ACTIVE DUTY: Clinton and Obama have to break away from rock-star politics and find time to meet with party activists in small groups
DURHAM, NH, February 12, 2007 — Hillary narrowly won the opening round of New Hampshire presidential campaigning this week. Senators Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama — political rock stars both — gave strong performances at large rallies where supporters had to be turned away from overcrowded gyms and at small gatherings in local living rooms. But it was Clinton who made the most headway among behind-the-scenes party activists — where it matters most.
It may be 11 months before the New Hampshire primary (and nearly two years before the national presidential election), but these are critical days for the swarm of candidates vying for the contributions, assistance, and endorsements of Granite State activists. What happens now will likely determine who has the resources and manpower to compete when the real campaigning begins this fall, and who ultimately prevails next January.
And so the heat is on. Clinton packed high-school gyms in Concord and Keene over the weekend, and Obama’s “town meeting” at the University of New Hampshire in Durham resembled the kind of rally candidates typically hold in the last days before the primary, not a year beforehand. Such extraordinary interest, truly unusual at this early stage of a presidential election cycle, is the kind of problem any candidate would love to have.
But it is still a problem: the people who traditionally matter most in New Hampshire primary politics — the influencers — don’t want to see candidates in a high-school gym or even at a 125-person house party. The New Hampshire influencers are the state’s current and former officeholders, labor leaders, special-interest lobbyists, and big-money donors, who help shape other people’s views about the candidates. They are people like Manchester’s popular former mayor Bob Baines and David Lang of the Professional Fire Fighters of New Hampshire. Some, like Terry Shumaker of the National Educators Association, can move mountains for (or against) a candidate. And some have credibility won through long-time involvement with key issues, such as the environment or reproductive choice.
But they all want face-to-face time — which is not going to be easy to get from the two superstar candidates, who are surrounded by a media-and-groupie circus everywhere they go.
“It’s harder to get to them, harder to have that personal conversation,” says Catherine Corkery, lobbyist for the New Hampshire Sierra Club.
Both Clinton and Obama tried to juggle the dual tasks of stoking the public’s enthusiasm and stroking the influencers’ egos, in their quick trips through the state. Clinton attended three moderate-size house parties, and held a sit-down event with roughly 100 legislators and labor leaders Sunday morning. Obama had one very large house party, and also met with some legislative leaders and policymakers in Concord.