Politics

John Gizzi Reports from New Hampshire

McCAIN’s LAST NH SALVO: UNDECLAREDS AND GOPERS NEEDED — DESPERATELY

Manchester, NH –“Azerbejanis for McCain” was one of the more unique signs at John McCain’s closing rally in New Hampshire’s largest city January 7th.  With hours to go before voting begins in the Republican Presidential primary, a crowd of cheering Hampshiremen outside City Hall also included a TV team from Slovenia, two BBC correspondents, and those Azerbejanis.

Along with the international flavor in the McCain curtain call here, there philosophical diversity as well.  As he and wife Cindy mounted the flag-draped podium, McCain singled out visiting campaigner and Rep. Chris Shays (R.-CT) in the crowd.  Shays, of course, is one of the diminishing breed of liberal GOPers in the House.

After acknowledging Shays, McCain noted that “my dear friend Phil Gramm” was also here to campaign on the Arizonan’s behalf.  Former Texas Sen. Gramm is a stalwart conservative famed as co-sponsor of the Gramm-Latta Act (which embodied Ronald Reagan’s budget cuts of 1981) and the Gramm-Hollings-Rudman Act of 1987, which mandated balanced budgets.

These two diverse “visiting firemen” for McCain illustrated the delicate balancing act he must pull off today in order to repeat his dramatic triumph in the 2000 presidential primary:  With help from liberals like Shays, McCain must reach out to the “undeclared” voters–the proper legal term for the 44% of Granite State voters who can vote in either the Democratic or Republican primaries–and who polls show favor McCain by as much as 2-to-1 over top rival Mitt Romney.

But polls also show that undeclared voters like Barack Obama and may participate in the Democratic primary in big numbers.  That could prove harmful to McCain, as polls show that among registered Republicans, Romney enjoys a slight lead over him.  Hence McCain’s outreach to conservatives, with whom he has had a sometimes testy relationship over the years.

ROMNEY HITS TAXES, IMMIGRATION

The Romney camp is cleary aware of this situation, quite obviously hoping for a big undeclared cross-over for Obama instead of McCain, and counting on a turnout dominated by the historically-conservative, GOP voters.

Evidence of this can be found in the mailings the Romney camp is pouring on the voters in the closing day of the campaign.  According to State Republican Chairman Fergus Cullen–who is  neutral in the contest–“Gov. Romney’s campaign has sent out about two dozen mail pieces to voters going back to last summer.”  Although early mailings included criticisms of rivals–at first Fred Thompson and later Mike Huckabee–the closing pieces have focused on McCain and in particular his votes on tax cuts and immigration, Cullen told me.

In campaign addresses and in his televised encounters with McCain over the weekend, Romney attacked his leading rival’s vote against the Bush tax cut of 2001 and his support of the comprehensive immigration reform package that died in the Senate last summer and which opponents derided as an amnesty.

In his remarks today outside City Hall, McCain pounded hard at conservative themes, vowing victory in the war on “radical Islamic extremism,” use of “the veto pen that Ronald Reagan gave me” to slash pork barrel spending, and “no more ‘Bridges to Nowhere'”  (the now-infamous poster child proposal for wasteful government spending enacted in Congress).  He also repeated his familiar promise to “follow Osama bin-Laden to the gates of hell.”  All promises were designed to  motivate conservative Republicans.

But, McCain also promised that one of his priorities would be “climate change” and a “clean planet”–environmentalist themes that motivate New Hampshire’s “undeclared” voters.   

MASS DEMS SPLIT ON OBAMA AND HILLARY

Two visiting Massachusetts House Members arrived at the media center of the Radisson Hotel here and shared with me why they are campaigning for different candidates for President.

Rep. William Delahunt is the lone Member of the Bay State’s congressional delegation backing Sen. Barack Obama. Where Delahunt is usually considered a moderate Democrat (“centrist,” he admonished me, using his favorite self-characterization), Obama has emerged as the favorite of the Democratic left–notably on the issue of US involvement in Iraq.

“I like Obama,” said Delahunt, who also told me “I have read you” and that HUMAN EVENTS readers would like the fact that he has joined Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R.-Cal.) in attempting to get former border agents Ramos and Compean out of prison and their sentence for shooting an illegal immigrant drug dealer suspended.  A former district attorney, Delahunt siad that “foreign policy and his talking against the war” led the lawmaker to sign on for Obama and stump for him in neighboring New Hampshire.

