Friday, July 13, 2007

Two Roads in New Hampshire

You can't judge a campaign by where it holds events, but the mood difference between John McCain's conference-room Iraq War speech and the "Clinton Duo's" tour stop in Nashua this afternoon was clear.

Despite the upbeat reports I've heard on the news since I returned home, those gathered at the Courtyard Mariott in Concord, NH to hear McCain today were hardly a lively bunch. Unlike the times I've seen him in the past, John McCain didn't ooze with the maverick charm that he followed him around only months ago. On top of all that, I can't help but think that hearing an Iraq War speech instantly spoils whatever meal I was trying to eat. And so we find John McCain; a man genuinely committed to the issues that he preaches, but perhaps doomed by a struggling campaign and a war he still supports so strongly.

No matter how bad this war shapes up to be, I still think that a candidate who favors an international offensive against terrorism (such as Mitt Romney or Rudy Giulliani) could win over the American people and take the Presidency. What I don't believe, however, is that a candidate as close to the President and his course of action in Iraq can win over a big enough following at the time being.

Having followed Senator McCain for the better part of four years, the eerie feeling I felt today while milling around the Mariott was completely unexpected. In an election of mayors and governors who change their words and beliefs from crowd to crowd, it's still nice to see someone like McCain stick to his true beliefs. Sadly for him, there's a reason someone like Romney has moved around the board so much: so he doesn't end up like John McCain--a veteran in more ways than one, staying aboard a ship nearly every passenger is fleeing.

I wasn't surprised to find the vibe at Hillary Clinton's "Ready for Change, Ready to Lead" rally in Nashua so positive. It's no secret that she's polling first in nearly every state except Illinois?it's exciting being the frontrunner.

To be honest, I was not particularly looking forward to even being there. The overly-staged and too-well-organized nature of these big events has usually been an unpleasant consequence of #1 status. Hillary's campaign--no doubt because of its tremendous amount of on-hand cash and a steady stream of volunteers--puts on a seamless show that is nothing short of spectacular. Water stations, internet connections for the press, colorful backdrops behind the candidate's every silhouette. If you can bare to look beyond the production it's a wonderful experience; and everyone from the front row to the lawn chairs across the campus green was sucking in every moment of it.

Just being around such energy has completely changed the way I think about this coming election. I like to play favorites in politics, and I especially love underdogs. Until now I've only seen the gap between frontrunners and the second tier of candidates manifest itself during the televised debates; Clinton and Obama getting twice the talking time of Biden or Dodd. I would have thought that after seeing the Bill and Hill show roll through that I would be left entirely unfulfilled with what a saw; saddened by the money machine that pushes onward without rest, back and forth across America. But when you're at a rock concert it's hard not to get sucked into the overwhelming swell of energy.

Only forty minutes apart, two Senators find each other in entirely different worlds. In one world there are hand-made signs, moms with their daughters, and a couple whose passion and intensity for politics and the life of an election establishes them firmly as the true political juggernauts in the Democratic party. The other world is noon-time soup and spaghetti, quiet conversation, and a proclamation of one man's belief and the acknowledgment that things aren't looking good.

When the course of events seems all but certain, there's no saying where two New Hampshire roads will eventually lead. But this still is New Hampshire, and if it seems as if the audience is too quiet to be listening, they are. John McCain will rise again, not because of the funds he'll have to raise or the key hirings he will need to make, but because he still shows up when every newspaper says he's as good as dead.

(All photos: Luke N. Vargas. 2008. All Rights Reserved)

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