Last Night's Spin Room, and Other NH Observations
by Nathan Empsall, Sun Jan 06, 2008 at 06:25:29 PM EST
Jerome has invited all the campaign bloggers to stay on as weekend bloggers. This platform is a privilege - especially for someone who can't even legally drink for another four months - and I am honored to have it. Since I'm here in New Hampshire, I thought I would share some ground level observations and experiences. This post includes analysis of last night's spin room (with an emphasis on Elizabeth Edwards and a funny story about David Brooks), the sign wars, a Richardson event, a very strange phone call, and overall momentum.
I spent last night volunteering in the spin room for both debates. My job during the Republican debate was just to stand around and look busy, filling the room for the cameras. I pulled out my own camera and shot video of Ron Paul, Lindsey Graham, and Tom Tancredo (who I actually said hello to once the spinning was over... icky, but he does have a nice smile). When the Democrats came on, I spent an hour helping Elizabeth Edwards. This was the first time I've met her, and she was incredibly gracious and kind, even to those with critical questions. Many folks in politics are rather passive aggressive; she couldn't have been less so, and even remembered my name after the hour. I know now what folks mean when they say they wish it were her running for President. I was, however, unimpressed with her spin. She made great points about the media ignoring John Edwards, but spent most of the hour explaining why her husband is the best candidate for change. The problem there is, it's almost better to make weak arguments on your own turf than it is strong arguments on someone else's turf - and as long as the debate is about change, it's on Obama's turf. If Edwards and Clinton want to argue change, they have to land knock-out blows, and as whip-smart and impressive as Elizabeth Edwards may be, those weren't knockout blows.
I headed back to my car around midnight - and who should I find on the empty sidewalks but a lost David Brooks, unable to find his car. He asked if I knew where the media lots were, and then proceeded to head in the opposite direction of what I told him. Having parked near a media lot, I can now say with some confidence: David Brooks asked me for help, and wound up even more lost when he didn't take my directions.
The rest is a little lengthy for a frontpage post, especially since I'm a bit of a ludite and am not sure how to make a slideshow yet, so I'll stick it below the fold.
Todd is right - the spin room is a very surreal experience. Partly because of its enormity - like he said, all the usual phases from the media and campaigns, but in one room - but also because of its ridiculousness. I thought to myself, what would a museum tour guide of a future, higher evolved species tell his schoolchildren? "They would pick new leaders by cramming thousands of themselves into a large indoor box and run around with digital devices, grunting about which potential leader outtalked the others." I suppose similar things could be said about any crowd. Here's a YouTube I found of Mrs. Edwards, and some pictures of the room:
Outdoors, the Paulites were definitely the most visible supporters - one even made his way into the Democratic spin room somehow. He had the credentials, but that Paul sign was definitely not kosher. Driving around the state, however, Paul signs certainly aren't as visible. Obama signs are definitely the most common in Manchester, followed closely by Romney and Clinton. I'm sorry to report that I have only seen one Mike Gravel sign anywhere in the state. There aren't too many signs in the Hanover area, but the Obama people are in full force at the intersections, and I got hit up by some Clinton canvassers on the sidewalk - until they noticed my Biden button's Obama twin.
Today was a much slower day--all I did was say hello to the Governor of New Mexico. (Isn't that a ridiculous statement?) Richardson spoke to a group of about 250 voters at Hanover High School. It was the fourth time I've seen Richardson, and the second time I've met him. His stump speech was certainly the most policy-oriented speech I've heard, and now that Biden is out of the race, there's really no question that Richardson is the education candidate, something he pushed even harder than his executive experience. He did not take questions - too many events, too little time. What was most impressive about the event is that when asked if they'd watched the debate, 2/3 of the crowd raised their hands.
I spoke with a friend who works for the campaign, and he predicted that Richardson would drop out after NH. It was only a gut feeling, he said, but he didn't see where they would get the money to move forward. I'm sticking with the Nevada timeframe, as it was only his insider guess, not his insider knowledge. No one will blame a western Governor for waiting for a western primary, no matter how poorly he fares in New Hampshire. (Most Dartmouth students are with Obama per an informal poll an Edwards friend conducted, but most of the activists are working or volunteering for Richardson.) I do have to say that while I think Richardson makes too many gaffes and doesn't display enough of a rhetorical vision to be President, I still hope he does well. What the media did to him, Biden, and Dodd was shameful, and someone should stick it to them.
Finally, most NH residents have received dozens of phone calls from pollsters, advocacy groups, and campaigns. I'm cellphone-only, and received my first phone call just last night. It was a very strange call, and not just because I'm not sure how they got my Idaho cell. It came from a blocked number: 000-000-0000. The caller said he only had one question: who am I supporting in the NH Democratic primary? I asked who he was, and he said, "We're just running a little survey, that's all, to gauge support." Yes, I said, but who is "we"? Who was the survey sponsor? The question took him aback. "Oh... well... um... I'm really not allowed to tell you that." To which I replied, "Oh, well, then I'm really not allowed to tell you who I'm supporting, but good luck," and hung up. Now, I've done internal polling for campaigns before, and never had to keep it anonymous. For the comment section - what the heck do you think that was all about?
Overall, I have to agree with Jerome's predictions - I'm not sure how Obama can lose this primary. Not only is he leading, or at worst statistically tied, in every post-Iowa poll, the momentum is clearly on his side. The sign wars are one thing, but I think it's pretty clear that Clinton lost last night's debate, and with as large an audience as it had, that will sting. Youth voters are energized like never before - all the other debate volunteers I spoke with quietly admitted an Obama preference - and as Todd wrote, the crowd at 100 Club absolutely exploded for him. A friend with the Obama campaign told me that much of their enthusiastic crowd was planted, not spontaneous, but the fact that the campaign was able to pull it off when the Clinton campaign couldn't (and they did try) speaks volumes about the competing organizations. Consider it a dry run for GOTV. With only a day to go and momentum on Obama's side, I don't see how Clinton makes up the gap. The only thing she has going for her is the weather - the high will be up around 50, even though it was 12 below last week, and less ice means more senior women making it to the polls.
Tomorrow will be another blitzkrieg - Obama in Lebanon in the morning and Huckabee's final rally in Rochester at night. Bill Clinton will be here in Hanover, but I saw him in Manchester two months ago and haven't seen much of the GOP. I'm going to try and catch McCain, either in Hanover or on the way to Rochester, but the Obama event is more important. The real education for me is seeing candidates in a non-college atmosphere, as those events have a very different feel. Tuesday will be more Obama - he's on campus in the morning, and I'm driving to his Nashua headquarters for election returns. I'm hoping to catch Edwards somewhere in there, but Hillary unfortunately doesn't look doable.
I understand that many of you are angry about this focus on New Hampshire, and I don't blame you. It serves a purpose, but is a bit unfair, and something I will write about at a later date.