Runcible Blog

Observations from NH primary

listening to: Vibrate from the album "The Love Below" by Outkast

Monday night I volunteered at the Salem office of Dean's campaign. Although the volunteers said that Saturday's effort was more organized, I saw some hectic disorganization on Monday night.

I arrived at 5pm but stood around for a while waiting for someone to direct me. Finally I was told to man the phones (something I've never done) and received a quick briefing on what to ask voters. Since I'm not fond of phones, I ended up manning a copy machine instead, xeroxing inaccurate Mapquest maps. At about 9pm they needed someone to deliver door hangers and videos to some homes in Pelham. I enthusiastically volunteered, but after driving around for a while realized that I couldn't follow the directions they gave me. So I returned at 10, in time for the office meeting in which the leader announced that someone mistakenly put the wrong "polling place" address on about 600 door hangers in the Salem area. As a result, there was a mad dash to fill out correct hangers and deliver them to those 600 homes.

After extensively studying my map I set out again at 10:30, determined to finish the route. I soon discovered that streets in Pelham may or may not exist, and homeowners typically don't put their street address numbers on their mail boxes. But, after an hour of back-tracking I hit nearly every house (except the ones that didn't exist). It was tough but not as hard as the work the very determined volunteers performed in the past several months. Some people were up at 3:00AM delivering materials, and others looked completely drained by Monday night.

Yesterday I was assigned to do "visibility" at a Derry precinct. We stood outside the school holding signs and greeting voters. (I had an awkward moment when Gen. Clark arrived to greet voters. I shook his hand happily, but I really didn't have anything to say to him. So I kind of stood there for a minute and walked away. He must've seen my Dean sticker and wasn't that interested in talking to me anyway.) Over the course of the few hours I was there I heard periodic updates from another volunteer and from the "zone chief commander" (or whatever they're called) saying that the exit poll numbers indicated the race was very close between Kerry and Dean, and that Derry volunteers were working hard to get people out to vote. It seemed that if all the Dean supporters in Derry voted, Dean would overtake Kerry -- at least in Derry. This assumption turned out to be wildly off the mark. Kerry won Derry by about 300 votes! But it appeared to those of us on the ground that we were always just in reach of pulling it off.

In fact, here is an email I got Tuesday afternoon from the NH campaign manager:

From"Karen Hicks, Dean for America"
SubjectIt's a very close race - call your friends and neighbors
Date Tue, January 27, 2004 4:51 pm

The polls are only open for a few more hours. This race is EXTREMELY close. Our projections are that Governor Dean is very close to winning the New Hampshire Primary. But to win, he needs your help...right NOW!

Please pick up the phone and call your friends and family who live in New Hampshire. If we can get another 900 more Dean supporters to the polls before they close - we'll win. Go visit your neighbors. Drive them to the polls. Howard Dean can win with your help!

Together we can change the way Washington works and politics is done.

One final reminder: Dean for America does NOT make "robo-calls" in New Hampshire. There are many reports of such robo-calls with pre-recorded messages delivering misinformation to voters. These calls have not originated from this campaign. If we win today, we will prove that this sort of negative campaigning has no place in New Hampshire.

Thank you. And please do all you can before the polls close.

Share the power. Invite everybody:

So, it came as quite a surprise to hear "Kerry: 39%, Dean: 24%" shortly after the polls closed. We were still hoping the numbers were wrong and that Dean would surge ahead in the final tally, but I think we knew it wasn't going to happen.

Two Derry volunteers and I then decided to head to the concession/victory "party" in Manchester. It turned we didn't even need tickets to get in. Many supporters just decided to return home and sleep, but there were I'd say a couple thousand people filling the auditorium at SNHU. I was glad to see so much optimism and energy, and Dean's speech -- though it was his standard stump -- met with a huge showing of support. I don't know if the cameras captured the enthusiasm, but I got the sense that those of us in Manchester were in it for the long haul and believe Dean can make a comeback. At the same time, I sensed a concealed doubt among many supporters and saw some people on the verge of tears.

For all the effort and energy that New Hampshire volunteers put in over the past few months, a second place finish (more than 10 points behind) must hurt. Dean might lose some momentum but will retain many of his core supporters.

It's hard for me to look back in hindsight and determine why exactly NH voters chose Kerry over Dean or why the margin was as large as it was. I'm sure it had something to do with Dean's perceived "electability" -- voters chose the bland but "safe" Kerry out of political pragmatism. But I can't provide much commentary on the issue.

I do believe that Dean's campaign means more than just winning the presidency. He's said many times that his campaign is about changing America, and he's the only candidate that is believable when he says "You have the power..." to enact change. He leverages and encourages the genuine grassroots support he's collected. The other candidates, in contrast, seem to say, "thank you for choosing me". In other words, their candidacy is more focused on winning a race than really changing the country for the better. At least that's my impression of the other guys.

I'll have pictures of the Manchester event soon, but here's one that proves I was there: