Magic Moments

When N.H. voters shape the political landscape.We find ourselves in the midst of our once-every-four-years role of choosing the next leader of the country. New Hampshire's first-in-the-nation primary tradition extends back nearly a century. It's never been perfect and it is always evolving. Yet there is something mystical in our tradition. The magic is usually found in the people: regular, informed Granite State voters.In 1968 New Hampshire college students campaigned for Gene McCarthy and convinced LBJ against another term. Granite Staters invited Jimmy Carter into their homes when he was a nobody. They called in to the hundreds of local radio interviews Pat Buchanan conducted all over the state. It was New Hampshire voters who taught Bill Clinton that the 1992 campaign was about "the economy, stupid." Later it was a Portsmouth woman's personal question over coffee that made Hillary Clinton cry. Al Gore was at Concord High School when a reporter thought she heard him say he invented the Internet.Candidates say voters here are more informed on the issues and have no problem asking tough questions. The country's political elite know that few people ever get to become credible presidential candidates and those who do tend to run in different crowds. So it's good for the leader of the country to have had frank conversations with everyday people before deciding to send their children off to war or signing off on who wins or loses in the tax code.That is why there's been some worry that this particular presidential election isn't allowing for a lot of magical moments on the campaign trail. Through August, after nearly a year of campaigning, only one major candidate held a traditional town hall meeting: Mitt Romney. He actually held a number of them where he was attacked on his positions ranging from the environment to Medicare to foreign policy. During a town hall meeting in Keene an 80-year-old woman, Lucie Opal, nearly demanded Romney give her a kiss.There are reasons why these candidates have been engaging less with voters this time around. First, this will likely be the most expensive presidential race in history. Democratic President Barack Obama is expected to be the first candidate to raise a billion dollars. If Republican candidates want to compete, they will have to spend a lot of time raising money in places like New York and California. Second, the campaign is moving more online where they can target their messages and follow a script. Third, the field of candidates hasn't inspired competition the way that primaries have in the past. Locally, Romney has led the field by 20 points for a year. When candidates are within a few points of each other they tend to hustle more. Texas Governor Rick Perry's sudden leap into the race and the polls may change everything.So don't assume there won't be any magical moments this year. Sure, these candidates will be running television ads, talking to reporters and to hard-core Republican groups. About 150,000 people will vote in the upcoming presidential primary. To win their votes, candidates will have to reach out and make themselves available.If we want to keep this magical tradition alive, Granite Staters will have to make themselves available also. NH
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