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.”
* * *
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.
Watching McCloskey address a crowd, it is hard to forget that he is a colonel in the Marine reserves — a converted hawk. He appears to be giving a military briefing in the field. His legs planted firmly apart, his hands on his hips, his shoulders stooped, he speaks in low confidential tones that make every word sound urgent — essential to survival once the battle starts. McCloskey can’t have changed a great deal since he was an ace platoon leader in Korea, decorated for saving men in the thick of grenade and mortar barrages. He still sounds like a good officer, a man who knows what he’s doing, who exudes confidence, who cares about his men, and who is not scared of bullets. After five minutes of listening to McCloskey you are ready to put your hand in the fire for him; after 15, you are sure he can’t lose.
Most of the stories that circulate about McCloskey have to do with his compulsive honesty. An side tells of briefing him on the question of whether the US should recognize Bangla Desh. As the briefing progressed, the aide got more and more entangled in the legal niceties of the question until McCloskey finally jumped out of his chair, flapped his arms like a hen, and went: “Pawk, pawk, pawk, pawk. Chickenshit! Chickenshit! Just tell me if it’s the right thing or the wrong thing to do!” (McCloskey became the first candidate to urge the recognition of Bangla Desh).
It is probably this trait in McCloskey that has attracted most of his workers. Ashbrook’s rank amateurs, the McCloskey staffers, are young, idealistic semipros who work for coolie wages. Former advance men for Gene and Bobby, former strategists for Goodell and Percy, Ripon Republicans, Legal Aid Lawyers, Viet Vets, defectors from the youth arm of the National Republican Committee, journalists sick of journalism, political groupies who drift from one good cause to another — about 30 full-time workers on the shoestring payroll.
Although these people are totally dedicated, they were not, at first, wholly competent. When McCloskey started campaigning in New Hampshire last fall, his campaign lived in daily fear of the advance operation collapsing — a crucial ad would fail to appear in a local paper or someone would forget to forewarn the candidate that his next audience was a hornet’s nest of angry Legionnaires. By mid-January, however, the organization had begun to run smoothly.
On Saturday, January 15th, McCloskey began his 34th day of stumping the state by meeting with his high school supporters in Concord. About 70 kids in ski clothes sat on folding chairs in a big sunny cinderblock room at the local Y. McCloskey, as usual, looked like a refugee from the Fifties. Worn tweed jacket, club tie, thick-soled shoes, even the button-down shirt. Much closer to the New Hampshire norm than the sleek New York suits worn by the other candidates. After chatting with several kids, McCloskey assumed his parade rest stance at the front of the room and started into his “the” speech. First an attack on the Administration for its callousness and pride in continuing the war and the bombing of civilians. Next, the truth issue: an attack on Kissinger for lying to the Press about Pakistan, another on the President for suppressing unfavorable information about the SST. Then, Civil Rights. McCloskey scored the President for sabotaging the Voting Rights Act of 1956 in order to keep the Southern States from going to Wallace. He finished by accusing the Justice Department of prosecuting the Administration’s political enemies but not its allies, and then asked for questions.
They gave him the whole spectrum of questions. Where did he stand on the draft, on amnesty, on the Middle East, on pot, welfare and land use? Some kids asked self-answering questions about Vietnam because they wanted McCloskey to give them more ammunition against the war, and he obliged. Each answer came out quick and precise, nailed down with a story or statistics, and full of deep feeling. As usual, someone asked what he would do about Kissinger’s lying.
“I’d fire him, first of all,” said McCloskey. “I don’t think there’s anything worse that’s happening in this government today than this deliberate policy of deception. I think the first thing I’ll do if I’m elected is turn that bureaucracy upside down and hold it by its heels and say that the next man that lies to somebody or deliberately conceals some fact because it’s embarrassing or because it might give some argument for a different policy, is fired. Because this government, peculiar as it may be, runs by the consent of the governed. And you can’t give your consent unless you know the facts. The Congress has a responsibility to check and balance the executive branch, restrain executive power. It can’t do it when the Executive lies.”
By now, the high school volunteers are warming up. Without changing his hard-nosed tone, McCloskey moved into The Pitch. Much to his surprise, he has beaten all the other candidates in three high school mock elections, and ‘he has begun to count heavily on high school workers. “The best help I’m getting right now,” he said, “is high school students going home and telling their parents to vote for me. I don’t know why I’ve earned all this but the only way I have to get to the parents in 247 small towns in New Hampshire is really through their children.”
McCloskey now regaled the crowd with a story of kids engineering the fall of evil old men: how, after Earth Day, a group of 40 kids designated 12 anti-ecology congressmen “The Dirty Dozen” and then helped to defeat six of them in the ’70 elections. McCloskey told the story well, chuckling and savoring Congress’ shocked reaction to the six defeats. His glee was contagious. The volunteers began to feel their oats.
Without waiting, he plunged into the story of his 1967 campaign against Shirley Temple Black in California’s San Mateo County. Against near impossible odds, he had scored a landslide victory. How? His 1500 volunteers, many of them kids, had each gotten out ten votes in the last few hours of election day.
The volunteers looked pretty sure that they could do the same thing for Pete in Concord. Finally, McCloskey announced that Paul Newman was working for him. Would they like Paul Newman to speak at their schools? A great cry of “Yes!” Members of McCloskey’s staff began to signal and prod him toward the door, away from the volunteers who surrounded him and into a waiting car.
Next stop was New England State College, north of Concord. Fifty kids, most ready to hit the ski slopes, some already in casts, sat on the floor and sofas of a large portrait-filled lounge. This room was more claustrophobic, and the crowd far more wary. Closer to the war, they argued with McCloskey about his support of the draft. McCloskey spoke fluently about the need for a reluctant military, for citizen-soldiers; the only way to avoid a war-mad professional army was the draft.
“But I consider the army a prison,” one of the longer hairs kept insisting. The debate ended in a stalemate. And few of the kids liked McCloskey’s idea that two years of alternative service ought to be a condition for amnesty after the war. Other issues brought McCloskey little relief.
Who would he choose as a running mate?
“If there was a man…,” McCloskey began.
“Why a man?” snapped a coed.
McCloskey said he would consider a woman, and he would like to run with Ed Brooke to show that a black….
“How black is Ed Brooke?” said someone else.
