A state that ex­tols out­siders con­sid­ers an in­sider for pres­i­dent

Porterville Recorder - - OPINION - David M. Shribman is ex­ec­u­tive edi­tor emer­i­tus of the Pitts­burgh Post-gazette. He can be reached at dshrib­[email protected]

When, 120 years ago, the New Hamp­shire poet Edna Dean Proc­tor saluted this state’s “cliffs, her meads, her brooks afoam” and spoke ele­gia­cally of the “white-robed heights” of its moun­tains, she iden­ti­fied per­haps the mostly en­dur­ing char­ac­ter­is­tic of New Hamp­shire -- its wor­ship of the out­side.

And now, as the 2020 pres­i­den­tial cam­paign cranks to an open­ing in the state that holds the first pri­mary of the po­lit­i­cal sea­son, one ma­jor ques­tion per­sists:

Will a state that ex­tols the virtues of the out­side em­brace an in­sider for the White House?

The ques­tion, like the two peaks for which this town nes­tled be­tween Fran­co­nia Notch and Craw­ford Notch is named, has twin as­pects:

Will New Hamp­shire grant its Demo­cratic National Con­ven­tion del­e­gates to a neigh­bor such as Sen. El­iz­a­beth War­ren of Mas­sachusetts, whose prin­ci­pal res­i­dence is but 30 miles from the New Hamp­shire bor­der?

Or will the Democrats in­stead side with a true out­sider like the two lit­tle-known mu­nic­i­pal lead­ers con­tem­plat­ing pres­i­den­tial cam­paigns, Mayor Eric Garcetti of Los Angeles and for­mer Mayor Mitch Lan­drieu of New Or­leans?

Past prac­tice, never an en­tirely re­li­able guide, an­swers both ques­tions with a re­sound­ing, though thor­oughly con­tra­dic­tory, yes.

New Hamp­shirites cus­tom­ar­ily re­gard Mas­sachusetts res­i­dents as out­siders, and not wel­come ones; the most ex­pen­sive act on a high­way here is driv­ing in a car with red-on-white Bay State plates, mag­nets for state pa­trollers look­ing for speed­ers or, more pre­cisely, for any ex­cuse to tor­ment a Mas­sachusetts driver.

And yet in pol­i­tics, New Hamp­shire vot­ers, re­cip­i­ents of a con­stant diet of news from Bos­ton tele­vi­sion sta­tions, have been re­mark­ably con­ge­nial to Mas­sachusetts pres­i­den­tial can­di­dates, vir­tu­ally con­sid­er­ing them one of their own. Bay State can­di­dates John F. Kennedy (1960), Michael Dukakis (1988), Paul Tsongas (1992), John Kerry (2004) and Mitt Rom­ney (2012) all won the New Hamp­shire pri­mary. The only Mas­sachusetts can­di­dates to fall short have been Ed­ward Kennedy (1980) and Rom­ney, in his first try (2008).

So War­ren has an edge in this con­test. Now the second ques­tion: Can she, elected twice to the Sen­ate and with the ad­van­tage/ dis­ad­van­tage of hav­ing served on the fac­ulty of the Har­vard Law School -- which pro­duced by far the most Supreme Court jus­tices in Amer­i­can his­tory, in­clud­ing a ma­jor­ity of today’s high court -- plau­si­bly por­tray her­self as an out­sider?

Her best bet: Em­pha­size her gen­der and her views, both de­par­tures from Amer­i­can po­lit­i­cal cus­tom. The out­sider ques­tion has spe­cial res­o­nance in this age and for Democrats, who will be op­pos­ing an in­cum­bent who, in his 2017 Lib­erty Uni­ver­sity com­mence­ment ad­dress said, “Be­ing an out­sider is fine. Em­brace the la­bel, be­cause it’s the out­siders who change the world and who make a real and last­ing dif­fer­ence.”

Demo­cratic in­sider pres­i­den­tial can­di­dates have faired poorly. Nine of the last 11 Demo­cratic in­sider non-in­cum­bent can­di­da­cies lost. The out­siders pre­vailed: Jimmy Carter (sin­gle gu­ber­na­to­rial term), Bill Clin­ton (vet­eran gov­er­nor but an out­sider by virtue of be­ing cast by his GOP ri­vals as a “failed gov­er­nor of a small state”) and Barack Obama (less than a full term as se­na­tor).

In­deed, it is pos­si­ble to ar­gue that since the pre-civil War years of James Buchanan (mem­ber of the House and Sen­ate, twice an am­bas­sador and a sec­re­tary of state -- and thus a true in­sider), the Democrats have elected only two true in­sid­ers to the White House, Franklin De­lano Roo­sevelt and Kennedy.

(In an in­trigu­ing twist of his­tory, both FDR and JFK, elected pres­i­dent with the nom­i­na­tion of the self-styled “party of the peo­ple,” were aris­to­crats.)

De­ter­mined to pre­vent Trump from win­ning a second term, Democrats here and else­where are prid­ing them­selves on ex­am­in­ing the can­di­dates with sed­u­lous care, look­ing less to ide­ol­ogy than to electabil­ity.

The ide­ol­ogy fac­tor may aid War­ren, or Sen. Bernie Sanders of Ver­mont, or many oth­ers such as Sen. Kirsten Gil­li­brand of New York or Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Min­nesota, plus a pas­sel of rel­a­tive new­com­ers whose views match the new gen­er­a­tion of vot­ers -- vig­i­lant about civil rights, trou­bled about the wealth gap, con­cerned about cli­mate change, de­ter­mined to win sin­gle­payer health care. The winnabil­ity fac­tor may fa­vor for­mer Vice Pres­i­dent Joseph R. Bi­den Jr., who is not alone in believ­ing he has the best chance of top­pling Trump.

The re­sult is a Demo­cratic dilemma un­like any it has en­coun­tered be­fore.

And it comes at a time when it is pru­dent to re­mem­ber that it is not the Democrats but the Re­pub­li­cans who for the past cen­tury have tended to elect in­sider can­di­dates such as, among oth­ers, Her­bert Hoover (the long­est-serv­ing sec­re­tary of com­merce), Richard Nixon (vic­to­ri­ous in House and Sen­ate races, two terms as vice pres­i­dent, and one pres­i­den­tial nom­i­na­tion be­fore win­ning the pres­i­dency in 1968) and Ge­orge H.W. Bush (mem­ber of the House, di­rec­tor of the CIA, vet­eran di­plo­mat, two terms as vice pres­i­dent).

The only mod­ern ex­cep­tion un­til re­cently was Wen­dell Wil­lkie (1940). Plus one other: Don­ald Trump.

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