Thursday, June 08, 2006

Bayh looks to connect with New Hampshire democrats

Bayh looks to connect with New Hampshire democrats

For Howey Political Report June 8, 2006

It's going to be a cold and wet weekend in New Hampshire but indications are Sen. Evan Bayh can expect a warm welcome Friday and Saturday as he attends six events in five cities.

Sen. Bayh is making his second visit in less than three months to gauge and foster support for an increasingly likely run for the White House. Of course, he is not the only presidential aspirant traversing the Granite State these days. Colin Manning, statehouse reporter for the Foster's Daily Democrat in Dover told HPR at least four other democrats will tour New Hampshire in the coming days, while Salon reports that two others were well-received last weekend.

Friday, Indiana's former governor lunches downstate with local elected officials in Manchester before attending a Democratic dinner 100 miles upstate in Bartlett. The next day Bayh starts out with a late morning reception a dozen miles from the seacoast in Rollinsford and then heads west for a lunchtime event in Concord. His journey ends in the city of Keene, population 23,000, which serves as the seat of government for Cheshire County located in the state's southwest corner.

Keene is a great place for the second-term senator to make a name for himself, according to Manning, who has been covering the statehouse for three years.

Democratic stronghold

"Cheshire County is probably the one county in the state where there are more registered democrats than republicans," he said.

Bayh will appear at two events in Keene to launch the state senate campaign of Hoosier-born Molly Kelly, described by Manning as "an up and comer" with the potential to regain a seat held by GOP Sen. Thomas R. Eaton through four terms.

"A lot of democrats think they can win that one back," Manning said.

"It's just so wonderful that Sen. Bayh is coming out here," Kelly told HPR. She left home in Fort Wayne at age 21 more than two dozen years ago and ended up marrying and raising a family in New Hampshire.

"All my life I've been in politics," she said. Her parents were very involved in civil rights and the Vietnam war movement. "I always had the opportunity to meet wonderful, wonderful thinkers and people who cared about the community. People like Birch Bayh."

Area democrats know who Evan Bayh is, Kelly said, noting he "is a very big draw."

A real kickoff

"This is a real kickoff for me," she said, indicating Bayh's appearance will help her with name recognition and "to get the excitement going," especially for an evening fundraiser expected to draw about 75 supporters. Many will take advantage of the opportunity to size up Sen. Bayh.

"This would not happen if not for the senator coming here," she said, noting later in the interview, "You can send a check or you can come to a reception with Sen. Bayh, so that's great."

Bayh is "definitely generating some news" and is "pretty well received here," said Manning. When asked for his impression of the candidate, the reporter recalled hearing Bayh address the New Hampshire delegation at the 2004 Democratic National Convention. "He seemed like a pretty well-polished guy. Other than that I don't remember too much about him. Well-polished, well-spoken, articulate."

Manning was most interested in the reception for state Sen. Iris Estabrook in Rollinsford, which falls into the Daily Democrat's coverage area.

"I know [Sen. Estabrook] is very excited about that fundraiser," the reporter said.

Quid pro quo

'"It's a quid pro quo kind of thing," Manning said. "[Bayh] gets to come into the state and stump for the democrats at the same time he's trying to raise his name ID for a possible presidential election.

"At the same time he is a national figure, he is known in the state and can attract some democrats and some money for Sen. Estabrook in a district that is very friendly to democrats. And that's a good place for him to make a lot of inroads, too, on the seacoast of New Hampshire, which is highly Democratic and went huge for John Kerry and with Gov. [John] Lynch (D) in the last election."

This sort of travel is hard work, and no other 2008 contender works harder at it than Sen. Evan Bayh. Last weekend he conducted a top-to-bottom tour of Indiana to promote energy legislation. The weekend before that he was navigating Iowa in much the same way he will crisscross New Hampshire. And the weekend before that he was in Indiana to address the state Democratic Jefferson-Jackson Dinner.

Pundits of all stripes are taking note. Chris Cillizza of the Washington Post's blog The Fix wrote in the June 2nd entry, "We've long maintained that Indiana Sen. Bayh will surprise some people in '08. He and his campaign team continue to make smart - and often overlooked - moves that should pay dividends down the line." That same day, MSNBC's Tom Curry said on on "Hardball with Chris Matthews" that he "found a lot of interest in Evan Bayh" during a trip to Iowa. The Washington Times of May 30 reported that Bayh was among the three potential Democractic presidential candidates who "most worry" former Republican House Speaker Newt Gringrich.

Worries Gringrich

"Either [former Virginia] Gov. Mark Warner or [Indiana] Sen. Evan Bayh have a lot to offer the Democratic Party because they're more moderate," Gringrich told the Times, although he predicted that either would have a very tough time beating New York Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton for the nomination.

According to Walter Shapiro of Salon, Warner was accorded "rock-star status" at the New Hampshire Democratic convention last weekend, and Sen. Russ Feingold (D-WI) "earned" a half-dozen standing ovations during a "fiery" breakfast speech.

Former Sen. Tom Daschle (D-SD) is touring the state today, Manning, the statehouse reporter, told HPR. On Wednesday, Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack visits, followed next weekend by Sen. Joe Biden (D-DE).

"Bill Clinton is coming to the state on June 27th to do a fundraiser with the governor's wife on childhood obesity," Manning said. "You have to think he's laying the groundwork for Sen. Clinton's run at the presidency."

Will he connect?

No matter how the Democratic candidate selection schedule shakes out for 2008, it appears a strong showing in the New Hampshire primaries or Iowa caucuses will be critical if Sen. Bayh is to become widely accepted as one who can win the White House. One big question - will his views connect with voters in these two states?

HPR asked Molly Kelly what issues are important to her campaign.

"I really feel like the state and probably the nation - we know the nation as well - right now is very polarized and negative," she said. "We need leadership in the [state] Senate that can work across party lines, bring people together, communicate and work together and really find solutions and results. That's what I'm good at and that's what I intend to do."

When this writer pointed out that Sen. Bayh often makes a similar statement during campaign speeches, Kelly replied:

"I know and that's great and he is very successful."


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