I haven't been doing much political wonkery this election cycle, because of not being able to follow too much of it, and because my opinions with the wheel still spinning and none of us being able to see all the croupier's hidden levers didn't seem too relevant. Plus, my general feelings about the Primary being subsumed under work/weather/health disgruntlement, those being added to by the news crews cluttering up the sidewalks of my commute, and the still-worse clutter of the scores of leg-trapping (and illegal!) signs jammed into the snowbanks by campaign workers.
So here is my catch-up post, in light of the current state of affairs, illustrated with snapshots taken over the past weeks on my morning commute through the scary, scary wilds of Manchester, NH.
FWIW, I had no idea who was going to win the NH primary
, despite living here - I didn't post, the night before (thought about it, went to bed instead) but if I had bet on it, I would have said that it was certainly possible
that Obama might win, but of the top three Democratic candidates it could go any way.
I wasn't surprised that Clinton won here, any more than I was surprised that McCain did, although I wouldn't have been surprised if Romney had either, for reasons I'll explain in a bit.
I also wasn't surprised that Obama did so well, although I was a little surprised that Edwards was so far behind - for the same reason that I wasn't surprised that Romney did so well. I also wasn't surprised at the entrail-reading, bone-casting, star-gazing attempts to make sense of it all from the national media
- and I don't mean those metaphors as a compliment.
The NH primary should have been a warning, to the Clinton campaign and to the media. New Hampshirites are no less vulnerable to the same popular pressures as everyone else - fame sways, name recognition is important, the CW about a public figure (real or fictional) is accepted, and the home team advantage isn't just limited to football, baseball and hockey.
None of the Democratic candidates had a home team advantage this time, unlike past elections, where there has always been a New Englander running that I can recall, which is why Tsongas beat Bill Clinton here in '92. Nobody had an incumbent advantage, like when Carter won over New Englander Kennedy, but Hillary Clinton sort-of has one, having been First Lady. There were a lot more Romney signs up in yards
and stickers on local
cars than there were anyone else, but there were a lot of McCain ones too. There wasn't any local
support being visibly displayed for any of the other Republican candidates except Ron Paul, whose entire support base in Manchester revolved around the head shop downtown. (No, seriously, that's where they were all coming from, the one right across the street from the Kucinich HQ. It was very surreal, being handed political tracts by shaggy hipsters waving handmade signs, like a hemper Repent-and-be-Saved! mission.) A Ron Paul supporter's sign outside the Dunkins' on the west side of south Elm St.Defaced Ron Paul sign on the east side of south Elm St. This battle of memes took place about 10' off the ground - some energy required on both sides
This is important, and something I'm not sure media types realize - all those hundreds of campaign signs planted along the roadways are irrelevant, except to show how much money a candidate is willing to spend
annoying the hell out of the highway department and passing pedestrians
because they're just planted by the out-of-town campaign staff - what matters are the ones displayed in private yards and businesses, because they actually do demonstrate local support.
Down around the block from me, on the west side of town:
On the east side of town:The sign at Ayo's on south Elm Street. (People not from here don't believe me that we have some hair salons which specifically serve African-American patrons in Manchester, but we do. This one has been here for more than a few years.)
Likewise I saw a bunch of big Romney signs in yards, and more than a few McCain ones in windows, but I only ever saw one Huckabee bumpersticker and I think one Giulani sticker, and nobody else on the R side.
A few weeks before the primary, a rally for Obama in Manchester, the biggest city here was announced and tickets were gone within a few hours. I didn't get to go - I didn't find out about it until too late. Earlier rallies were well-attended, too, and well-received from what I understood, even though I had to work, or was too tired from
working, to hike down to any of them.
The Obama campaign made two big mistakes - one based on an assumption according to a campaign worker's own admission on dKos, which betrays a significant ignorance of the sitch in NH; the other I don't know why - that the Clinton campaign didn't make here. The admitted mistake was that they assumed that Independent voter registration meant uninterested, and didn't go after them with their door-to-door campaigning, just after registered D's, where I heard the Clinton campaigners also targeted the I's - and if you know that "Independent" is a large and ever-growing segment of registered voters here (something that came up a fair amount in the last election, in the national media) for two reasons, it conveys a real advantage in that you can vote in either primary, and a social cachet in declaring one's independence from machine politics and partisanry, then you wouldn't regard it as a low ROI endeavor. The other difference that I saw here - or rather, heard
, was that the Clinton campaign (along with most of the R candidates, and none of the other Dems) ran a LOT of ads on AM radio - the radio stations that get played by commuters and workers in shops and offices and garages and construction sites, all walks, all hours. And they weren't bad ads, in so far as I am any judge of such things - the one I heard most had a bunch of different women speaking up, "I'm so-and-so, I'm a nurse/teacher/mom/student/grandmother/CE
O and I support Hillary because of X" so it combined the personal testimonial with the specific issue concerns, in a comforting yet optimistic way. If other D candidates had run loads of ads on AM radio things might have been different.
