A day on the campaign trail: even in the Internet age, you can't run for president without meeting voters face-to-face. Upfront spends a day with Republican candidate Jon Huntsman in New Hampshire.
It's the day before Halloween, and New Hampshire has gotten smacked by an early snowstorm: As much as 20 inches of heavy, wet snow has fallen in parts of the state, knocking down trees still full of leaves, toppling power lines, and leaving almost half the state without electricity.
But snow or no snow, New Hampshire's first-in-the-nation primary is just two-and-a-half months away. Presidential candidate Jon Huntsman is getting ready to spend a full day pressing the flesh. About 25 people--plus almost as many campaign staffers and reporters--are waiting in an old mill-turned-art-gallery when he arrives at 12:45 p.m. in Laconia for a talk with voters.
He takes the microphone and gets right to the point: "I need your support, I need your help, I need your vote."
Huntsman launches into his standard stump speech, touching on the nation's economic woes, how its foreign policy is adrift, and how his leadership will get things back on track. He talks for about 15 minutes and then spends the next 45 minutes taking questions.
The questions run the gamut: Would you be willing to reduce foreign aid to Israel? ("I'd be willing to review our aid policy around the world; we just can't afford to do it the same way anymore.") What about the health-care crisis? (Repeal "Obamacare" and let states innovate.) What about the gridlock in Washington? ("The solution is called leadership.") Your stand on illegal immigration? (Secure the borders first and then deal with those here illegally.)
15 Handshakes Per Voter
This kind of direct access to candidates is a big part of how New Hampshire voters decide who to support, and it can be tricky: Candidates have no control over what people ask, and their questions can force them to take stands on issues they'd rather not draw attention to.
Huntsman, a 51-year-old former governor of Utah and more recently President Obama's ambassador to China, is one of 10 candidates vying to become the Republican nominee for president in the 2012 election. (President Obama is not being challenged for the Democratic nomination.)
Despite all the bells and whistles of politics in 2011--from bloggers, TWitter, and YouTube to 24-hour news channels--you still can't run for president without campaigning the old-fashioned way: shaking hands, answering questions, and meeting voters face-to-face. In late October, Upfront spent a day with Huntsman on the campaign trail in New Hampshire.
The January 10 New Hampshire primary--coming the week after the Iowa caucuses--is important for all the candidates, but it's critical for Huntsman, who is trailing far behind front-runners Mitt Romney, Newt Gingrich, and Herman Cain in national polls.
Huntsman has bet everything on his performance here, even moving his campaign headquarters to Manchester, the state's biggest city. He's thrown himself into the state's tradition of meeting individual voters and impressing them one at a time. It's often said in New Hampshire that primary voters expect to shake each candidate's hand 15 times before making up their minds.
"I think we're on about handshake 10," Huntsman says optimistically.
A strong finish in New Hampshire could reinvigorate Huntsman's candidacy. If he does poorly, he's probably out of the race.
"A good performance in New Hampshire can change a campaign overnight," says Dante Scala, a political scientist at the University of New Hampshire. "A bad or disappointing showing can evaporate a campaign overnight."
Not everyone likes the fact that New Hampshire and Iowa--both very small states that are much less diverse than the rest of the nation--wield so much influence in the presidential nominating process. But both states have fiercely defended their roles.
Too Much Influence?
Which is why in the months leading up to its primary, New Hampshire is crawling with presidential candidates who crisscross the small state, meeting voters one-on-one, and participating in debates and forums. The week that Upfront followed Huntsman around, four other candidates held at least eight other events in the state.
Back in Laconia, Huntsman wraps up the Q&A session. People mill about, eager to shake his hand and chat. Some take photos. Huntsman's staff are eyeing the clock and trying to ease him toward the door.
At 1:50, Huntsman heads out. With a couple of staffers and a few reporters in tow, he walks across the street to an antiques store for an impromptu meet-and-greet. Within minutes, he's talking energy independence with the man behind the counter.
"You got a big job ahead of you," the man says, shaking Huntsman's hand as the candidate heads for the door and his black Chevy Suburban.
The next event is another "town hall meeting" at a community center about 50 miles away, in Dover, at 3. When Huntsman arrives, a man who lives across the street is waiting with his pet goat; he says he takes the goat to meet all the candidates who come to town. The goat nibbles at Huntsman's knee.
"There goes my one pair of pants," the candidate jokes before heading inside, where about 30 people are gathered.
The routine is the same: He launches into his stump speech, which covers his experience (former governor, ambassador to China, business executive), his understanding of the country's problems (unemployment, off-course foreign policy, dysfunction in Washington) and his pitch for addressing them (better leadership, simplify the tax code, refocus foreign policy so it better serves America's economic needs).
Then people ask questions. What about the rise of China? ("Central to the 21st century will be a focus on the Asia-Pacific area.") Do you favor legalizing drugs? ("I don't think our country is ready for it, and neither am I.") How come the media isn't paying more attention to you? (Ask them.)
"This kind of interaction really is a democratic ideal, and you really can't do that in most places anymore," says Dean Spiliotes, a political science professor at Southern New Hampshire University.
Fielding direct questions from individual voters is an example of "retail politics"--selling yourself to the public, one voter at a time. In practical terms, it means candidates visit diners and senior centers and churches. They knock on doors and chat with folks they meet on the street. It's both a local phenomenon--New Hampshire voters demand it--and also an important part of the national election process.
"The flip side of retail politics is that it's done for national consumption," explains Spiliotes. "Meaning a candidate goes and has coffee at a luncheonette knowing full well that a picture of him doing that may turn up nationwide in the news."
