Racing Through the Slush to Primary Day
By Joel Achenbach
MANCHESTER, N.H. 4:30 p.m.--Speed day on the campaign trail. Move fast, talk fast. Everyone's hitting the state like buckshot. They're going on adrenaline, coffee, and diesel, with their buses hurtling from one side of New Hampshire to another and candidates giving the dollar-store version of their stump speeches.
It's not an orderly day. There is no central event such as a debate. And the mild weather is turning everything to slush. Politically and hydrologically the situation is fluid.
John McCain just pulled into City Hall plaza and croaked his core message for eight or nine minutes. He blew a favorite joke about Congress spending money like a drunken sailor ("Screwed that line up," he said), but plowed ahead to a roaring conclusion: "I will never, ever, ever as president of the United States let you down!"
Things were a little unruly on the fringe of the crowd. The Ron Paul supporters shouted "No amnesty!" Someone carried a sign saying "Bomb Iran - Vote McCain." The veteran street performer Vermin Supreme, who wears a bat-wing epaulets and a boot jammed on his head and who himself filed to run in the N.H. primary (he's a kind of proto-Borat figure), wielded a megaphone as his merry band of supporters distributed somewhat inscrutable bumper stickers ("U.S. Out Of My Mouth").
All of this was in rather stark contrast to the staid event at the Nashua Country Club at midday, when Mitt Romney, one of the few people in the room not wearing a jacket and tie (he wore a nice crew-neck sweater), efficiently made his pitch to Rotarians. He brought with him a large board listing 12 things he's going to do as president, including such rather daunting tasks as "End Illegal Immigration." His persona is Mr. Fix-it.
A woman asked him what he'd do about the "extreme overpopulation of pets in this country," and he handled it perfectly. First, make fun of own ignorance of issue. Next, make clear that one is sensitive to concerns. Third, outline mental processes for solving problems of all kinds. He used the word "data" a lot. By the end of his answer, many a Rotarian was surely persuaded that in a Romney Administration all pets will be wanted and loved.
It's not a full day in New Hampshire without at least one house party. John Edwards had one in the early afternoon in the tony suburb of Bedford. The small crowd gathered in the driveway, standing on melting snow or around a smoky firepit. The icicles on he eaves dripped steadily. A peek into the house revealed celebrities on hand: Tim Robbins, accompanied by his partner, Susan Sarandon.
She told reporters she didn't presume to tell anyone how to vote, but would be happy if somehow she helped Edwards get an extra 30 seconds of airtime.
Robbins said he's frustrated by the way the news media portray the race as an Obama-Clinton face-off. But no matter what happens, he said, Democrats will pull together in November:
"We're going to give the Republicans a vacation from Washington, DC."
Edwards rolled in on a bus dubbed the Main Street Express. He's been on a marathon campaign tour that went all night and included events at 2 a.m. and 4 a.m. somewhere in the frozen north of the state. "I've lost all track of time," he said when he popped out into the slush.
He talked quickly, but added a new line that I hadn't heard: He said that no matter what happens Tuesday, his fight on behalf of the working class and the middle class is the work of his lifetime and he'll be in this race through the convention, "all the way to the White House."
When Newsweek's Jonathan Alter asked him if that meant he'd keep campaigning even if he didn't win a primary, Edwards said emphatically, "I will win primaries."
But what if you don't, Alter persisted.
"I can't accept that premise," Edwards said.
Washington Post editors
January 7, 2008; 6:02 PM ET
Categories: Joel's New Hampshire Diary
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