Cook On Concord: Two early primary sightings: Romney and Hagel
While the Democratic National Committee wrangles over scheduling minor caucuses after January and prior to the New Hampshire primary to add “diversity” to the mix, exploratory forays into the state have been made by several potential candidates. So far, they have been encouraging. In the last two weeks, the fun that is the New Hampshire primary as “retail politics” has been demonstrated with the visits of two Republican “explorers.” Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, a neighbor not terribly well known to the state, visited on St. Patrick’s Day. He endured a St. Patrick’s Day breakfast, some receptions and, in a small gathering in Concord, met with officials of the Business and Industry Association’s board for a policy discussion that was both interesting and substantive. Romney, a Republican in a sea of Democrats in Massachusetts, has no hope of being able to pass a legislative agenda unless he can make it a consensus and bipartisan effort. Add to that the dominant influence of labor unions, and his flexibility is limited. Under those circumstances, the fact that he has been able to explore, research, draft and is about to succeed in having enacted a universal health insurance program for Massachusetts residents - which will save companies money, according to the governor -- is a testament to his ability to get things done. He demonstrated this ability previously in running the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City as well as his many accomplishments in business. Romney is attractive, well spoken, obviously intelligent and stresses the need to take a business-like approach and find common ground. Romney was straightforward in answering what he was doing in New Hampshire by saying he was keeping all of his options open because if you are interested in running for president or even thinking about it, it is not a last-minute event or effort. This participant was struck by the passage of time since having a similar discussion with another governor named Romney in 1967 when the then-governor of Michigan, George Romney -- Mitt’s father -- was in New Hampshire to explore running for the Republican nomination. While he dropped out of the race prior to the New Hampshire primary, the elder Romney also was accomplished, serious, had a distinguished record in business as president of American Motors and later was the president of the Mormon Church. On the heels of Romney’s visit, Nebraska Republican Sen. Chuck Hagel visited the state for a whirlwind tour, addressing meetings of the Portsmouth and Manchester chambers of commerce, a gathering put together by the New Hampshire College and University Council and Campus Compact for New Hampshire, and other groups. Hagel, described by former U.S. Sen. Warren Rudman -- a John McCain supporter -- as “a younger McCain,” was refreshing and straightforward. Recently featured on the front of The New York Times Magazine as a maverick and independent senator, Hagel is in his second term. He heads several committees, has developed expertise on foreign affairs, and is not a knee-jerk supporter of any particular policy. He served in Vietnam and with distinction. Evidence of his independent streak are found in his being one of the four Republicans who blocked re-enactment of the Patriot Act until it could be reworked (along with New Hampshire Sen. John Sununu). He also was straightforward in stating, “There are some things that the federal government does well, and there are some things that local governments do better. Education is one of the latter. The ‘No Child Left Behind Act’ is inappropriate and I didn’t vote for it.” Hagel, like Romney, stressed the need to find common ground and decried the present polarization in Washington, where otherwise intelligent people refuse to speak to each other because of party identification and there is all too often party-line action on serious and substantive proposals. Hagel noted the “self-correcting nature” of government, indicating that in our system, when things get out of whack, they have a tendency to be corrected. Whether that augers well for a Republican candidate in the next presidential election or not may be an irony Hagel failed to address. Like Romney, Hagel indicated that he was here to keep his name before the voters, explore his chances and was not an official candidate for president. Yet.