Two political dynasties took the field in a key battleground state this week. But in terms of style, press access, and transparency, the contrast between Hillary Clinton and Jeb Bush’s New Hampshire debuts couldn’t have been more pronounced.
Clinton’s Monday swing through New Hampshire was tightly scripted, an on-the-rails circuit around the state that left no room for the unexpected. Her campaign unceremoniously booted the assigned pool reporter from his beat, worked feverishly to deny the press access to all but one of the day’s three events, forced supporters to run a gauntlet of pat-downs and metal detectors, and had the Secret Service push protesters hundreds of yards back from the venue.
At a secluded apple orchard outside Concord, New Hampshire, Clinton mounted a raised podium and recycled the speech she’d given during her New York City relaunch on Saturday. She took seven questions from the press, her communications director handpicking each reporter. Campaign staff were nearly impossible to locate, and when cornered refused to talk to journalists.
Like Hillary, Jeb Bush travelled to the first-in-the-nation primary state soon after his official campaign announcement in Florida on Monday. But the similarities end there — Bush’s first New Hampshire event, a town hall, was as open and unscripted as Clinton’s was controlled and constrained.
Bush chose to make his case at an easily accessible opera house in downtown Derry, New Hampshire. Both Left- and Right-wing protestors — there were at least two dozen — lined the steps less than ten yards from the small-town venue.
Bush’s first New Hampshire event, a town hall, was as open and unscripted as Clinton’s was controlled and constrained.
“We just kinda came out here on the sidewalk, and we haven’t been bothered at all,” says Mike Padmore, a director at NextGenClimate who led a dozen global-warning activists in a protest. “It’s been great. Nobody actually came up to us.”
One police officer stood unassumingly to the side of the opera-house entrance. There were no metal detectors, or stone-faced security guards rummaging through bags; just a harried-looking Bush staffer ushering in attendees.
Press registration was jarringly simple compared with Clinton’s events — Bush’s staffer barely even glanced at the clipboard, seeming to take reporters at their word. No credentials were actually issued, but journalists were free to mingle with the crowd and slip in and out of the venue to interview protesters whenever they wanted.
Bush eschewed the traditional campaign speech for an open format, surrounding himself with around 300 New Hampshirites in a kind of theatre-in-the-round performance. He took questions from the audience, seemingly at random, for over an hour. His answers, which focused heavily on fiscal issues such as tax-code reform and balancing the budget, appeared unscripted — even slightly awkward, at times.
“I want to say one more thing — this is my first day, I’m a rookie at this,” said Bush, after the Q&A finished and the audience applauded. “I want your vote!” Attendees laughed as Bush shrugged sheepishly at the oversight.
#related#Although Jeb did not stay to questions from reporters, local officials running Bush’s New Hampshire operations stood by to speak to interested journalists — though they weren’t quite ready to comment on the record.
In an interview with Fox News’s Sean Hannity conducted on the opera-house stage just before the town hall, Bush alluded to the transparency gap between his and Clinton’s campaigns.
“I think she needs to answer questions just like I’m going to do in about 30 minutes,” he said. “If there are people in the press here and you say ‘I’m sorry, you can’t come’ . . . that’s ridiculous!”
“He’s going to go everywhere, speak to everyone, face the issues without flinching,” says Tim Miller, Bush’s communications director. “To demonstrate that you have to welcome all comers.”
— Brendan Bordelon is a political reporter for National Review.