points or his "Twelve Commitments" to the American people. Tax reform, school choice, and free market health care and social security reform were among the themes stressed, but being on "offense" against terrorism remains the linchpin of his campaign. Rudy made a last-ditch effort to save face in a state seemingly sympathetic to his socially moderate positions, but he may finish behind Paul once more, with anything better than 4th place seemingly out of reach.
I ended the evening with a drive to Portsmouth, seeking out Bill Richardson at the Portsmouth Gas Light Company Restaurant. Richardson displayed an impressive knowledge of a plethora of policy areas, from education to energy to diplomacy. He pledged to end No Child Left Behind, to increase our reliance on renewable energy sources, and to bring all troops home from Iraq within one calendar year. He also challenged his supporters to help him make the case to the press and the nation that this race is far from over, and that it includes candidates beyond Senators Obama and Clinton. The proof is of course in the pudding, and Richardson is likely resigned to a consecutive 4th place finish. Tomorrow might be the end of the road and a ticket back to Albuquerque, as Richardson awaits a potential VP nod or cabinet post.
A mere hour separates us from the first voting in the New Hampshire primary. 17 residents of Dixville Notch, NH, will flock to the polls at once to make their voices heard and kick off the first-in-the-nation primary. What follows are my predictions for the top five finishers of each party, acknowledging that I was dead on in Iowa for the GOP, but badly misjudged Obama's surge of the Democratic side of the aisle.
As the saying goes, "fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me." In that spirit, it's hard to dismiss Barack Obama's boost from his stunning Iowa victory. Some are suggesting a double-digit victory, especially as independents trend his way. Hillary Clinton had her well-documented breakdown today, and a loss tomorrow would be even more devastating. While the nomination will be far from clinched, Clinton will have to adopt a late-state strategy similar to her New York counterpart in the GOP, Giuliani. Former Sen. Edwards' angry populism has yet to find a substantial audience in the Granite State, so a distant third is a given. With Richardson claiming 4th, expect Rep. Dennis Kucinich to edge out Mike Gravel for 5th in a battle for relevance.
The GOP call is more difficult. With independents trending Democratic, former Gov. Mitt Romney has a shot to overtake McCain. He has spent twice as much money on advertising as his chief rival, and once again has superior organization, although this failed to overtake Huckabee in Iowa. Recent polls reveal a slim McCain lead here, and given his past success with these fiercely independent New Englanders, I expect McCain to rekindle the fire of 2000, at least for one evening. Romney finishes a close second, with Huck in a distant third, just ahead of Paul and Giuliani.
The balance of the state votes from 6am to 8pm tomorrow, and I'll visit the polls throughout the day to speak to voters and monitor the results. Later, I hope to attend candidate rallies and return to my hotel to sort it all out when the lights go out on New Hampshire. Check back here for periodic updates and another podcast, and also listen to WGN radio at 6:11pm tomorrow evening when I speak live on the Steve Cochran Show.