Now that all of the media and candidates are pulling out of New Hampshire and heading for warmer climates, I wonder how this year’s primary stacked up to the last one. My first impression is that 2012 was not nearly as crazy as the last primary. Although a great deal of the media was present, I saw hardly any of the foreign media that I encountered last time around. In fact, even the crowds seemed to be much more subdued this year. Why?
Perhaps it’s because we have a President seeking re-election? Perhaps it’s because none of the Republican candidates inspire that much enthusiasm? Are the citizens of New Hampshire just sick of the whole political machine marching through their state? I’m not sure, but if I had to pick one, I would say it’s the lack of charisma on the part of the Republican candidates. Not one of them, including Ron Paul who does seem to be the most charismatic, can compete with the charisma and intellectual power of Obama. This does not mean that Obama will have an easy time of it come the fall. I do think Obama will win re-election, but the trail back to the White House will be bloody and littered with bodies.
The one thing that struck me the most was how young and enthusiastic the supporters of Ron Paul are. They came out in waves to support him and he tripled his numbers from the last primary here. Paul has become something of a gadfly for Republicans in a way that candidates like Ross Perot could not. Ron Paul is not the cartoonish, somewhat illiterate joke that Perot was. Paul is a much better speaker, even if his ideas are more than somewhat insane, and seems to carry himself well. Certainly despite his second place finish here last night, he succeed in staying alive. The true test for Paul will be in a state like South Carolina that is full traditional Republicans who are fiercely evangelical.
The biggest disappointment would have to fall to John Huntsman. Huntsman spent six whole months campaigning in New Hampshire, he spoke a few years ago at SNHU’s graduation, and he seems to be well liked. So what went wrong? Three things: he’s very smart, he worked for the Obama Administration as Ambassador to China, and he’s rather boring. The sense I get is that New Hampshire citizens could care less about how intelligent a person is, as long as that person can somehow make a connection with them. In this case, New Hampshire is a microcosm for the rest of the country. In many ways Obama is resented for his intellectual demeanor, to the point that more than a few think of him as “elitist.” This is hardly surprising since most the United States has a long history of anti-intellectual sentiment.
By now it looks as though Mitt Romney will be the Republican candidate. The problem is that from the Conservatives I’ve spoken with, Romney is not charismatic, nor is he believed by some true red-blooded Conservatives to be identifiable with them. Quite simply, Romney is the best the Republican Party has at the moment, and that’s not saying a lot for the GOP. Romney has all the charisma of a cardboard cutout and the brains of someone who has succeeded in “firing” people. He, like Huntsman, has always been rich, so there is no way he can identify with the middle class. The problem with the middle class is resentment. They resent the poor for keeping their taxes high with the funding of social programs, and the resent the rich because they want to be like them and they (the rich) have what they (the middle class) want. Candidates like Ron Paul are able to tap into that resentment and make it a campaign issue without seeming to insult those he’s trying to win votes from.
With all of the politics aside, the New Hampshire Primary is a wonderful event for our state. Not only does it bring in revenue, it gives us the chance to really participate in the democratic process the way that most other states cannot. Yesterday I pulled my son, who is in second grade, out of school so we could walk around and check out the events going on in Manchester. (This is considered an “unexcused” absence, by the way.) We walked through the Radisson Hotel, otherwise known as “Media Central.” He was amazed by all of the cameras and mobile television studios. We stopped by the AP room and he was snapping pictures of all the reporters filing reports or writing their blogs on rows upon rows of laptop computers. Outside, we stopped to watch Scott Pelley and Bob Schieffer report from the CBS News tent. Next we stopped by the Occupy the New Hampshire Primary Camp and talked with some people. Although my son stood quietly by, he was paying attention. As we continued up Elm Street, his gloved hand in mine, he asked if we could come back tomorrow.
It was one hell of a field trip.