The presidential candidates weren’t going to come to Texas, so I decided to head north to New Hampshire. If you want my sentimental reflections on NH primaries past, you can read more on my personal blog.
The TL;dr? I love being in a place where everyone cares about politics.
Of course, not really everyone. Circling while we tried to land in a snowstorm gave me time to chat with the NH native seated on my row. When I told him I was coming up for the primary, his response?
Oh, yeah, I guess that’s this weekend.
Well, actually, Tuesday, but if you live in New Hampshire and can somehow avoid the incessant phone calls, door knocks, mailers, and commercials, then more power to you, I guess.
I knew once I got to the actual candidate events, I’d be talking to the voters who mattered.
Marco Rubio had pulled a bait and switch. I signed up for a pancake breakfast to be held the morning after the debate.
Due to an overwhelming number of responses, they switched to muffins and coffee, as they couldn’t figure out how to make pancakes for 800. The breakfast boondoggle and the prior evening’s MarcoBot malfunction made for an interesting vibe.
The people behind me in line, from New Jersey and Pennsylvania, were annoyed by the no-pancake situation. In front of me a few spots, not as upset by the carb-swap, some folks from Connecticut.
Settling in, I turned to the people next to me … who were from New York. People at every event I attended were cagey about their preferences, but after chatting for a bit, my row-mate revealed that his first NH primary experience was campaigning for Mondale in ’84.
So, I was at a Marco Rubio rally seated next to Democrats from Queens.
We were balanced out, however, by the true believing crowd in the rows in front and behind us. At Rubio’s event, I had my first “make America great” hat sighting. I saw “Benghazi Matters” buttons and stickers. A man was carrying around the Hillary nutcracker. And, I acquired this button.
I know, I know.
Democratic Socialism is not the same as Soviet Communism.
I opted to just say thank you, and talk to the man, who’d made the button himself. His two sons are supporting Bernie, so he wanted to annoy them. I’m guessing they’re immune to their dad’s humor at this point in life.
Rubio underwhelmed me. His energy level? Small car struggling to get up a big hill.
His message? A few quotes I scribbled down:
On how exceptional America is: “When is the last time a boatload of Americans washed up on another country’s shores?”
On Bernie Sanders: “The Bern’s a socialist. I don’t want to be a socialist country. If you want to be, move to Scandinavia.” (He really called him The Bern.)
On the rest of the world: “If you invent something, China will steal it. Vladimir Putin poisons people. He’s a gangster.”
I have a page full of Rubio quips. Of all the candidates I’ve seen this trip, he was second-best on the soundbite front.
I skipped out after a couple of questions from the crowd, softballs all, to line up for a good seat at a Jeb! Bush event. I queued behind a family from Massachusetts, and sat by three more Bay Staters, one of whom had just moved to NH. Several members of the Bush family were in the row directly in front of us. Again, surrounded by primary tourists.
Senators Lindsey Graham and Susan Collins warmed up the crowd. Graham is a hoot and a half, spitting out one-liners about the other candidates present and past so quickly that I had to just give up and listen.
I’ll say this about Jeb Bush. He’s far too reasonable to have a shot, and that’s just sad. He talked about working across the aisle, about getting stuff done instead of posturing, about service and reflection. “Government doesn’t work when everyone’s fighting,“ he said, and it felt like we were all as tired as he was.
Every Republican I saw talked about what they’d do via executive order on day 1. Jeb said that sure, he’d go in on day 1 and change some things.
But consider, he said, that any candidate could talk tough, but that all of them would be tested by something unexpected, as his brother was by 9/11. The test, he said, was not what someone’s bravado agenda was. It was how they would tackle the unexpected, what temperament and experience they’d bring to it. He didn’t have to mention any of his opponents by name. The point was made.
The crowd loved Jeb. The crowd also appreciated Jeb’s staff letting people in early, and starting the program only a few minutes late.
I appreciated that his young staff brought a really strong shoe game, men and women. Most in NH just go for practical once the snow and ice arrive, but this crew was sharp and stylish.
