Thursday, December 14, 2006

Prominent New Hampshire Democrat says Bayh 'has lots of friends here'

Prominent New Hampshire Democrat
says Bayh 'has lots of friends here'

For Howey Political Report Dec. 14, 2006

Can "Bayh Partisanship" compete with "Obama Mania" in the contest to win a spot on the 2008 Democratic presidential ticket? One prominent New Hampshire Democrat says it's way too early to know.

More than 150 voters from all corners of the Granite State packed the conference center at the Puritan Backroom in Manchester last Saturday evening to hear Indiana's Sen. Evan Bayh explain why he thinks he should be the next president of the United States. The next day Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois drew ten times that amount at the Manchester Radisson for a rally to celebrate the state's Democratic sweep in the November midterms, an historic victory Bayh helped to create.

Bayh supporters need not despair quite yet, though they may be rightfully worried about the prospects of facing Obama on the hustings. For starters, neither Democrat has officially committed to a run, though it seems highly likely the junior senator from Indiana will commit sometime early next year. Obama, on the other hand, has been much more coy about revealing his intentions. Earlier this week the former editor of the Harvard Law Review appeared in a clip aired during the opening of Monday Night Football that suggested he was about to announce his candidacy, but finished by proclaiming his support for the Chicago Bears instead. Yesterday, James Pindell of the Boston Globe reported that a group encouraging the Illinois senator to run for president announced it will begin airing television ads in New Hampshire and Washington next week.

Second, the New Hampshire primary is more than a year away. Anything could happen. In the 1972 cycle, early Democratic favorite Edmund Muskie suffered two setbacks that proved fatal to his campaign. Publication of a document later determined to be a forgery, known as the "Canuck Letter," cost Muskie support among French-Canadians, but more damaging were reports that the candidate cried during a speech defending his wife in a snow storm outside the offices of the Manchester Union Leader. "Though Muskie later stated that what had appeared to the press as tears were actually melted snowflakes, the press reports that Muskie broke down and cried were to shatter the candidate's image as calm and reasoned," a Wikipedia article states. Or, consider the case of Republican George Romney, the front-runner in 1968 until he used the term "brainwashing" to describe attempts by U.S. generals in Vietnam to influence Romney's understanding of the war. According to Wikipedia, "Republican Congressman Robert Stafford of Vermont sounded a common concern: 'If you're running for the presidency,' he asserted, 'you are supposed to have too much on the ball to be brainwashed.'"

Finally, Bayh supporters should find most comfort in the perception that he is actually well ahead in the game in New Hampshire, having toured the state a total of 13 days over seven visits during the current election cycle. Obama is just getting started. Sunday's visit was his first.

"That's going to be the challenge for both of those campaigns, whether or not Sen. Obama can keep the momentum going and whether or not Sen. Bayh can reach out and create a message that attracts enough support for him to be successful as well," said Ray Buckley, vice chair for the New Hampshire Democratic Party. "Each one of them has amazing advisors and I'm sure they are going to try like the dickens to accomplish both of those feats."

Buckley, vice chair in the past two election cycles, is schooled in New Hampshire and national politics. He served in the state legislature for eight years and is a former House Democratic Whip. He was involved in the Al Gore campaign during the 2000 election and the Lieberman campaign in 2004. The Manchester native told HPR that Bayh "has a lot of friends here in New Hampshire.

"He's been coming up here helping out candidates and local parties for a number of years," Buckley said during a telephone interview conducted yesterday. "He has a lot of strong relationships with people that go back to the days 30 years ago when his dad ran for president. He also was very involved in assisting us in this year's election. He was very engaged, very involved in assisting the election of the house majority and the senate majority, but he also provided support for county candidates and for the governor and for the state party as well. Of all the candidates, he really was the most engaged in really assisting candidates directly."

There's no place quite like New Hampshire when it comes to presidential politics. The state has hosted the nation's first primary since 1952. In recent years it has become integral to electoral success. As Buckley pointed out, no candidate who has placed third or below in New Hampshire has gone on to become the nominee of either party. Granite State voters believe they have a responsibility to personally and thoroughly vet any man or woman who would be president. To that end they expect to be provided opportunity to meet with and question prospects.

"In so many other places people get very starry eyed when they meet somebody running for president and they're just excited having shook their hand or even being in the same room, where we in New Hampshire aren't overly impressed by the fact that you're running for president," Buckley said.

When HPR pointed out that New Hampshire voters were undeniably excited to see Sen. Obama this past weekend, Buckley said "It is very exciting and he obviously has generated a lot of support, but there's a long time between now and the primary.

"What [Obama] needs to do now is to actually go into people's living rooms and go from coffee shop to coffee shop, and diner to diner, to really talk to real New Hampshire people and get to know them, and have conversations with people that might not be overly impressed, people that he's going to need to win over."

Which is exactly what Evan Bayh has been doing since 2004, and that may explain how he managed to pack a room Saturday night at the Puritan.

"All sorts of different people from across the state came by to see [Bayh], including the state chair and a number of state senators, house members and a number of county chairs were there as well," Buckley said. "It was a good mixture. There was some young people, some students, in the room. He did a great job talking about his message."


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