For three quarters of an hour, they made McCloskey sound like an obstinate Boy Scout who has gotten himself surrounded by the coolest street gang in town. He would go so far as to say that the President was responsible for America’s war crimes, he would state that both parties were “in the captivity of the moneyed interests,” but he offered only moderate solutions. At the end, he modestly asked them to help him, or Muskie, or McGovern. They gave him a round of polite applause.
McCloskey got into the front seat of a blue Camaro to be driven to a small ski area for his daily hour of exercise. His staff has learned that he tends to grow testy and make blunders if he can’t sweat off his black Irish humors every afternoon. Sitting in the back of his car, I asked McCloskey if the hostile audience had worried him. “No,” he said, gobbling a sandwich, “I like it when the questions are tough.”
As we drove north into the New Hampshire of maple syrup labels — churches and birches — I asked whether he had run into anything of the Nixon campaign. Everyone on McCloskey’s staff seemed to know that Louis C.Wyman, right-wing congressman from N.H., had collared McCloskey just off the House floor one day, told him that a secret White House poll revealed he had 22 percent of the vote, and suggested that he had proven his point and could now profitably retire from the race. But no-one seemed to know what else Nixon had in store for McCloskey.
“I haven’t seen enough of the Nixon people to know what the hell they’ll do,” said McCloskey. “They’ll probably be mailing out glossy brochures of the President’s accomplishments and his lovely family two or three times. And they’ll have a lot of radio and TV spots.”
Why weren’t the McCloskey people planning TV spots? New Hampshire TV is cheap.
“Would be,” said McCloskey, “if we could afford it.”
If you listened to McCloskey’s staffers, they couldn’t afford anything. They would tell you, in scandalized tones, that they heard McGovern’s people were actually postdating checks. The old Republican tight fist, I thought. What would be wrong with a little deficit spending for a good cause, I asked the congressman.
“I’ve put in $13,000 of my own money,” McCloskey said tersely. “But that about exhausts my borrowing ability.”
As we approached a village of white frame houses, McCloskey turned to the young, preppy-looking driver. “Ned,” he said, “what’s the quota of independents in this place?” Ned, who was the field man for the central part of New Hampshire, was submitted to a third degree on the village for several minutes. “I’d like to campaign here,” McCloskey finally said. It sounded like an order.
The night before, after a coffee at an airline pilot’s house in Exeter, I watched McCloskey pep-talk a dozen volunteers. Clearly he relished the organizational details. He had explained how he wanted the “Jan Termers” — the college kids here for a month — to organize the high schoolers for the final blitz on March 7th. As methodically as a good general, McCloskey had assigned wards, planned coffees, explained how to clinch prospective workers, made calculations… he was not above the shitwork.
Now, in the Camaro, McCloskey contemplated campaigning without benefit of TV. “There was an old lady up in Berlin,” he said over his shoulder, “who was there when I first came here four months ago. I had spoken at a Rotary Club and she watched their faces as they came out. She said, ‘Young man, in New Hampshire, you’re gonna have to come heah three times; then you’ll get ’em.’ That’s my whole campaign theory — try to get into every town three times, with bigger audiences every time. And have the volunteers canvass the whole state so we know who’s for me and who’s undecided and which houses to hit on election day.”
Ned began to brief McCloskey on plans for next week’s speech in Claremont, N.H. “Mayor Puksta, who’s head of the Nixon committee there, has been very helpful in setting things up,” he said.
“That’s the one whose kids are working for me,” said McCloskey. “I think he may end up voting for me when he gets in the booth.” McCloskey smiled. The erosion of Nixon regulars was happening very slowly, but happening. Perhaps wanting to dream on this pleasant note, the candidate announced, “This is going to be a very long day,” scrunched down in his seat, and went to sleep.
An hour and a half later, having negotiated an intermediate trail safely but not very gracefully, McCloskey changed out of his ski clothes and got back into the car. “That makes life worth living again,” he said. He looked ready to chop a cord of wood, but he settled for leafing through a folder of clippings to prepare himself for the upcoming debate against Linda Jenness, the Socialist Workers’ candidate for President.
It was after dark when McCloskey arrived at the tiny auditorium of Colby Jr. College. Five or six McCloskey aides and field men were there, but the place was packed with young Socialist Workers — many beards and workshirts. The debate was the Socialists’ big chance for some press — no other candidate had agreed to debate Jenness, though all were challenged — and they had bused in the faithful from Boston. A McCloskey aide surveyed the Socialist throng and shrugged, “Well, he wanted to do it.”
Linda Jenness, a fine and fiery speaker, let McCloskey have it in her opening statement. She was pretty, with short blond hair, but tough enough to pass for a waitress in a Hell’s Angels bar. She hit McCloskey where he was vulnerable — his voting record. For the past three years, the liberal Americans for Democratic Action have given McCloskey’s voting record a rating of about 65 percent — which means that, by most of our lights, he is 35 percent creep. Which means he was willing to go to war over the Pueblo, voted for the No-Knock and Defense Appropriations Bills, and supported the appointment of Rehnquist to the Supreme Court. Jenness threw some of these facts at him but also — he was the only one she would get to debate — saddled him with most of the crimes of both parties over the last ten years.
McCloskey, unrattled but on the defensive, took his turn at the podium. He explained his unpalatable stand on the Pueblo and said he had not changed his mind. On several points he corrected Jenness. He had voted for the Woman’s Rights Amendment this year, after much chiding from his wife. He said that he had voted for the wage freeze as a temporary measure, but agreed with Jenness that the country could use a long-range planned economy. This statement drew savage laughter from the Socialist Workers. “I hope that the AP reporter who’s here will note that McCloskey favors a Socialist economy!” said Jenness as soon as she regained the podium.
The Socialists laughed at McCloskey more than once. His vision of an honest, decent, open-minded government had no purchase on them, for he preferred the Constitution to the Revolution. Asked about Angela Davis, McCloskey said that a politician had no right to comment on the guilt or innocence of the accused. Jenness answered him: “I demand immediate freedom for Angela Davis and I’m very proud and not ashamed at all to demand it and I’m a politician.” There was a crash of applause. Time had run out on the debate.
McCloskey didn’t appear shaken. He hadn’t expected the Socialists to love him, he had done the thing out a mixture of good sportsmanship and sheer perversity. He drove off in a blizzard to dinner and another speech. Nonetheless, he had taken a beating and I was left with troubled thoughts. McCloskey looked like a dream candidate but he might be no more than a virtuous Nixon — he might not understand the woes of the country much more deeply than the President.