The other candidates - well, the Edwards campaign stuck a lot of those deathtrap metal signs everywhere, but he wasn't very visible this time around. I think if Obama hadn't been running he would
have been a contender, but while I can only speak for myself and the few other local liberals I know IRL, there was a sense that he talked a good populist talk but didn't have the backbone - e.g. the business with bloggers Amanda Marcotte and Melissa McEwan - to stick to his guns, trial lawyer or not. And also, I suspect, though I'm not 100% certain on it, is that having lost
last time, his campaign didn't feel like a winner to back, despite their greater experience. I mean, yes, they had experience
, where Obama didn't, but what was it experience of
? I suspect that people who were not already decided, felt that it was better to back an unraced horse with a lot of energy, than one with a track record of losing.
I've already written about my experiences as an event volunteer for Edwards in the last election, and my lackluster impression of his campaigners as being entirely uninterested in local support, or cultivating the same. I don't have any reason to think that things were any different, in fact I don't think I even got any MoveOn emails exhorting me to volunteer this time - just to give money, money, more money...
Dodd's campaign - well, it was just sad. They didn't even bother to put up a professional sign in their fringe-of-downtown office windows - they had the letters splashed on in tempera paint, like a junior high school gymnasium decorated for a dance - until the week before the election, and they did no campaigning that I could see at all, I wouldn't have known he was running if I wasn't subbed to MoveOn's maillist. Which is a shame, because he seems to have more grit and integrity than most of the congress put together, but they were all at sea.
Kucinich had a small but vehement crew, including at least one disgruntled former-Clinton-voter/ex-supporter from NY that I know of, whom she lost when she jumped on the video-games-the-root-of-all-evil bandwagon year before last - denouncing your supporters' hobbies in order to win points with the media and social conservatives is not a good way to make friends or influence the younger generation in your favor, I'm afraid. Everybody else was invisible - some of them I didn't even know they were running until a couple days before when the newspapers printed lists. And this is walking through downtown Manchester every day, right through the thick of things.
Now, there's plenty of ugly stuff in NH - having lived here for over a quarter-century, I've got few illusions about the sexism, racism/ethnocentrism, and particularly
classism that New England is rife with - but I also have something of a sense of what matters, what doesn't, the overall local culture and
the various overlapping subcultures that make it up, at least down in the southern half of the state. And I can say with some authority, I think, that any attempts to try to dismiss the mere 2 point difference between Clinton and Obama as showing some kind of widespread blue-collar racism here, or as showing some widespread Democratic sexism here, are equally hogwash. That attempts to try to work out a correlation between education levels or income levels and lack of local racism to explain our primary results are as useful as hauling out the star charts and trying to figure out what the influence of Mars or the Lion was, on terrestrial events. (Media-narrative-validating Latina bus drivers to the contrary.)
Why? Because of the big white Donkey in the living room. Edwards was still in the running then.
If either had been significant factors, then John Edwards would not have been a far third. Here was a White Guy, who was a known quantity and no newbie, with no serious strikes against him, whose message resonated deeply with that blue-collar Ward 10 demographic (since it's one that I hear all the time here, we're all broke and getting broker and the war stinks and DC is corrupt, in corner stores and laundromats and gas stations in this part of town - Ward 10 only being a couple blocks from here) and yet he barely did better than last time.
If either had been operative, he would have been the clear leader, instead.
And he wasn't.
Hillary Clinton came out slightly ahead, because she ran ads on the radio stations that most people listen to and sent her staffers to go knocking on more doors than Barack Obama did. Here's the correlation (I think) between education/income level and how the voting went in NH: white collar, college-educated people are more likely to be spending time reading blogs, or magazines and editorials on the internet or on paper during their workday. Blue-collar/pink-collar workers are much less
likely to be able to do this, to have as much time to do it, during their workday. They (sometimes "we", though I currently inhabit a sort of limbo between desk and shop that is prepress, it has been otherwise and I also get out a lot) are MUCH more
likely to be listening to the radio, instead of instead of in addition to, so the messages that get reinforced by the local radio stations are going to have a larger impact.