Jeb also did the best job with pre-event music. It was all new, innocuous, vaguely patriotic country:
1st 3: International Harvester, Family Man, That's How Country Boys Roll. The JEB! playlist. #BORinNH
— Andrea (@nonsequiteuse) February 7, 2016
There was one record-scratch moment in the playlist, when Sinatra’s Fly Me To The Moon came on, but that’s a great song, so +10 for whoever added it to the iPod.
Bush did go after Obama here and there on issues, but the takeaway quote for me was this promise he made to the audience:
On day 1, I will not blame Barack Obama for anything. I listened to him do it to my brother. I won’t do it to him.
I do think Jeb will do better in New Hampshire than we’re expecting. I don’t think there are enough reasonable Republican voters left, however, for him to be the one who pulls the party back in the general direction of its roots.
My final stop on GOP Sunday was Ohio Governor John Kasich. He gets mentioned for being reasonable, which as both he and Jeb pointed out, is likely because their experience as governors means they’ve a) had to be accountable for making things happen, and b) had to work with Democrats to make those things happen.
Kasich was tired, and it showed. Good on him for doing that many town halls, and it may serve him well when the votes get counted tonight, but he might have done 92 and taken a couple extra naps.
Christie joked about the Marcobot, but you got the sense that Kasich had burned through the script so many times that he wasn’t even hearing himself any more. He’d start sentences, interrupt himself, and never finish.
Short-circuit. Try shutting it down and turning it back on.
He started one story about a woman with a 31-year-old daughter, paused, said maybe she wasn’t 31, told the story, and then started a second one about a woman with a 31-year-old daughter. Unclear if it was the same story with different things emphasized, or different women and daughters.
He also started off sounding like Oprah. The problem, he said? Here are your options for his answer:
- Income inequality.
- Regulations strangling small business.
- Skyrocketing debt.
- We’re lonely.
We’re lonely. Yep, he opened with telling us that what’s wrong with this country is that so many of us feel so alone. That may be a trenchant insight, but this is the GOP primary race, and it felt really odd.
He did talk about the debt (he had a debt clock ticking away on the side of the room), and regulations, and even talked about outcomes-oriented healthcare solutions, which made him sound, like Jeb, reasonable.
His true colors showed, however, when a woman asked him about Planned Parenthood, an organization he’d made sure to demonize earlier.
He’d also spoken about how critical it would be to have a balanced budget. What if, she asked, Republicans and Democrats agreed on a budget that was balanced and perfect, except that it funded Planned Parenthood. Would he sign it, or veto it? She said all she wanted was a yes or no answer.
He dodged right: I don’t answer hypothetical questions. He rolled left: it would never happen. He sounded rather annoyed.
The crowd buzzed a bit, and a man on the other side of the room shouted out answer her question!
He got downright snippy, making a sassy face and mimicking the guy, saying answer her question in a derisive tone.
He turned back to her and spat out his answer like he’d just taken a bite of bad yogurt.
John Kasich. Willing to disregard bipartisan work to get a balanced budget just to spite Planned Parenthood.
Any undecided voters in the room were probably at least glad to know they could cross one cranky old guy off their list. About a third of the press pool raced over to talk with her, leaving Kasich behind.
It felt like we got a glance of what he was like behind closed doors. Kasich had a look on his face like the glare I got from David Dewhurst when I accidentally walked in on him having a private meeting. It’s a look that said I did things when I was in the CIA and … well, trust me, you don’t want people looking at you like that, and you shouldn’t look at people like that when you are asking for votes.
The best part of the Kasich event? I met a real-bearded Santa! He was happy to pose for pictures, and even recorded videos for people’s grandchildren, addressing them by name, telling them he was on vacation but he was still keeping track. It turns out, Santa is a New Hampshire primary voter.
He was the jolliest guy in the crowd. I didn’t ask him about his politics. I didn’t want to know.
Next up, #BORinNH checks out Clinton and Sanders.