Using the bits and pieces I had picked up traveling with him for three days, I tried to imagine a McCloskey Administration. We would stop the bombing, stop the war, and not lift a finger to help Thieu. We would no more be buddies with Greece, Spain and Pakistan. The CIA would get out of the election management business. McCloskey would cement up the loopholes in the income tax, tax the bejeezus out of the country’s richest men, and spend the money on gargantuan mass transit and ecology programs that would hopefully cut down unemployment and inflation. Busing and Civil Rights programs would go forward full steam ahead. And every month President McCloskey would stand up and answer tough questions from a joint session of Congress — a practice that might, in time, become as delicious as Kennedy’s press conferences. Supposing that McCloskey, via four or five consecutive miracles, should go over the top, it might not be so bad.
That night, McCloskey drove through a blinding snowstorm in the mountains to speak to several dozen kids, handfuls of parents and six or seven Catholic Fathers at a small parochial boarding school, the LaSallette Seminary. The meeting was held in the warm, cozy crypt of the school’s granite church. The turnout hardly warranted the arduous drive, but McCloskey displayed more conviction than he had shown even a week before. He no longer stressed his promise to drop out of the race if the people of New Hampshire did not strongly support him. He sounded less like a protest candidate and more like a Presidential hopeful. “If we do well here in New Hampshire, we can win in Massachusetts, we can win in Rhode Island and Oregon and in the other small primaries that don’t require much money. If we build up some victories against Nixon in four or five states, I don’t think he is going to be nominated by the convention. Not if he’s been repudiated by his own party. Even the Republicans want to win.”
THE ASHBROOK CHALLENGE
It is one thing to be glib with a cliché, like Richard Nixon; it is another thing to have to reach for one, as John Ashbrook so often does. Handing out a leaflet at a rally in a small country store, Ashbrook decides to lighten the proceedings with a joke. “A candidate without propaganda,” he starts off, “is like… uh (long pause)… a day without sunshine!”
In his campaign to push the GOP to the right, one of Ashbrook’s main strengths may be that he can out-Babbitt Richard Nixon himself. Ashbrook is running on virtually the same platform that got Nixon elected in ’68. “I hope to mobilize the ‘Silent Majority’ whom Nixon mobilized in 1968 but whom he has apparently abandoned,” says Ashbrook. Not even Nixon speaks of the Silent Majority anymore. But it’s still out there, and it may prefer Ashbrook’s collection of Midwestern Republican ideals to Nixon’s surprises and improvisations. Nixon’s people are more worried about Ashbrook’s insurgency than about McCloskey’s, because Nixon’s political strength comes largely from conservatives, and he does not need Ashbrook eating away at his power base. Being not only a congressman but also the publisher of three small-town weeklies in Ohio, Ashbrook understands those conservative folk.
A Harvard man, a lawyer, and a former president of the Young Republicans, Ashbrook is an intelligent, if uninspiring, speaker. He was recruited for the primaries by Bill Buckley and a group of conservative intellectuals. Because he entered at the last moment, he has not had time to build an impressive organization or raise much money. He has also entered the Florida primary, and will have to divide his time between two states.
Despite his handicaps, Ashbrook has one large advantage. When William Loeb withdrew his support from Nixon, he gave it to Ashbrook, who is a friend and penpal. (In the Democratic primary, Loeb is supporting Los Angeles Mayor Mad Sam Yorty). If past elections are any indication, a Union Leader endorsement is worth about 15 percent of the vote. Since Ashbrook has announced that he would consider 12 to 18 percent of the vote a success, he will find it hard to lose.
Ashbrook is plowing most of his time into talk shows and interviews at small town weeklies, many of which make the Union Leader look like the Daily Worker. He has scheduled some appearances at high schools and colleges, although they will probably bring him little support. Young people don’t tend to go all out for a man who opposed the 18-year-old vote. However, 100 kids from New England chapters of William F. Buckley’s Young Americans for Freedom have agreed to canvass the state for him two weeks before the primary.
On January 24th I met Ashbrook around mid-morning as he trudged through the deep snow to the door of a white frame building that houses radio station WLNH, the only station you can get clearly if you live in the valley around Laconia, N.H. It was his second radio show of the day. He had also done two newspaper interviews and addressed a small high school class that morning. He sat down at the control board with Esther Peters, the plump, dyed-blonde talk-show hostess, to tape a 15-minute segment that would be played during prime time.
After a few amenities, he began to detail Nixon’s record of broken promises. Instead of building up the national security, Nixon had let our defenses lag, just like MacNamara. Instead of cutting down on spending, he had produced “the most outrageous string of deficits in American peacetime history.” Rather than cure the “welfare mess,” the President now wanted to add people to the welfare rolls. “And you, Esther,” he said to the hostess, “will be especially interested in this. We accused the Democrats of not being credible, of managed news — and unfortunately, after doing that, we’ve continued the same trend for three years.”
The taping done, Ashbrook pulled a heavy black raincoat over his blue pinstripe suit, re-donned his galoshes, and went outside to join two staffers, who looked like low-grade police detectives. In two cars, they drove to a late Victorian house in the village of Bristol, to pay a visit on Mrs. Marjorie Fields, the publisher and editor of the weekly Bristol Enterprise. The middle-aged Mrs. Fields received us enthusiastically at the kitchen door. She was trimly dressed in a brown pants suit, wore metal-framed glasses, and had a fresh permanent. Mrs. Fields talked non-stop, taking coats and boots and offering everyone a drink. Ashbrook wanted milk.
“Gee, that’s perfect,” he said after a sip. “There’s just something refreshing about a glass of milk.”
Mrs. Fields mischievously suggested that the rest of us might want something harder.
“The only union that ever endorsed me is the WCTU!” said Ashbrook. He smiled and they rocked.
Mrs. Fields led the group into her parlor, where she and Ashbrook proceeded to have the kind of conversation that has given shop talk a bad name. They discussed the sturdiness of old printing presses, the comparative readerships of their weeklies. “Last year, I printed letters to Santa Claus from 1900,” said Ashbrook. “It was a great success because many of the people who wrote them are still alive, and they got a real kick out of it. Historical and genealogical stuff is my bag, as they say now.”
“If you don’t mind, I think I’ll steal that idea,” said Mrs. Fields.
