Cook On Concord: As summer heats up, so does presidential politics

A 10-year-old interested in politics recently exclaimed to her father, “You mean the election isn’t this November? With all this stuff going on, I figured it was just about to happen.”

The 10-year-old had a point. Much of the activity surrounding the New Hampshire primary at this point is generated by the press, for the press and is based on “spin” from the campaigns.

On the other hand, the importance of money, media hype and the ever-present emails and other communications show how expensive, long and pervasive the presidential primary effort has become.

With so many candidates in the race, political observers are wondering how long there can be as many of them competing.

The common assumption is that, shortly, candidates like Mike Gravel and Dennis Kucinich in the Democratic Party, and Ron Paul, Mike Huckabee and others in the Republican primary will start to drop out of the race, deeming their points made and finding their funds gone.

Ironically, however, front-runner status is given to people based on hype, fund-raising and media perception. On points rather than those other factors, and purely subjectively, this observer wonders why both parties do not face the following situation:

The Democrats: On experience, substance and cerebral appeal, New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson should be in first place, followed by Delaware Sen. Joseph Biden. In reality, Sen. Hillary Clinton, now accompanied by her husband, appears to be in first place, commanding the attention of party regulars and traditional Clinton loyalists who now view that administration as “the good old days,” while intellectuals, non-traditionalists and those yearning for the most real change seem to be supporting Illinois Sen. Barack Obama. (I have just finished reading Obama’s book, “The Audacity of Hope,” and, on the assumption he wrote it — which I will assume, given his brain power — it is a powerful testament to his intellect and vision.)

John Edwards, a repeat candidate from four years ago, does not seem to have the traction he might have, and suffers from the slick salesman image that he projects, at least for some. He seems to have a base among unions in parts of the country, if not New Hampshire.

Everybody else is an also-ran although the above-mentioned Richardson and Biden could catch fire. Chris Dodd of Connecticut, another experienced and worthy candidate, seems to some to be running for vice president.

The Republicans: The Republicans seem to be waiting for a candidate to emerge. Early polls putting former Gov. Mitt Romney and Mayor Giuliani at the front of the pack may be the result of media hype, advertising and name recognition.

Sen. John McCain of Arizona, winner of the 2000 New Hampshire primary, is having serious organizational problems, has spent most of his money, and has yet to get his act together. However, at this early date, no one should bet that he cannot do that and, although he suffers from the repeat candidate syndrome that Edwards caught, may be the most substantive candidate.

Those waiting for former Tennessee Sen. Fred Thompson may or may not see their dreams realized when (and if) he declares, since he will then have to take actual positions on actual issues.

Finally, the presumption historically and politically is that 2008 will be a Democratic year. Of course, the race will be closer after the actual tickets are known next year, earlier than ever before.


The other political action facing New Hampshire in this odd-numbered year is that of municipal elections in the cities. Nashua, Manchester and the other cities have their “non-partisan” primaries in September and elections in November.

Of particular interest is the election in Manchester, where one-term incumbent Mayor Frank Guinta will face Thomas Donovan, a talented, distinguished partner in the McLane law firm who previously served on the Manchester School Board.

Donovan, a non-traditional candidate for a Manchester election, will bring a lot of horsepower to the race. A third candidate, Jane Beaulieu, a Manchester activist, could file and compete, although the Republican Party will be behind Guinta and the Democratic Party behind Donovan in this officially non-partisan race.

Unless things get nasty, the race could be one of ideas, philosophies and contrasts in style. However, it could also be nasty, disingenuous and distasteful, if some of the local political characters get involved.

In aldermanic races in Manchester, several incumbents have announced that they are not running, which promises to affect the makeup of the aldermanic board as well as the school board, since some school board members may be running for alderman.

What happens in these municipal elections is important substantively as well as politically, and the style of these campaigns can be an important indicator of the pulse of New Hampshire politics.

Brad Cook is a partner in the Manchester law firm of Sheehan Phinney Bass + Green and heads its government relations and estate planning groups.

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