CONCORD, N.H. — In his three-chair establishment on Main Street, not far from the gold-domed granite capitol building, the white-haired barber has just received a visit from California Congressman Paul N. “Pete” McCloskey. The week before, Senator Edmund S. Muskie came to call. The question is, what did the barber tell these two presidential hopefuls?
“I said, ‘Tell us the truth, don’t bull us,'” says the barber. “I told them that we don’t want Nixon again because we’re tired of all this bullshit. Course, you can’t put that word in your newspaper.” Would the barber mind disclosing which of the seven major candidates he intends to vote for on March 7th? “Waaal, yes,” says the barber. “I certainly would mind.”
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Welcome to New Hampshire. Everything you have heard about the natives is true. Wary and independent-minded, they form as sales-resistant a bloc as you could find in all 50 states. Collectively, they give nightmares to pollsters and heartburn to the Press. But to maverick politicians, and obscure ones, these perverse Yankees, with their history of bizarre and unpredictable voting patterns, give rise to dreams of glory. New Hampshire may be the last place in America where a poorly financed and little known politician still has a sporting chance of crashing into presidential politics. This is the land of the upset.
In 1952, Estes Kefauver challenged and beat Harry S. Truman in the Democratic primary. In 1964, Henry Cabot Lodge defeated both Goldwater and Rockefeller as a write-in candidate. Then, on March 12th, 1968, New Hampshire stunned everybody by giving 42.2 percent of the vote to Eugene McCarthy in the Democratic primary. Of course, these victorious hopefuls later bailed out, but they took some big names with them — most recently, Lyndon Johnson.
In 1972, with the Democrats running their own pre-game eliminations, two rebel Republicans have volunteered to try to pull a pincers attack against Richard M. Nixon, with Paul N. “Pete” McCloskey, a liberal congressman from northern California, coming in on the Left, and John Ashbrook, a conservative congressman from Ohio farm country, squeezing the President from the Right. Both men call the President a liar. McCloskey cites Nixon’s failure to make good on his promise to end the war, his — deception of the Congress, and flouting of the Constitution. Jimmy the Greek of Las Vegas lays odds of 200 to I against McCloskey getting the nomination of his party in August.
“I’m not so sure I even want to be President,” McCloskey told a reporter one night in New Hampshire a couple of months ago. “I just want to smash this guy.” McCloskey made up his mind to run against Nixon last spring when he heard from Republican Senator Robert Griffin that the President had privately set a date certain for getting out of Vietnam — Election Day, 1972, “Why put off till November what you can do in March?” McCloskey asks in every speech. Smash the President next month and he will have to stop the bombing and withdraw all troops immediately. Whether McCloskey can pull this off depends largely on the independent vote.
There are about 100,000 Democrats registered in New Hampshire and 162,000 Republicans. There are also 130,000 independents and this year for the first time they can vote in either the Democratic or Republican primary without forfeiting their independent status in the general election. Muskie needs the independents, George McGovern needs them sorely, but McCloskey probably needs them worst of all. “To me, that independent vote on March 7th is the most crucial vote in America,” he says. “Because it’ll be like a shot heard ’round the world if Nixon is defeated. If he’s repudiated, I think it forces him to stop this insane policy in Vietnam and completely review his own positions.”
Any New Hampshire liberal/radical who carefully considered the proposition would probably conclude that he must vote for McGovern over McCloskey. McGovern has a sterling liberal voting record. McCloskey doesn’t. McGovern is a serious contender for the Presidency who needs every vote he can get just to stay alive in his fight against Big Ed Muskie. McCloskey admits he could win every primary and they still wouldn’t give him the nomination in San Diego. So it’s logical to vote for McGovern but something stronger than logic is working for Pete McCloskey: he is the most attractive campaigner to come along since Robert Kennedy. Not “glamorous” like Lindsay nor “sweet” like McGovern or Down East like Muskie. No, Pete McCloskey, with his flat boxer’s face and his US Marine tie clip, is attractive because he is one tough son of a bitch. To anyone who dislikes the President, McCloskey looks like the proper avenger, the guy who could most satisfactorily give Nixon the shiv.