And what were the messages? Well, let's see - there was Ron Paul, whose ads went "Vote for Ron Paul! Ron Paul is a DOCTOR! What this country needs is a DOCTOR!" all very strident, yappy, table-pounding and, yes, very self-centered sounding. There were the ads of Romney, Giuliani, McCain, and Tancredo, all indistinguishable until you got to the sigline at the end - "Be afraid! Be very afraid! Vote for the Big Strong Man to protect you from the Stranger while whipping you slobs into shape!" None of them did anything to make me think that I had made a mistake by defecting - all of them put my back up before I even knew who they were, and would have if they had been Democrats speaking to me in the same tone.)
And then there were the serious-but-optimistic Clinton ads, with pleasant-voiced competent-sounding women talking about how they wanted the best for the country and their families and were voting for Hillary based on various articulated reasons of character and policy.
And then there was...well, nothing else.
Unless you were already one of the hopeless sorts like those folks I described who stood around saying how bad things were economically, how awful eight years of Republican conservative government have been, how we need a change desperately - and how terrified they were that either of the leading Democratic candidates might win, "Hitlery" or "Osama Hussein," how they were going to "hold their noses" and fill in the box because obviously the only solution to the disaster created by 8 years of conservative Republican government was to elect ANOTHER conservative Republican and hope that this time things would be different, or unless you were someone who likes to be scared and dominated by racial boogey-men invoking bullies, which one of these would be most likely to sway an Independent/undecided voter working in a cafeteria or machine shop or garage or packing/shipping department or florist's or...
So Clinton won - by two bloody points.
Against a complete newbie, outsider, whose campaign hadn't explored every avenue of local appeal by a long shot. Race? If anything it was an advantage for Obama - New Englanders like to think of themselves as being Not Racist, very much (even when they are
bigoted, they're big on denial up here) and if I had a dollar for the number of people here of all registrations who in 2000 I heard wishing aloud they could vote for Colin Powell, that he would run, I would be significantly better off than I am now. (How things change...) And the blue-collar wards here, where I live and on the other side of town, are the most racially-mixed, too. I have Borincano neighbors and Haitian neighbors and Venezuelan neighbors and Mandingan neighbors, going by conversations and stickers on cars and vanity plates I see on my daily walks, but I'm pretty sure it's a white family with that big Obama sign on our block. After all, the city is about 90% white...
The warning was there, here in our primary, but nobody saw it of the pros and pundits whose job it is to see and understand these things: Clinton's familiarity advantage was very, very slight. And yet they had no backup plan!
This is my Manchester: good, bad, and just plain strange - you can see from these how the winds of change are blowing in this country, I think.The strip of shops across the street from Ayo's. The car sticker says "Support The Troops - End The War"; an organic fast food store is going into the empty space by the cycle chop shop right now.A corner I sometimes walk through, depending on the weather and the state of the streets. It was originally a largely-Greek immigrant neighborhood of a couple blocks, and remains so still somewhat to this day...--as this longstanding coffee house with its Hillary sign in the window shows - but more recently has been joined by this ----and this, in the same block, just across the street, as the neighborhood begins little by little to revive from decades' abandonment after the collapse of the mills, and ergo to diversify--I told you there was a Russian grocery here, sprung up in the last ten years iirc.
And how weird it gets here during presidential elections:The Porkmobile, spotted on South Main St./Boynton St. while out shopping with a friend A truck advocating for medical marijuana, on South Willow Street heading towards the Mall:A less-polished but no less passionate vehicle
(It was too dark for me to get a picture of the guy with a shoe on his head across from City Hall, alas...)
For the record, I voted for none of the leading candidates, but for one of the quixotic anti-war candidates then running in the NH primary, of which we had quite a selection, in order to send a quixotic anti-war message to whichever of the frontrunners made it out of the starting-gate pack.Aside: Doesn't Mark Penn look like he just stepped out of a Cruikshank engraving in that MSNBC article? He could be advising Mr. Lammle in his Parliamentary run there, but for the cut of the suits and the technology of the attending reporters...
Tags: democrats, election, new hampshire, politics, republicans, stupidity, wonkery