New Hamp­shire pol­i­tics still re­quires a per­sonal touch

The Washington Times Weekly - - Politics - BY SETH MCLAUGH­LIN

NORTH CONWAY, N.H. | For more than an hour on June 11, for­mer Min­nesota Gov. Tim Paw­lenty stood in a liv­ing room here and played the part that ev­ery pres­i­den­tial hopeful has to play to win the New Hamp­shire pri­mary: po­lit­i­cal sales­man.

Mr. Paw­lenty spent the first 15 min­utes trot­ting out his vi­sion. His re­hearsed sales pitch spliced to­gether snip­pets of his bi­og­ra­phy, his record as gov­er­nor, his views on what he con­sid­ers the most press­ing is­sues of the day and the short­com­ings of the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion.

Then he got pep­pered with ques­tions: Did you hold elected of­fice in high school? Do you sup­port the Pa­triot Act? Will you be tough on drugs? What will you do about the loss of man­u­fac­tur­ing jobs to China?

The party at Ray­mond and Mary Ann Shakir’s sprawl­ing home here, com­plete with a deer head mounted above a fire­place, a wooden bar dec­o­rated with a “Drill Baby Drill! sticker and a pic­ture win­dow over­look­ing the pris­tine tree-cov­ered hills, is a snapshot of the re­tail pol­i­tics that are a sta­ple of the New Hamp­shire pri­mary sea­son.

“If you can’t fig­ure out the re­tail side of pol­i­tics in New Hamp­shire, you don’t be­long here,” said Steve Talarico, a 56year-old who hosted for­mer Utah Gov. Jon Hunts­man Jr., who has yet to jump into the race, at his Har­ley-David­son deal­er­ship in Manch­ester. “Peo­ple need to be touched. They need to be talked to. They need to look you in the eye and see who you are.”

More sales pitches were made June 13 when Mr. Paw­lenty and most of the other Repub­li­cans seek­ing or toy­ing with a White House bid faced off in New Hamp­shire’s first de­bate of the pri­mary cam­paign sea­son at St. Anselm Col­lege in Manch­ester. The town-hall-style de­bate was spon­sored by the New Hamp­shire Union Leader, CNN and WMUR.

“It’s an un­of­fi­cial start to a cam­paign that started a few months ago” said Steve Duprey, a Repub­li­can Na­tional Com­mit­tee mem­ber from New Hamp­shire.

With no clear front-run­ner in the Repub­li­can field, the de­bate pro­vided a plat­form for all of the can­di­dates to in­tro­duce, in some cases rein­tro­duce, them­selves to vot­ers and to be­gin to lay out the rea­sons why they are a cut above the rest of the pack. It also fo­cused the nation’s at­ten­tion on the Gran­ite State, which hosts 2012’s first pres­i­den­tial pri­mary.

But many grass-roots Repub­li­cans leave the im­pres­sion that the elec­tion ul­ti­mately will be won in liv­ing rooms and on porches, not on cable tele­vi­sion.

“When you watch peo­ple on tele­vi­sion, it is the same old line ev­ery time,” said Bert Ge­orge, a 70-year-old re­tiree who drove from nearby Bar­lett to meet Mr. Paw­lenty. “I want the chance to look them in the eye.”

Gail McClure, a 67-year-old re­tiree, said she doesn’t take the can­di­date ap­pear­ances for granted.

“If the can­di­dates are go­ing to make them­selves avail­able to those of us in New Hamp­shire, I feel it’s im­por­tant that we come out and we give them ev­ery op­por­tu­nity to per­son­ally talk to us, look us in the eye and get a feel for them as a per­son, as an in­di­vid­ual, and to see a lit­tle bit into their char­ac­ter, rather than their nor­mal talk­ing points,” Mrs. McClure said, adding that she re­lo­cated to New Hamp­shire from Penn­syl­va­nia about a decade ago in part be­cause of the pol­i­tics.

While the can­di­dates will not meet ev­ery voter, Mr. Duprey said, they’ll have a chance to meet all the ac­tivists who will turn around and tell peo­ple back at their cof­fee clubs, Ro­tary Club meet­ings and churches about the can­di­dates they met.

He pointed to the state’s 2000 pri­mary, where Sen. John McCain of Ari­zona up­set Texas Gov. Ge­orge W. Bush in New Hamp­shire.

“In 2000, I don’t think it was a dif­fer­en­ti­a­tion of pol­icy be­tween John McCain and thenGov. Bush that made the dif­fer­ence, it was the style of the cam­paign,” Mr. Duprey said. “Bush came and did a few large events and didn’t do enough small events, and frankly I think that was the dif­fer­ence.”

It is clear that much of the cur­rent field doesn’t want to re­peat the Bush mis­take. In re­cent days, Mr. Paw­lenty, Mr. Hunts­man and Rep. Ron Paul of Texas have been among those on the ground, glad-hand­ing po­ten­tial sup­port­ers and open­ing up the floor for ques­tions.

Mr. Paw­lenty fin­ished his June 11 sales pitch by urg­ing the crowd to con­sider who in the field of Repub­li­can con­tenders can ap­peal to the en­tire spec­trum of the con­ser­va­tive move­ment, in­clud­ing so­cial con­ser­va­tives, fis­cal con­ser­va­tives and na­tional de­fense con­ser­va­tives.

“If we are go­ing to have a suc­cess­ful ef­fort to get Barack Obama out of of­fice, we are go­ing to have to have a can­di­date who au­then­ti­cally and gen­uinely ap­peals to all of that,” he said. “I think I’m the only can­di­date in the race who does.”

The crowd then clapped, swarmed Mr. Paw­lenty and con­tin­ued to pelt him with ques­tions.

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