MANCHESTER, N.H. – I arrived at Boston’s Logan International Airport after a drive up from southeast Kansas in the wee hours of the morning to Kansas City, (Missouri!) and about a three-hour flight. I then had a couple of hours to kill as I waited to board a Manchester-bound bus and embark on the last leg of my journey to New Hampshire.
A woman who was also waiting for a bus Friday at South Station in Boston told me she lived in New Hampshire and was planning to vote Tuesday, but was leaving the state for the weekend, and did not want to further discuss her thoughts on the primaries.
“I understand you need material,” she said, with what seemed to be some combination of sympathy, pity and scorn.
In planning this trip, I had at first considered driving, but decided against it for several reasons. For one thing, there was the weather to think about. And while the drive of about halfway across the country would have brought me through some states I’ve never visited, it would also have been comparatively time consuming – particularly if I had made a detour to South Bend, Indiana, to hassle the locals with unsolicited but by now probably familiar questions on their opinions of their former mayor, Pete Buttigieg, and his presidential run. I seriously considered doing this. Alas, it was not to be.
Instead I flew to Boston, a city where I once lived for a year and for part of that time covered the Massachusetts Statehouse for a couple of newspapers based in towns to the northwest of the capital. The very same statehouse, in fact, housing the governor’s office which was at that time occupied by Deval Patrick – another 2020 Democratic Party presidential contender, if one who has struggled to make much headway in the polls.
Massachusetts, of course, is also the state represented in the U.S. Senate by Elizabeth Warren, yet another candidate for the Democratic nomination, and one who appears to have a better shot at winning it.
On Thursday, though, as I prepared to leave for New Hampshire the apparent leader of the pack in that state among Democrats vying to challenge President Donald Trump in a head-to-head match this November was a senator representing a different New England state – namely Bernie Sanders of Vermont.
By Friday, however, The Hill was reporting that “Pete Buttigieg's support has surged in New Hampshire,” putting him and Sanders in yet another “virtual tie,” similar to the results that have apparently emerged from the initial confusion of the Iowa caucuses. (“At this point, it's pretty much time to move on,” NPR’s Domenico Montanaro opened his story on the topic, although “the results out of the Iowa Democratic caucuses are still in question.”)
I pondered this political horse race as I rode the bus to Manchester. It was a relief to relax for a moment after making my way to my initial destination – the Shaskeen Pub and Restaurant, where my fellow reporters representing a wide range of locales and news outlets had set up camp in a makeshift newsroom made possible by my esteemed associates at the Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism.
“This is our once-every-four-years circus,” said Steve Omand, a retired computer software technician who has lived in New Hampshire his entire life and stopped by the Shaskeen for a drink Friday. “This is the only thing we produce – primary bullshit.”
Omand added, however, that Manchester was once home to the largest cotton textile plant in the world, and that the computer and electronics industry he used to work in also once had a much larger presence here.
“New Hampshire is some kind of bellwether because we just happen to be first,” Omand said of the primaries, “but it’s all silliness.”
“It’s like making sausages, you know, you don’t want to watch the process – and you might not like the result either.”
Nonetheless, Omand said, he is planning to vote in the Democratic Primary, though he is still undecided which candidate to choose. He might vote for Buttigieg, former Vice President Joe Biden, U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minnesota), or businessman Andrew Yang or Tom Steyer, he said. “Actually Bernie is my number one pick,” he then added.
John Wate, a retired firefighter who has also lived in New Hampshire for his whole life and accompanied Omand to the Shaskeen, said he was also planning to vote in the Democratic Primary. As he sees it, the most important consideration is that whoever occupies the Oval Office can make the right decision if they were to get a call at 3 a.m. telling them the Russians had attacked the U.S.
After a short break at the pub after a day of non-stop travel, the next order of business was to figure out how to cover the main event of the evening – the final debate among the Democratic candidates prior to Tuesday’s primary.
Having planned my trip too late to qualify for official press credentials, however, unless I was able to talk my way in, I was destined to be stuck on the outside looking in at the debate. Luckily, many of my fellow reporters were in the same boat, and between other primary-related events going on and the debate airing live on TV and the web it was just as well that we could dedicate our energies to absorbing the scene outside the venue, at campaign watch parties, and capturing the reactions of locals to the electoral spectacle that had descended on their town.
Check www.morningsun.net for updates on both the St. Anselm College Democratic debate and other electoral happenings in New Hampshire over the next few days leading up to the primary.