Join the Parade

Parades are the perfect time to shake hands

Illustration by Peter Noonan

Political campaigns have become high tech in the last decade — from reaching mass audiences to accurately targeting specific groups. Few places in the country have experienced this innovation more than New Hampshire, due to the first-in-the-nation primary and close elections of national importance every two years.

It has no doubt helped Democrats, who were on the forefront of the technology boom and swept every major election in the state last year.

Still, in New Hampshire, what are respected most by voters are the time-honored, simple, humbling acts by politicians.

This July 4th, politicians of all stripes will have to decide where to participate in a parade for the nation’s holiday from among a variety of well-known July 4th parades, from Wolfeboro to Merrimack and Amherst to Waterville Valley and Gorham.

While the trends are on micro-targeting, parades are all about finding the biggest crowds in the most important communities. After all, participating in a parade could be a huge time suck involving a good work-out and sometimes rain. If they are going to parade — and New Hampshire residents pretty much demand that they do — it is essential they get some bang for the buck.

"Unless a politician is unable to walk, he or she should never ride in a car."

Some campaigns apparently think that if they have more volunteers throwing out Tootsie Rolls than the opposition it says something about their chances later on. Here, perception isn’t exactly reality.

But it is a chance for the electorate to make some judgments. There are two main objectives for politicians: Create as many personal connections as possible and increase name recognition. There are many ways of reaching those objectives, but any effort that takes away from them is bad so ...

Rule 1: Walk, don’t ride.

In former Congressman Charlie Bass’s campaigns it always seemed like he knew somebody in every town with an antique car perfectly suited for a patriotic parade. Old cars can grab people’s attention, but unless a politician is unable to walk they should never ride in a car. It is a big deal to the average person to shake hands with the Governor or a Congressman or even a school board member. Staying in a car prevents moments like these from happening.

Rule 2: It’s all about the stickers.

You can’t shake everyone’s hand. Young parents are focused on keeping their kids from running into the middle of the street and a good parade has people lined up pretty deeply. Those same people, though, will eventually be walking a mile back to their car and, if a number of their neighbors are wearing stickers with a politician’s name on it, they’ll notice. The candidate must be OK if their friends like him or her enough to wear a sticker.

Those two simple rules still matter, along with all the innovation in campaign techniques. July 4th parades can come across as quaint and irrelevant, but in the Granite State they are still among the most relevant political activities of the year. 

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