“Now there’s a real lefty you can talk to,” Delahunt said with a laugh, as he introduced me to Rep. Jim McGovern (D.-Mass.).  Along with fellow Massachusetts Democratic Reps. Barney Frank and Frank Lynch, McGovern weighed in early for Hillary Clinton for President.

“I’ve known her for a long time,” McGovern told me, recalling how he met the then-First Lady after winning his first term in Congress in 1996.  Like Delahunt, McGovern is against the war in Iraq and proudly noted he had introduced among the earliest legislation calling for a withdrawal of U.S. troops.  Obama, he said, “can say that as a state senator [in Illinois] he said he would have voted against the war but Sen. Clinton has been in the forefront of opposing it”–although he did not deal with her early vote and statements in favor of a U.S. strike against Saddam Hussein.

“I’m not interested in arguing about the past,” McGovern said,abjuring discussion of the two Democratic presidential hopefuls’ records of opposition to Iraq.  Does Hillary Clinton have a chance of being nominated, given the recent surge for Obama?  “I hope so,” replied McGovern.
 
An Evening With “Undeclareds” In NH?
 
Nashua, N.H.– When Marty Walsh and Donna Richards — a husband-and-wife team of self-employed corporate finance consultants and both registered “undeclared” voters–welcomed two of my colleagues and me to their home yesterday, they proceeded to give us a good “road map” as to where 44% of the electorate here will go.  That percentage is the “undeclareds”–folks like Marty and Donna, their numbers dwarfing those of registered Republicans (30%) and Democrats (26%) in the Granite State.
 
If the leanings of Marty and Donna are any sure signs of the leanings of their fellow “undeclareds,” then John McCain, who so desperately needs bulks of them to top the Republican field, has his work cut out for him.
 
“After studying the candidates carefully, I’m now leaning toward John Edwards,” said Donna.  Her husband agreed, replying simply “Edwards” to my query as to a presidential favorite.  Both cited the former North Carolina senator’s addressing of the issue of health care and his stand on Iraq as key reasons for their support of him.  A family friend who joined us, Cathy Briggs, said that she was once inclined toward Edwards but is now planning to vote for Barack Obama “because he is bright and will surround himself with good people.”
 
Less significant than the reasons that led Marty and Donna and Cathy to go into the voting booth for Democratic hopefuls is that they all have voted Republican in the past.  Marty, for example, grew up in a Republican household and recalled the first time he flew on an airplane as a youngster–in 1969, to watch Richard Nixon’s inauguration as president.  Cathy noted that, while voting for John Kerry for President in 2004, “I voted for the current President [Bush] in 2000.”  
 
          These are the kind of New Hampshire voters that John McCain needs and that might very well be inclined to vote for him were there not the intense contest in the Democratic field featuring HIllary Clinton, Obama and Edwards.  Cathy even volunteers her admiration for McCain (“John McCain is loved here”), her decision to vote for Obama notwithstanding.  
 
Marty and Donna and Cathy are all active in an independent voters forum that is designed to highlight the concerns of voters like them, who are not connected with either party.  Last year, their group held a summit for presidential candidates, but, as Marty recalled, “only two bothered to come–[former Alaska Sen.] Mike Gravel and [Ohio Rep.] Dennis Kucinich [both Democrats].”
 
Later that evening, my colleagues and I discuss our time with the “undeclareds” and agree that the hard-hitting mailings we have heard Mitt Romney has sent focusing on John McCain’s vote on the Bush tax cut and in favor of the comprehensive immigration package mean he is betting that the Republican primary will be just that–voting that attracts more Republicans and fewer independents.  
 
Leaving the Radisson Hotel’s media center, we are given directions to an eaterie by Mr. Steve Stoddard, a Manchester realtor and another “undeclared.”  We ask the inevitable question and he says “I think I’ll back Edwards.  I have met him before, I like what he says about health care and about affordability.  And I like the way he’s taken on the drug companies.”
 
But, as he takes his leave, Stoddard says in the signature line of the New Hampshire voter: “I could still change my mind by tomorrow.”


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