F&L 2020: The New Hampshire Spirit — 24 Hours And Counting

“Manchester, New Hampshire, is a broken down mill town on the Merrimack River with an aggressive Chamber of Commerce and America’s worst newspaper.  There is not much else to say for it, except that Manchester is a welcome change from Washington, D.C.”
Hunter S. Thompson, “Fear and Loathing ’72”

“You’re here because of America.”
Mitt Romney, Manchester, 2012

“I’m here because I love my country, and I care very much for our future.”
Tulsi Gabbard, Manchester, 2020

Ever since the Fear and Loathing 2020 Tour first descended on New Hampshire an entire — has it only been a week?! — ago, I’ve been working hard to gauge the general feeling of the voters here in the Granite State.  It’s hard to measure; the single theme and common thread is a great deal of pride.  This is a people that won’t be told what to think or who to vote for.  Their motto is “Live Free Or Die”, and they mean it.

At one minute past midnight, the town of Dixville Notch will start the process, and traditionally their result, and those of a few neighboring townships and municipalities will be the first reported on the major media networks.  The polls close late in the evening, and if all goes well we’ll have an answer soon after.  We’ll know who gets delegates and is invited to the Nevada debates, and we’ll know who doesn’t and isn’t.

The citizens of New Hampshire know well the meaning of their first-in-the-nation status; they take their responsibility seriously.  Dozens of people have said basically the same thing:  that, since the people they pick have such a huge influence on the eventual national winner, they have a duty to the nation to choose the right candidate.  Voters will travel to see as many as they can manage, and as often as not they’ll base their decision on which appeals to them personally.

Because of this, there’s a unique tolerance here that we don’t see as often in the rest of the country.  I was speaking with the owner of a pizza shop in Exeter earlier today; he’s looking forward to the Trump rally along with most of his friends and customers, but he enjoys the close relationship they all have with his town.  When his daughter saw Bernie, he urged her to talk to him and tell him she would be voting for him; proud papa carries the picture and shows it to everyone.  You don’t get that just everywhere, and it’s a real pity.

That’s not to say there’s no cross-candidate rivalries; reports abound of Warren signs being ripped up by Bernie trolls, Trumplodytes tearing down Bernie signs, and so on.  Perhaps tellingly, the surviving signs are mostly Mayor Pete’s.  This makes a sort of sense; while the other campaigns rely on traditional volunteers, the Buttigieg organization has a highly regimented staff of paid personnel, many brought in from Iowa and housed on the campaign’s dime.  Bernie’s outside staffers have bedrooms and couches loaned by locals; Mayor Pete gets a huge discount at a particular hotel chain I won’t name (mainly because I only have this from rumor).  Businessmen often base payment on results, and that’s likely to encourage overzealousness.

In general, everyone I’ve spoken to can be divided into two broad groups:  those who are committed to a personal favorite, and the ones trying to collect as much information as possible before finally deciding.  Roughly, I’d say half the people who attend events will base their eventual choice on what they know of candidates they’ve actually met — much like what happened in New Hampshire with Clinton in 1992.  And about half still hadn’t picked when we spoke.

Bloomberg, Patrick, Steyer, and Bennet are unlikely to draw many votes or any delegates at all.  Yang has broad appeal, but for some reason it’s not spiking the public polling.  Gabbard may well appeal to New Hampshire’s traditional love for the underdog; likewise, she has the broadest draw among independents and the uncommitted, who can declare themselves Democrats as late as the ballot box for this purpose; she has an outside shot at some delegates.  Warren and Biden are each battling for fourth place in vote count, with Klobuchar taking an unexpected third in recent polls — something even Nate Silver’s FiveThirtyEight.com has failed to take into account.  Bernie Sanders has a strong lead, and Pete Buttigieg is generally anticipated to be in second place.

But the thing about the New Hampshire delegates is that they don’t all go to the state winner; each congressional district controls one delegate of its own, and so sixteen of the twenty-four will end up with regional or even very local winners.  My own math shows Warren very likely to take one along the western border of the state, with Bernie winning the north, center, and south, and Klobuchar having a strong showing in the critical east.  It’s even possible that such factors as Andrew Yang being a Phillips Exeter alumnus will grant him an advantage in that one district — though at this stage it seems sadly unlikely.

You know my feelings on unbiased journalism:  It doesn’t exist except in extremely rare cases, and in fact it shouldn’t.  Unless you’re reporting something with only one side to the argument — the golf scores, say — there’s a story to it, and that story has to be told from a human point of view so the reader can understand it.  That’s a bias; and even if an account contains several perspectives, they’ll never be equally well expressed.  It’s hypocritical in the extreme for most reporters to even pretend to objectivity.

And so I hope you won’t think it hypocritical of me to hope most sincerely that Pete Buttigieg leaves New Hampshire with very few delegates, that Bernie Sanders wins, and that Amy Klobuchar, Elizabeth Warren, and at least one or two other underdogs take at least one delegate each.  They’ve worked long and hard, and they’re all extremely well qualified.  We need them at the debates, and they’ve earned a reward.

On the other hand, some will certainly go home disappointed.  They can’t all get elected, and if, say, Biden were to read the writing on the wall and drop out of the race, there’d be more room for others to be heard.

We’ll soon find out.  I’ll be here and you’ll be there, but we’ll all get the results at the same moment.

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