Knowing the Score




Don’t pull a Martha Coakley and be clueless about the home team.Six years ago I drove to Warner to meet a Congressional candidate for lunch — an environmental activist who authored a book on how the federal government should substitute the income tax for a pollution tax.

I prepared myself for a deep conversation on policy.

I ordered a Reuben sandwich and asked him what it takes to be a successful candidate in New Hampshire. He immediately answered: “Step number 1: Know the score of last night’s Red Sox game.” I asked the obvious follow-up question and he did, indeed, know the score.

I’ve long believed that the tenets of Granite State politics connoted citizen involvement, transparency and frugality. In Warner I realized that real “third rail of New Hampshire politics” was love for the Boston Red Sox baseball team.

With the Red Sox opening day this month it is appropriate to acknowledge their impact on Granite State politics. Former Congressman — and now State Senator — Jeb Bradley is rarely without his Red Sox cap. Republican U.S. Senate candidate Kelly Ayotte discusses economic policy in terms of how much seats cost at Fenway Park. Democratic Gov. John Lynch has made it a habit to proclaim a Red Sox Day at least once a year and recently had the team owners over to the Statehouse. Candidates who are behind this fall and in need of attention will secretly root against the Sox so voters will pay attention to something other than the baseball playoffs. It is still viewed as an expensive, but savvy move when then former Gov. Craig Benson bought television ads for his re-election during the 2004 World Series, though the Sox won their first World Series in 86 years and Benson was the first governor not to win re-election to a second term in 78 years.

During the past two decades politics has become more partisan and combative with debates about Clinton’s impeachment, a disputed presidential election and an intense debate over health care reform. Local candidates divide over gay marriage, the death penalty, and the role of taxes. Through it all there is something that Democrats and Republicans alike will always generally agree upon: the requirement to follow the Sox.

The point here is not that one has to be deeply in love with the Sox, but they do have to follow the team, know the star players and understand the dynamic of the season to relate to voters at a diner or going door to door asking for votes.

When former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, a major Yankees fan, campaigned for president here the subject of baseball came up frequently. Voters felt they understood where he came from even when he teased Red Sox Nation by showing up in Nashua one day wearing a Yankees World Series ring.

The candidate I met in Warner campaigned for a more few months after and withdrew from the race before he even put his name on the ballot. But in politics, as in baseball, there is always next season. NH

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