Thursday, January 10, 2008


A version of this was published in The Santa Fe New Mexican
January 10, 2008


MANCHESTER, N.H. — When on the morning of the New Hampshire primary you eat in a cafe that has large painted caricatures of presidential contenders of yore on an outside wall, you might run into some real live candidates.

That was the case Tuesday when I decided it wouldn’t be a New Hampshire election trip without a breakfast at the Merrimack Restaurant.

Located on Elm Street, downtown Manchester’s main drag, the unpretentious diner is a mandatory drop-in spot for presidential candidates.

On Tuesday morning, two New Hampshire radio stations plus a CBS network radio crew were broadcasting live from the Merrimack.

WSMN-AM of Nashua, N.H., was using the booth right beside mine. And while I was making my way through my “international” omelet, not one, but two presidential candidates showed up to be interviewed.

First was libertarian Republican Ron Paul, who had just flown in from Los Angeles after an appearance on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno the night before. “I had to come back to do this show,” the Texan quipped.
Before Paul finished, the next guest arrived — Democratic Rep. Dennis Kucinich of Ohio. The two congressmen greeted each other by their first names before Kucinich took the booth. Paul made his way toward the front of the restaurant, perhaps for a quick chat with one of the other stations.
Kucinich, whose local campaign headquarters was located in an office above the Merrimack, later settled into another booth for some breakfast.

On beyond Gravel: OK, Paul only pulled about 8 percent of the Republican ballots in New Hampshire (and, for the record, got a few thousand more votes than Gov. Bill Richardson) and Kucinich only got 1 percent of those who voted as Democrats, but at least you probably know their names. But that may not be the case for a majority of the candidates who appeared on the New Hampshire ballot.

There were 13 Democrats and 13 Republicans who never were included in any of the televised debates.
Go ahead and hate your neighbor
One of the Democrats is Tom Laughlin, the actor who starred in the Billy Jack hippie action-hero movies in the 1970s. One of the Republicans is a character called Vermin Supreme, who apparently views politics as performance art. He had ominous signs on Elm Street that said “Lies for Less.”

I met one of the unknown Republicans on Sunday night after finishing dinner at the Red Arrow Diner in Manchester. “I’m Mark Klein and I’m running for president,” said a white-haired older gentleman who handed me a full-color campaign pamphlet. Klein is a psychiatrist from Oakland, Calif.

I asked him why he was spending money pursuing such a long-shot candidacy.

“Because I’m an adult, I’m a parent and a grandparent,” he said.

I dunno. I think Billy Jack might have a better argument.

Coffee with Chelsea: I decided to get some caffeine while waiting for Richardson to show up at the Breaking New Grounds coffee house in downtown Portsmouth on Monday. There were two young women looking at the pastry counter who I thought might be waiting to place an order. I asked if they were in line. “No, sir, go ahead.” So I got my coffee and went to a place where I could watch the front door for the governor of New Mexico.

Waiting beside me was a woman with a reporter’s notebook. I assumed she was there for the same reason I was, so I asked her who she worked for. She said she was with the Boston Globe. I was surprised. Except for his appearance on the ABC News debate, Richardson’s free media attention seemed to be drying up more every day. But actually she wasn’t there for Richardson. She said she was part of a pool following around Chelsea Clinton.

Chelsea was there? It turned out she was one of the women by the pastry counter.

(I didn’t realize it at the time, but just a few blocks away and a few minutes before, Chelsea’s mom had choked up while speaking to undecided voters at another Portsmouth coffee house, creating one of the most discussed New Hampshire political moments of the young year.)

A few moments later, Chelsea began working the crowd. She extended her hand and introduced herself and made a pitch for her mom.

I couldn’t resist. Having read about the incident in Iowa in which Chelsea told a 9-year-old “kid reporter” from Scholastic News, “I’m sorry, I don’t talk to the press and that applies to you, unfortunately. Even though I think you’re cute.”

So I said, “I’m a reporter, so you’d better not talk to me.”

Chelsea just smiled. “Oh well, I can still say hi.”

I thought that was pretty classy. But I would have felt better had she said I was cute.

Older New Hampshire memories: Richardson isn’t the only New Mexican who ran for president but made a disappointing showing in New Hampshire. However, when former U.S. Sen. Fred Harris ran in 1976, he was an Oklahoman.

On Tuesday, Harris didn’t want to say whether or when he thought Richardson should throw in the towel if he came up short in the Granite State. Harris, a Richardson campaign contributor, is a former New Mexico Democratic Party chairman.

“Every campaign, every candidate is different,” Harris said.

In his presidential campaign, Harris said, he came in third in Iowa and was expected to do well in New Hampshire. But that year, there was a presidential caucus in Oklahoma — the state he’d represented in the U.S. Senate — between Iowa and New Hampshire. “The governor of Oklahoma was strongly backing Jimmy Carter, so I had to put all my resources there instead of New Hampshire,” Harris said.

Harris came in fourth in the New Hampshire primary. Raising money became next to impossible, and news coverage of his campaign quickly dried up, Harris recalled. “It became clear to me and my closest people that it was out of the question that I could win,” Harris said. “I knew in my own mind it was over.”

Still, his campaign went on.

“I couldn’t pull out,” he said. “The Service Employee International Union, which had endorsed me, wanted me to stay on at least until the Wisconsin primary. And I was waiting for my (Federal Election Commission) matching funds, which had been held up in the courts.” The federal funds were necessary to repay campaign debts — including a mortgage on his house.

When he lost New Hampshire, Harris, unlike Richardson — who acted as if his 5 percent showing was a victory — acknowledged he’d been beaten. In one of the funniest concession speeches ever, Harris said he lost because the “little people” he’d been fighting for in his campaign “couldn’t reach the voting levers.”

Harris moved to New Mexico not long after that race.


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