Cook On Concord: Did I get a glimpse of the future?

“Did I just see the future?” This is the question I asked myself as I exited the office building at 1000 Elm St. in Manchester on Dec. 10 after attending a reception in the Sheehan Phinney Bass + Green office where I work, hosted by the state Democratic Party for Illinois Sen. Barack Obama.

Obama, the star attraction of New Hampshire politics in December, drew a capacity crowd to the fund-raiser. While not a Democrat, I had the opportunity to go and witness his performance, experience the phenomenon and see the reaction of the crowd. It was one of those uniquely “New Hampshire” experiences in this “first in the nation” primary state. Obama did not disappoint those in attendance.

Both because Obama was there and is considered a formidable candidate should he run for president in 2008 or thereafter, and also because of what is going on in New Hampshire politics, the event may have been a vision of what is to come for those in politics here.

First, Obama. He is intelligent, attractive, smooth, sincere, self-effacing and well-spoken. While not getting deeply into policy or program, he commented on the phenomenon he has become by saying, “I find a place where Democrats are energized, go there, and they give me the credit!” Obviously, that is somewhat of a misplaced and modest explanation of why he is so attractive.

Those attending the event at which I was present and the larger event later were looking for something else. They were looking for leadership, new vision and hope. Whether Obama is the answer, he certainly was the object of those desires on that Sunday in December.

In my experience, there are two kinds of candidates, those around whom the crowd moves and those who have to move around the crowd. Obama, like Hubert Humphrey, Ronald Reagan and others, is among the former. He has the thing called “charisma.”

Second, the spirit of the Democrats, the newly minted officeholders who were present and the spirit they expressed may be a permanent new day in New Hampshire politics. It is exciting to see a party energized by victory, the presence and energy demonstrated by new Congresswoman Carol Shea-Porter, Congressman Paul Hodes, state senators, Governor Lynch, Democratic Speaker Terie Norelli, Democratic Senate President Sylvia Larsen and new executive councilors all pointed to the startling performance of the Democratic Party in the recent election.

So, was I seeing the future? That will depend on how the Democrats perform and how Republicans respond.

There is a big difference between being in the majority and having to craft a program and being the loyal opposition trying to craft cooperation.

Governor Lynch has an especial challenge in leading all of the newly minted officeholders to fashion a cohesive program. Already, there are rumblings about proposals for tax reform, social programs, spending for education and other matters that will require new sources of revenue, and the governor will have to keep all of this organized.

Also, the next election is always just two years away in New Hampshire. In 2008, there is no incumbent president or vice president running in either party, a popular Republican U.S. senator, John E. Sununu, will be running for re-election (perhaps against former Gov. Jeanne Shaheen, whose potential candidacy was mentioned by her husband Bill at the Obama event), and the performance of the Democrats in office will be reviewed by the voters in a very different set of circumstances than be one that faced them in November 2006.

Meanwhile, on the Republican side, the Republican state chairman, Wayne Semprini, citing health concerns, decided not to run for another term. That left the field open to Rep. Fran Wendelboe and possible other candidates seeking to take on the task of rebuilding the Republican party, its finances and confidence.

Did I see the future? Or was it a blip? That is the important question facing both political parties and the voters of New Hampshire who will determine later whether 2006 was an aberration or a fundamental change in New Hampshire politics and history.

Meanwhile, to the newly elected officials, best wishes and good luck in the New Year. For those who have served the state and are now moving on to other pursuits, thank you for your service and happy New Year to you as well. To all of the loyal readers of this column, may 2007 bring peace and prosperity to you all.

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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