Editorial: It’s primary season, so get to work

  • Republican presidential hopeful Ronald Reagan reacts to a request that his microphone be turned off as opponents John Anderson (center) and Howard Baker look on in Nashua on Feb. 24, 1980. AP

Published: 2/21/2019 12:05:05 AM

The quadrennial ultramarathon that is the New Hampshire presidential primary is underway.

On the Democratic side alone, to stick with sports metaphors, there are enough declared and likely candidates to field two baseball teams, 18 at last count. And President Donald Trump, if he’s still in office, is almost certain to face one or more primary challengers.

The primary is Feb. 11, less than a year away. New Hampshire voters are known for staying in reasonable political shape year-round, but it’s time for those who really want to affect the course of history to train. That means thinking about what you want in a candidate and a president.

Are experience and positions close to your own bigger factors than electability?

Does age matter? Six of the likely or announced candidates are senior citizens and three – Bernie Sanders, Joe Biden and Michael Bloomberg – are in their late seventies. How old is too old to assume the rigors of the presidency?

Whose vision of a post-Trump America is in sync with your own? The Democratic Party as a whole has moved considerably to the left since Bill Clinton and the days of the Democratic Leadership Council.

The colors of the rainbow are red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo and violet, or, in the venerable mnemonic, Roy G. Biv. Republicans are predominantly red with a smattering of orange. Democratic candidates span just half that spectrum, starting at green.

New Hampshire deserves its outsized influence in presidential elections because its electorate is well-educated and more politically involved than most, but also because the state is small enough that candidates are obliged to engage in retail politics. Not quite door to door, but house party to house party, diner to diner, and town hall to town hall. Attend the events. Ask questions.

The late Sen. John McCain famously held more than 100 town hall meetings in his campaigns here. At an event at Concord High School in 2008, a student asked McCain, then 71, if he was too old to be president. “Every campaign I’ve been in in my life, I’ve out-campaigned all of my opponents and I’m confident that I will again,” McCain said. “And thanks for the question, you little jerk.”

McCain’s quip made national news.

At a 1980 Nashua debate that grew contentious because, for complicated reasons, there were more candidates than chairs, moderator Jon Breen, editor of the Nashua Telegraph, ordered a sound technician to cut power to Ronald Reagan’s microphone. The Reagan campaign sponsored the event.

“I am paying for this microphone, Mr. Green,” Reagan angrily declared, and the crowd roared. “I may have won the debate, the primary and the nomination right there,” Reagan reportedly said later.

When candidate Bill Clinton, his campaign reeling over allegations of his infidelity, promised the crowd at a Dover Elks Club that if they supported him he would “be with them til the last dog dies,” he won them over and placed second behind the local favorite, Sen. Paul Tsongas of Massachusetts. Clinton became “The Comeback Kid” and went on to become president.

This year, we believe, the New Hampshire primary will be more important than ever. California, with its 37 million people, 492 convention delegates and 55 electoral votes to the Granite State’s four, will cast its vote on Super Tuesday, March 3. Eight other states, including Texas with 251 delegates, will also vote that day. By then, the field of serious contenders will be narrowed to a handful, largely thanks to the involvement of New Hampshire voters.

The game is on. Ladies and gentlemen, prepare your questions.

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