Once the New Hampshire primary is over and focus shifts to contests in larger states like Florida and South Carolina, the campaigns change gears: It's not practical to meet voters one-on-one, so candidates focus on TV appearances and commercials to get their message out.
At 4:40, Huntsman's S.U.V. is pulling away from the community center in Dover, this time trailed by a line of cars following him. Word among the reporters is that the campaign is planning to stop at a nearby tavern and catch a few minutes of the New England Patriots game while meeting voters; no one wants to miss that.
A little before 5, Huntsman and his entourage arrive at the Stone Church Meeting House, a tavern and performance space in Newmarket. But the plan to watch the football game has hit a snag: The snowstorm has knocked out the bar's cable TV.
After talking with some young people about the football game they're missing, Huntsman approaches some folks having burgers at the bar and introduces himself. A woman asks Huntsman if he was the guy playing the keyboard in the town's bandstand back in the summer. Yes, that was him.
"I hope by putting in a good performance, I made a good impression," Huntsman says as he heads for the door. After he goes, the woman says this little chat with Huntsman has made her much more likely to take a good look at his ideas and not just his poll numbers.
The last event of the day is another meeting with voters, this time at a conference center in Hampton, about 12 miles away. A day of campaigning is always full of surprises--like getting nibbled by a goat--and at the end of a long day, a chance encounter provides an unexpected showcase for Huntsman's talents.
Chatting in Chinese
After yet another version of the stump speech and another lengthy Q&A session, Huntsman is mingling and shaking hands when a woman approaches him and starts speaking in Chinese.
Without missing a beat, Huntsman replies--in fluent Mandarin, which he learned during his two years in China. With a group of awed voters and reporters looking on and cameras clicking, they chat for several minutes.
Afterward, the woman, a Chinese-cooking teacher who lives in nearby North Hampton, says she was talking with him about Chinese food.
It's almost 8 p.m. by the time most of the audience has left. The campaign staff seems eager to wrap up the day. Huntsman will need to slog through many more days like this one if he's going to win over enough New Hampshire voters to save his run for president.
12:45 Speech and Q+A with voters in Laconia; about 25 people show up.
1:50 Quick detour to a Laconia antiques store; Huntsman talks to an employee about energy policy.
3:15 Speech and Q+A with voters in Dover; about 30 people show up.
5:00 Brief stop at a tavern in Newmarket to talk with voters.
7:00 Speech and Q+A with voters at a conference center in Hampton; about 30 people show up.
LESSON PLAN 1
In this article, Upfront spends a day on the campaign trait in New Hampshire with Republican presidential hopeful. Jon Huntsman.
* Why are the presidential candidates so focused on the New Hampshire primary?
* Why is Huntsman especially concerned about his performance in that primary?
* How does campaigning in New Hampshire compare with campaigning in other states? Why?
* Besides the order of primaries, what factors do you think candidates think about when planning a campaign strategy?
A presidential candidate you support (real or fictional) is planning a stop in your town or city. Write a campaign speech that you think would address key issues and help him or her win over voters.
Support or refute: The opportunity to hold the first primaries/caucuses of the presidential election season should rotate among the states.
Do you think meeting a candidate in person would make you more likely to vote for that candidate? Explain,
If you had the chance to attend a presidential candidate's "meet and greet" event, what questions would you ask? Why?
Other than public appearances, what campaign tools do candidates use to reach voters? What are the advantages and disadvantages of each?
What qualities do you think a presidential. candidate needs to campaign successfully? Are these the same qualities a strong president must have? Explain.
None of the Last three presidents--Barack Obama, George W. Bush, and Bill Clinton--won the New Hampshire primary.
(1) In Late October, candidate Jon Huntsman was
a one of two Republican front-runners.
b trailing significantly in the polls.
c expected to win most primaries in the Northeast.
d still working to get his name on the primary ballot in New Hampshire.
(2) Huntsman set up his campaign headquarters in Manchester, New Hampshire, because
a his support is strongest in New Hampshire and other northeastern states.
b it has a large percentage of Republican voters.
c he probably needs a win in New Hampshire to continue his campaign.
d he's a former governor of New Hampshire.
(2) The expression "retail politics" refers to a candidates selling themselves to voters, one at a time.
b candidates buying votes through bribery.
c candidates renting office space in malls and other highly visible locations.
d candidates focusing attention on the economy.
(3) According to the article, critics of the current primary system argue that Hew Hampshire and Iowa
a should have open primaries so voters can participate in either party's election.
b should hold their votes on the same day.
c need to provide more opportunities for presidential candidates to address voters.
d wield too much influence in elections given their small size and tack of diversity.
(4) Once the New Hampshire primary is over, most candidates will probably
a do less face-to-face campaigning and focus on TV appearances and commercials.
b turn their attention to the Iowa caucus.
c drop out of the race for the nomination, leaving only one candidate.
d move their headquarters to Florida or Texas.
(1) [b] trailing significantly in the polls.
(2) [c] he probably needs a win in New Hampshire to continue his campaign.
(3) [a] candidates selling themselves to voters, one at a time.
(4) [d] wield too much influence in elections given their small size and tack of diversity.
(5) [a] do less face-to-face campaigning and focus on TV and commercials. appearances
(1) From a candidate's perspective, what are the pros and cons of going to meet voters in small groups?
(2) Based on the article, what issues do you think are most important to Huntsman in this election? Do you agree or disagree with his views?
(3) What attributes do you look for in a presidential candidate? Explain.
BY PATRICIA SMITH IN NEW HAMPSHIRE
PHOTOGRAPHY BY DANA SMITH/AURORA SELECT
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|Publication:||New York Times Upfront|
|Date:||Dec 12, 2011|
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