Candidate Crushes




Next year's primary is on Valentine's Day - prepare to be wooed.

During this time of year elementary school teachers play out their annual ritual of trying to catch students passing notes that gauge romantic interest by asking a crush to check one of two boxes: Do you like me - "yes" or "no?"

Potential candidates for leader of the free world are essentially doing the same thing as they try to figure out if New Hampshire voters like them "yes" or "no."

February is the month of love. While dinner reservations must be made for romantic nights and gifts will be bought for significant others, presidential candidates want you to consider buying something else: themselves.

It's said that when voters pick a presidential candidate it's the most personal thing they do politically. They aren't hiring an advocate or an administrator or some person they know for the school board. In a presidential candidate they look for a person who is most like themselves or who they want to be.

So, before the issues can draw clear distinctions, these candidates are simply trying to make a good first impression. Former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney hopes to show himself as the guy you've known before, who has lived most of his life in New England and even has a house in Wolfeboro. Former Minnesota governor Tim Pawlenty wants you to meet his "smoking hot wife." And if Sarah Palin ever visits New Hampshire you can be sure that she will bring her husband, Todd.

In some ways this process, a year out from the first primary vote, is like the reverse version of the "Welcome Wagon." Instead of Granite Staters introducing themselves and baking a roast for the newcomers, we expect these candidates to introduce themselves to us, buy our maple syrup and bring their families also.

People think of elections as a two-person contest where oftentimes they are forced to choose the lesser of two evils, but that is not the New Hampshire presidential primary. This contest will often feature up to a dozen credible candidates to choose from in each party. Those who become frontrunners are not those who can just simply be better than the other person, they are those who can build buzz and stand out in a crowd.

It is not good enough for presidential candidate to increase name recognition and to be liked. When you have 12 candidates basically agreeing on 99 percent of the big issues it comes down to the voters' hearts: who they identify with, who do they think is telling them the truth, what's their appeal in person or on television.

In 2008 presidential candidates like Connecticut senator Chris Dodd, Iowa governor Tom Vilsack and Indiana senator Evan Bayh were well liked in their home states where they won again and again because they were better than the other guy. When they began seriously running, they found audiences here liked them, but didn't "like them, like them."

And in 2004 we had two candidates whom voters "like, liked," but only one got their vote. It was said that we "dated (Howard) Dean and married (John) Kerry."

Given all that, it seems appropriate that the date of next year's presidential primary is tentatively scheduled for Valentine's Day. NH

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