It developed that two of Ashbrook’s constituents, an optometrist and a dentist, were cousins of Mrs. Fields’. At Ashbrook’s suggestion, Mrs. Fields’ son got his camera to take a picture to send to the cousins.
While Ashbrook and Mrs. Fields were outside being photographed, the two staffers shyly introduced themselves. They had been sitting on the edges of their chairs, and they looked uncomfortable in their Sunday suits. Dick Smith said that he had a burglar alarm business in Rochester, N.H., but was taking time off to serve as Ashbrook’s State Coordinator. His friend Norm, who runs a gas station in Laconia, was the field man for central New Hampshire. Along with a couple of staffers back at the Concord office, they made up the nucleus of Ashbrook’s organization. Norm said that ten or 15 of his friends who normally took no interest in politics had expressed curiosity about Ashbrook. “Yeah, this is a thing that starts slowly but works up, works up,” said Dick, making sweeping, crablike motions with his arms.
Later that day, in the five-block-long college town of Plymouth, Ashbrook drew about a dozen people for a reception at Haskell’s Toy Store and spoke to only a handful more at the State College. Ashbrook gave a solid, intelligent speech at the college, attacking Nixon’s deviations from the party line and outlining conservative philosophy in general. After the speech, however, all but four or five members of the audience admitted that they were curiosity seekers, not supporters.
At Haskell’s Toy Store, the farmers and workers stood around shyly.
From time to time, one of them would edge over to Ashbrook’s side to ask him a question about his stand on the POWs or his feelings about Nixon. Mr. Haskell, a short man with a pock-marked face and greasy black pompadour, announced that his 18-year-old daughter was going to vote for Ashbrook. “Because of the defense,” he said. “Without a good defense for this country, what is there?” It was clear that most of these people had come to size up Ashbrook. They agreed with his position, but they wanted to measure his sincerity. With his quiet manner and his familiar-sounding answers, Ashbrook was passing the honesty test.
* * *
Senator Edmund S. Muskie has attained the office of Front Runner against Richard Nixon before the casting of a single primary vote, leaving the Senator in the unenviable position of having to run a mammoth, million dollar holding operation against all other Democratic contenders. While George McGovern, Sam Yorty, Vance Hartke and Wilbur Mills continue to pump nearly all of their resources into New Hampshire, Muskie has to go screaming off in his Electra jet, collecting supporters in Florida, Illinois and Wisconsin in an effort to guard his flanks against Lindsay, Humphrey and Wallace.
Trying to run in four states at once has left an uneasy distance between Muskie and the people. As the Senator well knows, there is a great difference between winning a poll and winning a primary. Polls don’t measure commitment. Primaries do. Only the most involved, rabid, vengeful, or enthusiastic voters come out for primaries; the people who casually told the Harris man that they guessed they liked Ed Muskie best are the ones who tend to stay at home. The surest means of committing a voter remains the firm handshake, look in the eye and concerned word of hello. But Ed Muskie is so overextended that he has little time for this conventional kind of campaigning. Instead he has to make his presence known largely through the Press. Each stop he makes has to be more than a mere appearance; it must be a total, symbolic Event, a story in itself, a comment of some kind on the character of Ed Muskie.
So, on the evening of Tuesday, February 10th, while George McGovern was shaking random hands at the Tri-Cities Shopping Center in the seacoast region of New Hampshire, Ed Muskie was 50 miles away, in the Democratic stronghold of Manchester, demonstrating two points: a) he wanted to bolster the economy of New Hampshire and b) he was a conscientious family man. Or, as the Muskie Press Schedule had it: “7:35 PM — Manchester — Shop-in at Pariseau’s Department Store, 1001 Elm St. to shop for Mrs. Muskie’s birthday (Feb. 12).”
Actually, Muskie made a non-scheduled stop at Lynch’s, another department store, before going to Pariseau’s. The chartered chrome and white Press Bus was parked outside tying up traffic halfway up to Concord. Inside, two camera crews and a half dozen photographers were cursing and trying to shoot through eath other’s heads as Muskie examined pocketbooks at a small counter. Reporters tried to pry their way in through the photographers in order to catch the great man’s words. A half dozen officious advance men were roaming the aisles looking for people who would shake hands with Muskie. The only thing to do was split and go on to the next stop: “8:00 PM — Manchester — Pulaski Club meeting, 199 Manchester St./Statement.”
There was much cheer at the Pulaski Club, really an oversized Forties vintage bar inhabited by about 200 Polish-Americans, all of whom seemed to know and love each other. They were playing pool, carrying drinks to their wives, and sitting at formica tables getting tanked up in honor of the imminent arrival of the celebrated son of Stephen Marciszewski, immigrant tailor. Later they would stand together and greet him with a hoarse, offkey chorus of “Sto Lat” — “May he live a hundred years” — a traditional Polish toast; and Muskie would tell them how much he regretted that he had never learned the beautiful Polish language.
The Press Bus had arrived at the Pulaski Club, and CBS’s Bruce Morton was threading his way to the bar. He had shed his usual beleaguered look and was happily waving his notebook. “Got some great fill for you, boys,” he said with a hint of irony. “Unbelievable quotes!”
Having gotten himself a beer, Morton started reading out of his notebook to the bunch of fellow reporters who had gathered round. “OK,”he said, “Lynch’s Department Store. Buys brown leather handbag, $34. Salesgirl says, ‘Does she wear gold or silver?’ He replies, ‘She wears what I give her.’ On way out, waves to reporters and says, ‘Send the news to my wife and if she doesn’t get anything I bought, it’s too goddam bad.’
“At the next store,” Morton continued, “buys L’Interdit by Givenchy — one-half ounce $20 — after trying about half a dozen perfumes.”
“Yeah,” added Martin Nolan, the Boston Globe’s Washington columnist. “He stood there going: ‘Huh? Huh?[Nolan grunted like a boar]He asked me what my wife wore. God, I don’t know what she wears, but I told him what to buy. Jesus, is he indecisive. Wishy-washy.”
“So he tried a dozen perfumes?” someone asked.
“No, six,” said Morton.
“Let’s make it eight.”
“No, six proves he’s wishy-washy on the perfume issue.”
