Likewise, Elliot Laskey says that he and his wife, State Representative Betty Laskey, hosted the Obama house party because Jim Demers asked them to do so. Demers, one of the most politically connected Democrats in the state, is helping launch the Obama effort in New Hampshire. But he’s also been working his day job as a lobbyist at the Demers Group. Meanwhile, Obama has been rushing to staff up in the state, hiring Matt Rodriguez, Jason Powell, Katina Tsongas, and Anthony Low. But none of them play at Karen Hicks’s level, and it’s clear that, at least early on, things are falling through the cracks.
“[Obama] hasn’t had four years or ten years to prepare for this,” says Alan Solomont, John Kerry’s 2004 finance chair who has signed on to support Obama. “His campaign is very much a work in progress.”
Rest assured that other candidates, with less star power, are hoping to fill those cracks. Bill Richardson and Chris Dodd, for instance, will both meet with slates of key influencers in their trips to New Hampshire this week.
“Absolutely, it’s harder for Clinton and Obama,” says International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers’s Joe Casey. “They would love to be able to do the one-on-ones with labor leaders, but they just can’t. So Richardson will come in, and in person you really get a chance to get to know them, and take a liking to them.”
“[Tom] Vilsack, Richardson, and [Joe] Biden have all been doing home parties,” says Norelli. Chris Dodd also maintains close contact with key people throughout the state. “If these more-popular candidates aren’t careful, they could find themselves far behind” in impressing key policymakers and elected officials, Norelli says.
At which point, it might be too late to woo them. “We don’t really want to be window dressing on a campaign,” says Mackenzie, who notes that Richardson, Dodd, Biden, and Vilsack have all visited the AFL-CIO state office. “We don’t just want to be standing on stage behind someone.”
“In 2004, Dean was the rock star and nobody could get close to him,” says Casey. Dick Gephardt, John Kerry, and John Edwards met with him and other labor leaders in the state one-on-one early on in that campaign, Casey says, helping set the stage for endorsements, get-out-the-vote efforts, and word-of-mouth support that at the end wasn’t there for Dean. More than one New Hampshire influencer warns of a similar problem for Obama or Clinton if they leave the “important” people out in the cold.
Cutting through the rhetoric
ACTIVE DUTY: Based on one week of campaigning in New Hampshire, Hillary seems better prepared for dealing with smaller groups than Obama
Both Clinton and Obama looked great, spoke well, and came across as warm, gracious, and smart, as well as extremely well-versed on issues. They impressed Ann Larney, communications director for Planned Parenthood’s New Hampshire office, who attended house parties for both candidates and asked how they will work to maintain reproductive freedom. “They both were supportive of the issues,” Larney says.
But even in those small venues, both Clinton and Obama suffer from Senator’s Rhetoric disease (typically fatal; see Kerry, John F.), which compels them to talk about commissions, bill co-sponsorships, and the 60 votes needed to compel a floor vote, when they should be making simple, declarative statements beginning with, “As president, I will . . .”