Cook On Concord: Use the primary properly, or lose it

Speaking at St. Anselm College at a forum sponsored by the Center for U.S. Global Engagement, “Impact ’08 in New Hampshire, Building a Better, Safer World,” Sen. Joseph Biden of Delaware made an interesting statement. In effect, he said, “I’m all in favor of the New Hampshire primary being first. However, if you are going to have the first primary, you should use it for the purpose for which it is intended, examining candidates carefully and recommending the best ones to the voters of the United States.”

The forum, sponsored by many religious, educational and political leaders in New Hampshire, was attended by a couple hundred people and was addressed by former Housing Secretary Jack Kemp, the 1996 Republican vice presidential candidate, retired Gen. Barry McCaffrey. Gov. Bill Richardson of New Mexico also addressed the group.

The thrust of the presentations was that diplomacy, people-to-people efforts, foreign aid and strategic alliances need to be stressed over “hard” military and unilateral solutions to international problems. These “smart” or “soft” solutions would restore America’s place in the world and be a better road to successful peacemaking than war, in many circumstances, the speakers asserted.

Biden’s point was driven home by his insightful speech on appropriate policy in Pakistan and the world. Biden, twice Foreign Relations Committee chair in the Senate, reminded the crowd that a president needs to “hit the ground running” upon election and experience in the matters that presidents face is important in picking a candidate in both parties.

Biden also said a president cannot succeed just by surrounding him or herself with bright people. Rather, he reminded the audience, a president needs to be able to have the right gut reactions, based on experience and knowledge, when standing alone in the Oval Office and having to make a decision among all the recommendations presented.

Richardson also impressed the group with his experience. Governor, U.N. ambassador, congressman, diplomat and well-educated, Richardson brings a wealth of experience in various areas needed in a president to the race.

There was virtual unanimity at my table, that we had seen the best two Democrats running for president, based on merit and experience. The question then arises why Biden’s initial point is not correct. If these are the two best candidates, should not New Hampshire Democrats recommend them to the country, having examined them carefully? Those leading in the polls may be funded, bright and possess various other commendable attributes, but it is our job to recommend the best, having looked at them.

On the Republican side, in this commentator’s view, there is only one similar candidate with the experience and knowledge to “hit the ground running.”

Arizona Sen. John McCain is head and shoulders above the rest, and New Hampshire Republicans would be well advised to recommend him.

If we do not use the primary as it was designed, we may be in line to lose it.


In another reminder of the effectiveness of the New Hampshire primary in allowing examination of candidates who might not otherwise have a chance, the Campus Compact for New Hampshire, a fine organization of partnerships involving higher-education institutions and charitable and civic organizations, held its 10th anniversary dinner Nov. 6 at the Radisson Hotel in Manchester.

Most of New Hampshire’s college presidents, many trustees and educators and their friends attended. Several of the partnerships sponsored by the compact were described by a student panel, and three partnerships were awarded special recognition.

The highlight of the evening was an address by Rosalynn Carter. The former first lady stressed the importance of the New Hampshire primary in her comments, stating that Jimmy Carter never would have become president had it not been for his opportunity to campaign in New Hampshire. An unknown when he started, he walked the streets, knocked on doors, held interviews and ended up the winner, both in New Hampshire and nationally in 1976.

Mrs. Carter was gracious, humble, charming and, obviously, tireless. After giving her speech and presenting the awards, she boarded a plane to fly to Atlanta to host a mental health conference, after which she was going to Africa to join the former president in building housing.

Whatever one thinks of the Carter presidency, President and Mrs. Carter have been shining examples of goodness since leaving the White House, and her reminder of the importance of the New Hampshire primary was telling. nhbr

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