One of Muskie’s advance men, dressed in a sleek Chesterfield coat, stood a few feet away, eavesdropping and looking pleased. I went over to ask him about the strategy behind the Shop-in. “Well,” he said, “we threw in Lynch’s because it’s Irish votes and the owners are good Democrats. But you know why we really did it? Because it’s a guaranteed wire service photo. Same thing with the pillow the old ladies gave him this morning at the Senior Citizens Home. The heart-shaped one that said, ‘We Love E.M.’ That was for the wires. We did everything but knit it.”
The Press Bus wisdom has it that Muskie’s campaign is organized from the top down while McGovern has grown from the bottom up. The “top” of the Muskie New Hampshire organization consists of 25 full-time staffers, most of whom work out of the drab shell of a former S & H Green Stamp storefront on the main street of Manchester. Besides helping Muskie’s large travelling staff to set up appearances, they direct bumper sticker campaigns, telephone campaigns, canvasses and local rallies.
Muskie’s New Hampshire campaign manager is a young man named Tony Podesta, one of McCarthy’s best operators in ’68. Sitting in the backroom of the Manchester HQ, surrounded by phones, desks, a wire service machine and piles of press releases, Podesta looks like the plump, manicured scion of a classy Mafia family that has just put him in charge of a modest bookmaking operation. He chainsmokes menthol cigarettes and races his words as he answers questions.
Podesta’s job is to keep Muskie’s lead from leaking away. A Boston Globe poll, taken in the last week of January, gave Muskie 65 percent of the vote. “That’s impossible for us, just impossible,” says Podesta. Like any campaign manager, Podesta likes to poormouth his candidate’s chances so that the candidate will appear to have pulled an astonishingly strong victory on election day. According to Podesta, Muskie would be glad to get 50 percent of the vote. “I would rather the poll hadn’t been published,” he says. “It gives us an unattainable target.”
The poll also hurts Muskie because it has bred overconfidence among his supporters. “I can’t begin to list the number of sophisticated political people who are saying ‘Why bother, he’s got 65 percent, he doesn’t need 66,'” says Podesta. “So we’re trying to get Muskie to push people harder wherever he goes, and we’re pushing harder.”
Some observers think that the Muskie vote is “soft”‘ to begin with. A McGovern aide claims that Muskie’s support is “a mile wide and an inch deep.” Podesta admits that Muskies grass roots don’t go as deep as McGovern’s.
“McGovern,” he says, “has a hard core of totally ideologically committed true believers who think he’s the Second Coming and he’s got to do it this time and those people will bust their backs for him. But people are for Muskie because they like him, he’s a nice guy, he cares about people, he has good programs, he knows our problems better than other guys do — but people aren’t goin’ out to die for him. Somehow or other, when you get down to it, if you just like Muskie, it’s sort of a lesser purpose than if you really feel you’re affecting history and turning the country around on the great issues by working for George McGovern. So that’s a problem for us.”
To help counteract this situation, the Muskie people have a staffer working full time to recruit student volunteers. Podesta says that the staffer arrives at each school after McGovern and converts “anyone who’s signed up for McGovern” with the argument that George can’t win. The staffer, a good-natured surfer type from San Diego named King Golden, denies ever using this pitch. “I tell them the difference with Muskie is pure leadership ability, his ability to inspire the people of this country to work together,” says Golden, whose only political experience consists of having helped organize anti-war demonstrations in Washington.
Trust Muskie The mill town of Manchester, the biggest in the state, is a grimy, redbrick Industrial Revolution nightmare that contains large blocs of Italians, French, Greeks and Poles whose forebears came over as Cheap Labor. Naturally these people are all Democrats, and Manchester contains 25 percent of the Democratic vote in the state. So it’s a crucial town for Muskie to win and the 200 people who showed up at Muskie Headquarters that night were supposed to win it for him. They stood around the huge, low-ceilinged front room wolfing down Dunkin’ Donuts and coffee. It was a bowling alley crowd — the women wore beehives, the men Robert Hall suits. From the name tags they stuck on their lapels, it was clear that there were many Franco-Americans and Greek-Americans in the crowd. Off in one corner, a dozen old ward pols in snap-brim hats wearily chewed the fat.
A few minutes before Muskie’s scheduled arrival, a balding man in a drab plaid jacket — Muskie’s state chairman — mounted the riser at the front of the room. Looking and sounding like the principal of the state’s smallest high school, he proceeded to lecture the workers as if they were the school’s chronic problem home room.
After being instructed to take as many poster and bumper stickers as they could use, the workers finally got Muskie. He looked nothing less than papal. Photographers were elbowing out camera crews, lights were glaring, and the power buzz was coming off Big Ed like a fire alarm. Tall and confident, he advanced slowly through the crowd with his right hand slightly raised as if to give a blessing. With some barely detectable peripheral vision, he picked up first names from the name tags. “Hi Charlie…Hi Pete.” Some of the workers mumbled words to their wives about this being “a historical moment.”
Taking the riser, Muskie pulled himself to his full six feet, four inches, stretched his eyelids fully open as if to wake himself up, and launched into his oration.
It was a well-crafted political speech, aimed half at the workers and half at the traveling press. He humbly reminded New Hampshire Democrats that they owed him their balls. (Starting with his gubernatorial victory in 1954, Muskie had managed the transformation of Maine from the most stubbornly Republican state in the Union into a strong Democratic state; and he had often helped his less gifted colleagues in New Hampshire.)
He patiently explained the problems of trying to run four primary campaigns at the same time; he explained why he had so few days for New Hampshire. Then, for the benefit of the reporters, he lashed out at William Loeb. He believed Loeb to be “the real danger to fundamental values that are close to us here in New England” and he challenged him to a debate. (This was the story most of the reporters wrote the next day.) Then, raising his voice to a stage shout, he went after his opponents.
“Here you have four candidates who’ve never visited New Hampshire before; trying to tell you that I take New Hampshire for granted. Where were they in the four years when we were trying to build Democratic victories in New Hampshire? Did you ever hear their names? I doubt that Mayor Yorty ever heard of New Hampshire before 1972. And Congressman Mills, he’s gonna spend a half million dollars on television — a write-in campaign — what claim has he got here?”
It was not Muskie’s notorious biting temper being sprung, but a perfectly controlled portrayal of indignation by a man who had learned oratory from the oldtimers. He pointed his finger, glowered in outrage, took his breaths and held his pauses like a pro. Moving back to humble tones, he told the crowd he needed their help to win the nomination. “You can count on us, Ed,” someone yelled. But they didn’t seem convinced that he was really in trouble. The applause indicated that they were loyal and they liked him a lot, but there was no sign that they were going to die for him.
