The View from New Hampshire
By Alec MacGillis
CONCORD, N.H. -- As the presidential campaigns' Iowa organizations go into high gear to get their voters to caucus, their counterparts in New Hampshire are preparing for their own final assault, with only five days left until the primary on Tuesday. On the Democratic side, the battle on the ground here is shaping up to be every bit as competitive as it is in Iowa, if slightly less intense.
Hoping to capitalize on any momentum from Iowa, John Edwards has invested far more here than he did in 2004, with 80 paid organizers in the state. He will get backup from droves of union volunteers, as he has in Iowa. "Organization-wise, the campaign here is in a great place," said supporter Caroline McCarley, a former state senator from Rochester.
Barack Obama has not spent nearly as much time in New Hampshire as he has in Iowa, but his campaign has not stinted on its Granite State organization, which now has more than a dozen field offices, more than 100 paid staff and a captain for every town and city ward.
Mixed with this conventional campaign organization are a number of innovative approaches intended to spread interest in a candidate that very few New Hampshire voters knew much about before he arrived in the state a year ago. The campaign organized book clubs around the state for residents to read and discuss Obama's 1995 memoir, lending residents copies of the book and setting up conference calls with Obama's sister for readers to discuss it. It set up a statewide three-on-three basketball tournament in which residents could participate if they agreed to volunteer for the campaign. Several hundred took part, and the final game was refereed by Obama's brother-in-law, the Brown University basketball coach. (Obama himself came to shoot hoops with the winners, from Keene.)
Less colorful, but as valuable, the campaign says, has been the formation of small groups of supporters organized not only by geography but also profession or common interests -- lawyers, doctors, environmentalists, and so on. The campaign sent relevant surrogates to address these groups (such as recently dispatching the former state agriculture secretary to a group in the North Country concerned about rural issues), and the groups would both discuss the issues that mattered to them and also write postcards to others in their community promoting Obama.
"We broke down into areas of commonality, and as a result connected with more people, and people were able to bring in their areas of common interest," said Jim Demers, a Concord lobbyist who is co-chair of the state campaign. "This campaign did some unique things that put them in the position they are now."
Most recently, the campaign has been trying to mobilize what Demers calls the "tremendous army ready to help out" that the past months' efforts have produced. It is holding meetings across the state to train local volunteers in how to get out the vote on Election Day, and has been encouraged by the turnout -- 100 people in the small town of Peterborough a few weeks ago, 80 in Exeter.
Added to this will be an expected crush of out-of-state volunteers arriving in the coming days, including many college students on winter break. "Add [the in-state volunteers] together and you've got a few thousand people ready to go to work," said Demers. "Combined with all the college students who want to come, it's probably the biggest get-out-the-vote effort we've ever seen in the state."
Opposing Obama will be a rock-solid Clinton organization that benefits from her widespread support across much of the state's Democratic leadership, as well as from the ties that the Clintons formed here in the 1990s. Her establishment advantage crosses state lines -- when Bill Clinton came to address supporters in Nashua last week, the crowd included 30 Massachusetts residents, a motley crew of union men and Democratic Party foot soldiers from border towns like Lowell and Dracut who had driven up to canvass for Clinton at the encouragement of their union or their local Democratic leaders.
One of them, Pat McCarthy of Lowell, said many in the group had come up in past years, for the primary campaigns of Walter Mondale, Al Gore and John Kerry, among others. He said he and his partner had hit 64 houses in Derry that morning and gotten a pretty good reception for 9 a.m. on a Saturday, aside from a few angry dogs.
McCarthy, a Democratic committeeman in Lowell, was fully confident that Clinton, with all of her establishment support, would carry the day. "You can take this to the bank: She'll win Iowa and New Hampshire. This'll be over in a few days," he said. Some of the others seemed less than fully committed to the work. "We have to do this again next Saturday?" one of them asked as they returned to their cars for the drive home. You bet, he was told.
Sylvia Larsen, the president of the New Hampshire Senate and a top Clinton supporter here, said the men from Massachusetts were but a handful of the waves of volunteers coming to the state for Clinton from, among other places, New York, New Jersey and Arkansas.
"A lot of folks are excited about her and are coming to help," Larsen said.
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