Politics & Policy

Top 10 Primary Moments You Missed by Not Being Here

New Hampshire will not soon forget.

–10. The John Edwards Monotony. Hear one John Edwards campaign speech and you’ve heard them all. Literally. He has only one speech. And he gives it again and again and again. By Monday night his pool reporters would gladly have traded places with Guantanamo Bay prisoners. At least you get to hear five different prayers each day. Two reporters who sat behind me at one Edwards event spent the whole speech cursing at him. It is rumored that some reporters can recite the entire oratory by heart. One fellow journalist told me that Edwards’s locutions had begun to enter his everyday speech. “Here’s the truth–that’s just wrong!” would involuntarily pop out of his mouth. If Edwards makes it to California, expect whole regiments of political reporters to request reassignment to the obituary pages.

9. Celebrities React to Fans. New Hampshire is full of political junkies. It’s probably one of the few places on earth where Tucker Carlson can get mobbed for autographs. How a celebrity reacts to fans on the street gives a little glimpse into his personality. Carlson, for instance, was perfectly gracious and chatted amiably with his gawkers and picture takers. Peter Jennings, Ted Danson, Chris Matthews, and Sean Hannity were the same. Especially Danson, who was the model of generosity and patience. George Stephanopoulos walked around with his head down trying not to get noticed, and James Carville uttered tribal noises and reacted to crowds like a rock star on amphetamines. The most curious was Bob Novak, whose black trench coat seemed to function as an invisibility cloak, giving him free passage through celeb-mad throngs, who never even noticed him.

8. Lyndon LaRouche Hecklers. One of the mysteries of the universe is how a crazy man born in 1922 can command the undying allegiance of dozens of people aged 22. My theory is that the creature known as LaRouche is actually a joint research project between the Harvard School of Psychology and the M.I.T. robotics lab. Whatever the cause, LaRouche’s minions disrupted numerous campaign events in the week after the Iowa caucuses. One of them even managed to get on stage at a John Edwards event. Holding a “NH (insert giant heart here) Edwards” sign, he started yelling at Edwards about skipping the Washington, D.C., primary. This kept up for several minutes, with the crowd yelling “Go John, Go!” to drown him out, until at last an Edwards aide pulled him off the stage. Ten minutes later, another LaRoucher heckled Edwards on whether he would halt George Soros’s special interest influence in Democratic politics. Not a bad question, actually. Of course, Edwards didn’t answer it.

7. Al Franken, Bouncer. At a Howard Dean rally in Manchester, the LaRouche hecklers started up again, but this time Super Dork was there. Franken walked over to a heckler, grabbed him from behind and helped security men pick him up and escort him out. Al lost his glasses in the process. It was his best work since the Stuart Smalley sketches.

6. Run-ins at the Merrimack. Manchester’s Merrimack Restaurant is a must-do stop on every presidential candidate’s schedule. This makes for some interesting encounters. The New Republic’s Ryan Lizza reported a pair of delicious moments there on Primary Day. Joe Lieberman and Dennis Kucinich accidentally showed up at the same time and were forced to exchange awkward pleasantries. When Howard Dean stopped by, he had the misfortune of running into fellow presidential candidate Vermin. You can recognize Vermin by the rubber boot he wears on his head and the goat’s-head codpiece he wears, well, you know where. Vermin is running on the “Time Travel Research platform.” Of his run-in with Dean, Vermin told Lizza, “I asked him if he supported mandatory tooth-brushing and he claimed never to have heard of the issue, if you can believe that.

5. Dennis Gets Down. After the big pre-primary debate, I chatted with supporters of various candidates. They all gave reasons why their guy was the best, but the Kucinich supporters were the only ones who said to me, “Hey, wanna come to a party?” This was after the “Bowling with–and for–Kucinich” event. On the Sunday before primary day, while other candidates had their campaign volunteers out scouring the snow banks for votes, the Kucinich supporters threw a party at the University of New Hampshire, which I covered here. The music was actually very good, with the exception of the headliner, and the break-dancers greatly impressed the crowd. After Kucinich spoke, the D.J. spun a dance beat, and the crowd rushed the stage. Everyone was dancing and jumping and flailing around. Good clean fun, except for the “clean” part. As the polls closed on primary night, the Kucinich campaign admitted that its guy would not have the largest number of votes, but they predicted that he would have the best party. At least they have their priorities straight.

4. Joe-mentum! Poor Joe Lieberman. He gets the endorsement of the Union Leader, the state’s largest newspaper, and the state Democratic-party chairman says he shouldn’t accept it because the paper’s editorial page is conservative. He has the best one-liners and makes the most cogent arguments during the debate, but is the only candidate to get booed. He canvases a neighborhood for votes and keeps knocking on doors where no one is home (or so says Dave Barry). He comes up with a slogan–Joe-mentum–more original than John Kerry ’s lame Real Deal Express, but only he gets made fun of. And as the results are being announced on primary night, he calls Howard Dean “John Dean” and rejoices in a three-way tie for third place, only to wind up in fifth by the end of the night. Joe-mentum!

3. That Tight GOP Primary Race. Yes, there was a Republican primary in New Hampshire. President Bush beat out 13 other candidates, winning 85 percent of the vote. If you think those are low numbers for Bush, remember that Granite Staters would come out and vote against Jesus just because “there ought to be some competition.” GOP candidate Dick Bosa spent most of his campaign writing angry letters to editors and election officials damning their “dark souls” and claiming that they were conspiring with Bush to keep him from winning. John Donald Rigazzio spent easily over $100,000 on ads. He finished with fewer votes than did Bosa, who spent nothing. Robert Haines was released from prison just in time to do some last minute campaigning before the primary. On primary day I spotted him on the best street corner in Manchester–the one in front of the Merrimack–defending his spot from a group of uppity Clark supporters. One stepped in front of him with a giant Clark sign, a sign that belonged on a wall, not a street corner. Haines: “I’ll tell you right now, you put that sign there and I’ll be in front of it the whole time. This is my corner! Go find your own corner!” The shaken kid did just that. But Clark still beat Haines.

2. Dennis Kucinich Gives Castro A Pass. Asked by the Union Leader whether Cuba was a police state or a repressive regime, Kucinich took a full 20 seconds before uttering the carefully worded response: “He’s had some practices in dealing with political dissidents that I don’t approve of.” Even when pressed further, that is the only criticism Kucinich would give Old Man Fidel. Maybe they party together.

1. Wes Clark, Naked. Ladies, don’t e-mail me about this, there are no pictures. Seems that the general likes to get in a morning workout before hitting the campaign trail. Waiting in line to get into the last debate before the primary, I talked with a guy who works out at the Greater Manchester YMCA, where I also am a member. He said he had a big surprise that morning as he walked into the shower after his workout, and there was a buck-naked four-star general. He would not say whether Clark appeared “presidential,” but he did say “he was in very good shape.”

Andrew Cline is editorial page editor of the Union Leader and New Hampshire Sunday News in Manchester, N.H.

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