Muskie can make a fine speech, he has the good solid look of Presidential timber, but he doesn’t inspire people to knock themselves out for him. Something is missing. As Eugene McCarthy said, in a recent moment of lucidity, “Muskie lacks a metaphor.” Nothing about Muskie explains, in one flash, why people should vote for him — no slogan, no issue, no physical trait grabs people and makes them want to cheer. Like Nixon in ’68, Muskie lacks any real reason for running. “Nixon’s the One” really meant “Nixon’s All You’ve Got.” And now Muskie is using a similarly vague slogan to disguise his ideological bankruptcy. The theme of the campaign is “Trust Muskie.” But imperative slogans are always dangerous, because they provoke a comeback in even the most witless voter.
To do what?
Trust him because only he can win, perhaps. Muskie is the front runner because his people have spent a year running around 47 states pressuring governors and local pols into endorsing their man. With endorsements came the bandwagon psychology — get on or get run over — and with that came the big investors. Muskie will spend between $10 and $15 million before he even reaches Miami.
“Trust Muskie” really means “Take a Flyer on Muskie,” i.e. take the guy on faith until he can find a moment to sit down, light up a cigar, and figure out where he stands on a few of the issues. George McGovern is running because he has specific ideas on the issues. But Muskie is still waiting for his 27 “task forces” to come up with positions on major points.
Despite the fact that Muskie has little to say, he has become famous for being brutally frank in saying it. His reputation for candor started when he turned his Watts faux pas into a virtue. Ed Muskie, he would have it, is the only guy with guts enough to say that a ticket containing a black veep can’t win. Now he preaches gun control at gun clubs and opposes the Space Shuttle in front of NASA for employees. But these bravura stands do not make up for his cloudy statements on busing, amnesty and many other issues. He still tends to grow testy when people hit him with hard questions.
On a mid-February morning he addressed the student body of Keene High School, in the western part of New Hampshire. He gave his regular “sermonette” about unifying the country and all went well until the question and answer period. At that point, three pro-McGovern students got up, one after the other, and read hostile questions from clipboards. The McGovern volunteers tend to be fanatics, and they have adopted this tactic as a means of confronting Muskie, who refuses to debate McGovern. One of the volunteers asked a tricky, less-than-straight forward question about Muskie’s stand on the Cannon Amendment to the Senate Standards of Conduct to trap Muskie.
Muskie blew up. He cut the kid short before the question was all out. He kept Resolution — a question clearly designed asking the kid, “Where did you get that? Where did you get that?” According to the Times reporter who was there, Muskie “just got very paternal.” But the Wall Street Journal’s man said that Muskie looked as if he wanted to get at the kid and tear him apart.” The McGovern Headquarters later claimed that eight parents had called their Keene office to volunteer to work for McGovern; their sons and daughters had come home with stories about how Muskie had “picked on a kid.”
“We’re trying to get Senator McGovern into Keene High School as soon as possible,” said a McGovern aide. “The contrast is just going to knock them out.”
The immediate contrast between Ed Muskie and George McGovern is striking. Muskie looks cold and imperious; McGovern appears warm and concerned and wears a martyr’s smile. McGovern is indisputably a man of conscience. He opposed the war in the Senate seven years before Ed Muskie; he has opened his books, whereas Muskie has so far refused to dis disclose his campaign finances; he has led the movement to reform the Democratic Party’s procedures for choosing delegates and has put forward a detailed plan for tax reform and income distribution. McGovern has a vision, a series of specific programs, and a confident sense of himself that needs no backing up with opinion polls. Yet for all that, he and Muskie are only a few points apart in their ADA ratings. To anyone who does not read the papers carefully, they appear very close on the issues.
What differences do the voters see between them? “Leadership,” says Joe Grandmaison, McGovern’s New Hampshire campaign manager. “You might not agree with everything McGovern has to say, but you know where he stands on it. Whereas Muskie comes off as wishy-washy.” The McGovern people are trying to publicize the differences between Muskie and McGovern, but they can’t seem to get much leverage on Big Ed. Wishy-washiness is not one of the Deadly Sins. So far, the McGovern people have found only small-time accusations to level against Muskie.
“Muskie refuses to debate McGovern,” the McGovern people say in outraged tones. Well, sure, top dogs always refuse. “People should vote for a man not for where he was born but for where he stands,” they say; Muskie doesn’t deserve votes just because he comes from Maine. Well, yeah, but that’s no fireball issue either.
The McGovernites are up against the fact that Muskie is playing in a different ball park. McGovern can’t plug Muskie by talking issues because Muskie refuses to respond or debate or act as if McGovern were even in the state. And the fact is that Muskie can get away with running on his trustworthy neighbor image; the presidential candidate who runs on issues is the exception rather than the rule. Even McGovern’s people seem to realize this. So while McGovern goes on giving issue-studded speeches at high schools and house parties, they are moving off in a new direction with his media campaign.
The McGovern people are sinking most of their media budget into two kinds of radio ads: spots produced for national consumption by Charles Guggenheim, who ran Bobby Kennedy’s radio campaign in ’68; and local spots produced by a New Hampshire PR man named Merv Weston, who did the same job for McCarthy. Nineteen New Hampshire radio stations are being saturated with both kinds of ads. Neither the national nor the local ads say much about the issues. Instead, they consist of raps by a series of friendly character witnesses, including Mike Mansfield, Gale McGee and Bobby Kennedy.
Bobby Kennedy? The three spots using his voice have caused the biggest stir in the campaign. Guggenheim pulled the quotes off a four-year-old tape of Kennedy campaigning for McGovern in a South Dakota Senatorial race. A lot of people, including James Reston, have jumped on McGovern for using a dead man’s endorsement, but McGovern says he is “proud” of the ad, that his headquarters hasn’t had a single phone call of complaint, and that the Kennedy family is pleased with the spot. The Muskie people say that the ad is designed to fool people into thinking that Teddy is endorsing McGovern. But the reason the ad works is that Bobby’s voice — it is clearly Bobby’s — slashes through the AM mush and jerks you out of your seat. The voice comes on full of passion:
“Winston Churchill once said that courage is rightly esteemed the first of human qualities because it’s the one that guarantees all others. The person that had the most effect on the Senate of the United States…“At this point Kennedy’s voice fades out and the strong, cultured voice of the narrator comes in. “Like his brother he spoke often of courage,” goes the voice-over. “Since he prized it above all other human virtues, he measured his own life against its standards and was quick to recognize it in other men’s character.”
