Thursday, March 30, 2006

Bayh To New Hampshire: I'm Here For You

Bayh To New Hampshire: I'm Here For You
For Howey Political Report March 23, 2006

For more than half a century, the political geography of New Hampshire has defined many key battles in the war of ideas that is America's presidential elections. A who's who of winners and losers have toured time and again through just about every settlement the Granite State has to offer, and many a promising political career has begun and ended in towns with names like Chittenden, Wolfeboro or Stowe.

"Live Free or Die" is the state motto, and voters, said to be welcoming and open-minded, take pride in asking the hard questions. It is the site of America's first presidential primary, preceded only by the Iowa caucuses, and candidates arrive either desperate to bolster a disappointing campaign or determined to improve success. In the final days before an election it's survival of the fittest as elbows fly among erstwhile colleagues jockeying for endorsements and publicity.

"Here is democracy at its best, for it takes more than a big bankroll or name recognition to impress us," explained the late Nackey Loeb, who published two conservative newspapers.

Commission Favors Changes

But 2008 may be different. A Democratic Party commission formed after the 2004 election favors inserting one or two contests between Iowa and New Hampshire. The commission recommended that the Democratic National Committee determine which states should be selected based on "racial and ethnic diversity; geographic diversity; and economic diversity including union density."

Reportedly, the New Hampshire representative on the panel cast the lone vote in opposition. The DNC will meet in New Orleans next month to discuss the issue, although nothing final is expected before this fall.

In 1976, Evan Bayh interrupted his sophomore year at Indiana University to campaign in New Hampshire for six weeks during his father's race for the White House, and he recalled those days in a speech Sunday at a political fundraiser for State Rep. Betsi DeVries of Manchester, N.H.

"I traveled all over New Hampshire," the Hoosier senator said, according to a transcript provided by spokeswoman Meghan Keck. It was in the state's "living rooms, and coffee shops, in union halls and small businesses, " he said, where he "fell in love with the political process."

Sen. Bayh reminded listeners of a commitment he made during a previous visit with Gov. John Lynch.

"My strong impression is that the people of New Hampshire have X-Ray vision, you can spot a phony a mile off," Bayh said, and he promised "to do everything I can" to "retain your position."

Judging by media accounts, state democrats took a shine to the offer. Yesterday, Gov. Lynch offered a speech advocating the state's cause and made special mention of Bayh's support.

"Here in New Hampshire, I think voters will be watching carefully to see which candidates stand with New Hampshire to protect its traditional role," he said, according to remarks published in the Manchester Union Leader. "That's why I was so pleased to read Sen. Evan Bayh's comments earlier this week. It is clear he is a true friend to the New Hampshire primary."

In a separate article, the newspaper noted that Bayh's remarks separate him from potential Democratic Presidential candidates Gov. Bill Richardson of New Mexico and U.S. Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts, who have said they are fine with adding a caucus between Iowa and New Hampshire's contest.

A Full Plate

Sen. Bayh visited New Hampshire intending to accomplish more than raising money for local candidates and winning friends at the four publicized events he attended. He also hoped to convince voters he possesses the style and substance that can lead democrats to victory in the 2008 elections. Several newspapers posted favorable reports online.

He told a group of young democrats "The destiny of your generation is at stake," the Foster's Daily Democrat reported (free subscription required). The Portsmouth Herald quoted a former mayor of Port City: "It’s obvious he’s very experienced as a speaker," Robert Shaines said. "He’s very charismatic." An 800-word Associated Press article published in the Boston Globe included details on the substance of Bayh's speeches and noted he reiterated a position reported by HPR in December 2004: Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld should either resign or be fired.

Monday, the senator is slated to appear in Washington at the Legislative Conference of the Building and Construction Trades Dept. of the AFL-CIO. On April 8, he heads to Detroit for the Michigan Democratic Party's Jefferson-Jackson Dinner.

As Sen. Bayh joins the war of ideas in the emerging political landscape, he faces several difficult obstacles, not the least of which is New York's Sen. Hillary Clinton, who in the role of front-runner has already laid claim to vital monetary resources. The 2008 Democratic field numbers at least 10 contenders and so Bayh must seek to differentiate and elaborate his message to establish a singular persona of leadership, reassure Democratic voters conflicted by the war with Iraq, and persuade disaffected Republican voters on issues of security and economy.

Now, more than two years before the election, he has chosen New Hampshire as one his battlegrounds. Hoosiers wondering how Bayh will fare in the months ahead might have enjoyed hearing the following conversation during a meet and greet event at a private residence on Sunday, as reported in the March 27 Portsmouth Herald:

"We’re part of a filtering system to weed out bad candidates," said Peter Somssich of the Portsmouth Democrats.

"I hope I don’t get weeded," Bayh responded. "Pruned a little, but not weeded."


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