Then Bobby again: “… and when I think of that I think of George McGovern. The courage I spoke of was the courage to speak out in his conscience about the course that we were following in Southeast Asia. Whether one agrees or whether one disagrees, the fact is he was an early voice giving forth a view that was not popular at the time, because that’s what he felt in his conscience.”
This is exactly the message the McGovern people are bursting to get across. Proven, on-the-record courage is what separates McGovern from Muskie. The people of New Hampshire know Muskie to be a consummate pol, but they don’t exactly picture him as a fighting saint. That is the picture that the McGovern ads flash again and again. There are other ads featuring war buddies, friends, Mike Mansfield (identified only as “the chosen leader of the Senate”) and Gale McGee (“a man who’s fought against him, the Senator from Wyoming”). They all hammer in the guts-and-conviction image.
PRAY FOR SNOW
The McGovern people are headquartered in a small, jerry-built brick building that used to house the Manchester AAA. The office is well equipped and active, but the cheerful college faces light up a little too eagerly at the news of any minor Muskie misfortune.
Still, the McGovern people have certain advantages. McGovern has all but conceded the Florida student and minority votes to Lindsay, so his organization is piling up its chips on New Hampshire. Suddenly there are five advance men here instead of only one. Whereas Muskie will be in the state for only six days out of the last three weeks, McGovern is now scheduled for 14 days. The busloads of volunteers from Cambridge and New York are increasing, and the McGovern people hope to have 3000 volunteers here in the last week of the primary.
And if McGovern gets very, very lucky, it will snow on election day. The bigger the blizzard the better for McGovern. “If the turnout is cut in half,” says Muskie’s Tony Podesta, “it’s a lot tougher for us. Let’s say McGovern has 15,000 votes and we have 60,000, just pulling those figures out of a hat; that means we have four times as much work to do on election day. If it snows, he can probably get all his people out and we probably can’t come anywhere close to getting all our people out.”
George McGovern has been campaigning here on and off since last April. First a few seminal house parties, then more house parties, then, starting in January, high schools, plant gates, supermarkets, shopping malls — any place he can meet a lot of people fast and get them to remember his face. His appearances don’t register as Events, like Muskie’s. Fewer reporters follow him; the press corps easily fits in an airlines limousine.
There is no way to measure what this meet-the-people approach is doing for McGovern. The faces he meets are friendlier now but still inscrutable. His staffers have scheduled two youth canvasses. The first will merely tell people that George McGovern exists. The second, starting in the last week of February, will check lists of pro-McGovern voters among the independents and Democrats of the state. That will be the first fairly accurate indication of McGovern’s strength. It will also tell whether the Muskie people are right in speculating that McCloskey is killing McGovern among the independents.
The January Globe poll gave McGovern 18 percent of the vote. He will have to push that figure to more than 20 percent to make a respectable showing. Nothing but an act of God could prevent Muskie from finishing first in this race, and it would take a minor catastrophe to keep McGovern from finishing second now that Mills and Yorty will presumably be splitting the Democratic conservative vote.
The finishing positions being pre-ordained, what counts is the point spread. An unofficial panel of judges, consisting of R. W. “Johnny” Apple of the New York Times, David Broder of the Washington Post, and a handful of other pundits, will be ready to read the entrails March 8th.
At the moment, the consensus is that Muskie will have had his nose broken if he gets less than 50 percent. And that could happen. Hartke, it is agreed, should receive two or three percent. Yorty can count on collecting an automatic 15 percent thanks to the Union Leader endorsement, and Mills might get another 15. McGovern looks good for 20 percent, at least. That would leave Muskie with an ugly-looking figure in the forties.
But the point spread is anybody’s guess. The one thing that seems certain in this campaign is that Vance Hartke is dead wrong in his stubborn prediction that he is going to win. Despite the fact that he makes the most stirring speech of anyone in the field, he has no organization, little money, less media, and his effort to turn the German Measles into a major issue has not unearthed any previously overlooked constituency.
Only one candidate can expect to have less of an impact than Hartke. That is Ned Coll, a JFK freak and community organizer from Hartford, Conn., who says that he only wants to “get the issues of racism, of poverty, of urban decay into the campaign.” Now Coll is only 32, so he has three years to go until he can legally run for President. He will probably ret about the same number of votes as Muskie gets percentage points, but he has forced the press to give limited publicity to his altruistic, Hartford-based Revitalization Corps.
On the Right of the Democratic primary, the last-minute entrance of Representative Wilbur D. Mills of Arkansas as a write-in candidate has come as a relief to many Democrats who thought that they might have to vote for Sam Yorty. His half-million dollar media campaign — radio spots, newspaper ads and a half-hour TV special — all emphasize his record as a sober and powerful conservative. Unlike the other candidates, Mills has involved himself in a raging local controversy — over the Republican Governor’s efforts to pass New Hampshire’s first income tax. He announced to the state legislature that, as Chairman of the Ways and Means Committee, he would remove a clause in the revenue-sharing bill that would penalize states with no income tax. This stand against the income tax immediately endeared him to much of the citizenry, which is far more interested in the income tax than in the primary.
Some observers believe that Sam Yorty might emerge as the dark horse of the campaign. Sam Yorty is sure of it. He points to a poll he commissioned from Cohen and Kelly Associates of Manchester last January. The poll gave him 46 percent of the vote in Manchester. Muskie got 44 percent and McGovern got 10 percent.
Yorty has several offices in the state, a staff of 12 full-timers, almost unlimited amounts of money, and of course, the Yortymobile. Designed to impersonate a whistle stop train, the Yortymobile is a forty-foot-long Winnebago trailer with loudspeakers on its roof, “Sam’s the Man” painted on its side, and a platform at the rear from which Sam inveighs against Muskie, McGovern and “the follies of the Fulbright faction in the Senate.” The Yortymobile makes advance men a thing of the past because when it pulls into a town blaring “The Stars and Stripes Forever” it creates a sensation of its own.
Of course, Sam has one advance man, Bob Philbrick, a party pol who wears a trench coat and affects the bearing of an usher at Buckingham Palace even while announcing Sam’s imminent arrival in some greasy spoon. Having traded barbs with Johnny Carson, Sam is readily recognized in the street. But people are less familiar with his current mission.
Even though the Yortymobile creates a stir, without a sophisticated advance operation Sam often finds himself wandering through empty department stores and supermarkets in search of a hand to shake. One Saturday morning in mid-February he was facing such a plight at the Bedford Shopping Mall when he spotted George McGovern. who was trailing a crowd and a CBS camera crew. Yorty ran over to get his fair share of the show. “Walter, Walter!” he said to George, “How are you?” Later he came back to say he had realized George’s name wasn’t Walter. “I’ve been called worse things,” said McGovern.
In fact, scene stealing is shaping up as Yorty’s main campagin tactic. That night he appeared at the New Hampshire Democratic Party’s Lincoln Day Dinner, the major party function of the year. Muskie offended a good many of the guests by skipping the dinner in favor of his wife’s birthday, but all the other candidates sat at the long table in front of the motel dining room and delivered after-dinner speeches. The last candidate to speak was Hartke, and his breathless, evengelical, first-thumping appeal for a new spirit in the land threatened to provide the only excitement of the evening. But just as Vance was gunning into a high-flying peroration, he was interrupted by a bone-shivering crash. Sam Yorty, rocking too for back in his chair, had fallen off the dais.
THE INVISIBLE CANDIDATE
On the second floor of Concord’s sprawling, Neo-Colonial Highway Hotel is a three-room suite that might be the showroom of a small, prosperous computer-communications firm. The office furniture is new and handsome; the main room is filled with tastefully designed machines — mimeos, Xeroxes, and an IBM computerized automatic typewriter that can write and address mountains of letters at dazzling speeds. Only one feature tells you that this isn’t just another small business; there are four official portraits of the President on the wall, not to mention framed color photos of Air Force One and the First Family.
This is the Committee to Re-elect the President. Five well-paid staffers and as many well-oiled machines. Pete McCloskey pays frequent visits to his Concord storefront headquarters, with its map-covered walls and the frat house squalor of a backroom called “The Ghetto” where most of the male volunteers live. But the President will never see his beautiful Highway Hotel headquarters. He will be much too busy in Peking to go to Concord. That’s why the daily press calls him “the invisible candidate.”
The political speeches will not be made by Nixon, who has announced that he will engage in “no public partisan activities,” but by 15 “surrogates” — Republican senators, congressmen, and cabinet members. At the top of the list are Secretary of Transportation Volpe and Secretary of Health, Education and Welfare Richardson, both of whom have been popular in New Hampshire since they began their political careers in neighboring Massachusetts. As for Nixon, he intends to hold the pose of a statesman.
The campaign has been very low key. The Committee has thus far spent only $15,000, and they won’t start a newspaper and radio campaign until the middle of February. There will be very little advertising on TV. “The President really got burned by The Selling of the President,” says one staffer, “and I think the word has come down from very high up that he doesn’t want to look like he’s buying the election.” Of course, for a week just before the primary, the President will be on TV every evening live from Peking.
The only major event of the campaign to date has been a youth rally. “The largest gathering of youth for any candidate so far in the campaign,” claims a Committeeman. Two hundred young people were bussed in from Upstate New York. They spent one Saturday afternoon canvassing around the industrial city of Manchester, staged a rally at the Committee’s Manchester storefront HQ, and repaired to the local Holiday Inn to throw a party and spend the night. The Republican National Committee footed the bill for the weekend. In their four hours of canvassing, the volunteers knocked on 11,000 doors. Even if they come back three more times, as they’re supposed to, they won’t make much of a dent on the state’s 200,000 houses. Nonetheless, they take themselves seriously. When a McCloskey volunteer showed up at the rally with a sign reading “Token Youth for Nixon,” the organizer of the rally snatched the sign and tore it to shreds in front of a CBS camera crew.
The real action is elsewhere, according to John Sias, the Committee’s 40ish, forthright press officer. “We’re taking McCloskey and Ashbrook very seriously,” he says, as if he were throwing salt over his shoulder. “This time it’s not the same as in ’68.” In ’68, the President, then known as Richard Nixon, ran virtually unopposed and got 78 percent of the vote.
“Aside from the youth part,” says Sias, “the campaign will be very old-fashioned, really a bit cornball. Face to face. Three hundred and seventy-five volunteers in town and country organizations will be participating in phone and mailing campaigns, in addition to selling tickets to the surrogate functions and getting people there.” Three hundred and seventy-five party regulars, many of whom probably got to know Dick Nixon personally for a few minutes while he was still begging for votes in ’68. In a state where all but one of the major elected officials are Republicans, the party regulars can lean on more than a few burghers who have felt the Republican largesse. Loyalty, habit and a little pressure can be counted on to get out a good vote for the President.
Only one thing seems to worry Sias. That is the markedly anti-Presidential attitude of William Loeb, publisher and chief pundit of the lunatic-Conservative Manchester Union Leader. With a circulation of 63,000, the Union Leader is the only big daily paper in New Hampshire, and Loeb, although he lives in Nevada, remains a power in the state. “William Loeb was a heavy supporter of Nixon last time round, and we sure wish we had his support this time,” says Sias.
Loeb summed up his new position on Nixon in a recent front-page editorial entitled “HEAVEN HELP US!” “HE HAS DEVALUED OUR CHANCES OF VICTORY AGAINST THE COMMUNISTS BY CUDDLING UP TO THE CHINESE REDS AND THE KILLERS IN THE KREMLIN,” wrote Loeb. “With the Union Leader against you, you don’t need too many enemies,” says Sias.
* * *
Already, Nixon has made gestures of appeasement to both factions. On his January 2nd TV interview with Dan Rather, the President came close to endorsing Agnew as a running partner. With his announcement of secret negotiations, Nixon tried to convince the country that he has been doing precisely what his liberal opponents are proposing. Many observers think that the speech has damaged McCloskey’s chances, but it is more likely that much of the speech’s effect will have worn off by the time of the primary.
“I think it’ll take a little while for people to understand that Nixon hasn’t really changed his position on the war,” McCloskey said a couple of days after the speech. “But it makes a subject for debate between now and March the seventh. I welcomed it because it clarifies the issue.”
“Has the President fooled the people?” a reporter pressed him.
“Well,” McCloskey grinned. “He tries.”