< Vote First or Die

Transcript

Friday, December 14, 2007

BOB GARFIELD:
This is On the Media. I'm Bob Garfield.
BROOKE GLADSTONE:
And I'm Brooke Gladstone. Every four years, journalists migrate like swallows, swarm like locusts, stampede like reporters, up to New Hampshire. They go to take the pulse of Granite Staters, who are designated the pulse of the nation because they have the first primary.

This week, I went to New Hampshire to visit the Public Radio station there, and I thought I'd do a piece about how the residents feel about playing bit parts in the nation's quadrennial political soap opera. Naturally, I assumed they thoroughly hated reporters. I was wrong.

In fact, the real story is how they feel about their primary, or rather the primacy of their primary. Many people, especially Democrats, hate the current system because they don't believe that the white, rural, relatively affluent people of New Hampshire reflect the party's rank and file.

Regularly, other states try to leapfrog over New Hampshire. This year it was Michigan, which moved its primary to January 15th. New Hampshire responded by moving its to the 8th. New Hampshire has pushed up its primary a week for each of the last three election cycles.
JOE McQUAID:
We didn't start the fire. It's not us. It's those people pushing us. Stop pushing.
BROOKE GLADSTONE:
Joe McQuaid is the publisher of The Manchester Union Leader. He's worried that the next New Hampshire primary could be held in the year before the election.
JOE McQUAID:
We don't want to do that. I hope people see that we are determined and cooler heads will prevail, as they usually do. I don't think we should have it on the Fourth of July.
BROOKE GLADSTONE:
But
JOE McQUAID:
That's my line in the sand right there, Fourth of July. No.
BROOKE GLADSTONE:
New Hampshire's state emblem is a great stone face carved by nature into a series of cliffs called the Old Man of the Mountain. Wouldn't he, the most literal of Granite Staters, resent being a sideshow in the electoral circus?
JOE McQUAID:
I think sometimes even the ones who claim to be annoyed are secretly quite proud of the primary. Hey, Mabel, we may be on with Katie Couric tonight. Did you see Charlie Gibson? He's broadcasting from the top of the Victory Parking Garage last couple of nights. Great stuff.
BROOKE GLADSTONE:
What do you think would happen to the state psyche should New Hampshire no longer be first?
JOE McQUAID:
That's too terrible to contemplate. It's like saying what would happen if the Old Man of the Mountain fell down? Whoops wait a minute he did fall down.
BROOKE GLADSTONE:
When reporters want the word on the New Hampshire Street, they go inside. It's too cold on the street. In Manchester, they go to eateries like the Merrimack, Pappy's Pizza and the Red Arrow. I went to all three.
[AMBIENT SOUND]
At the Merrimac, I met Betsy Gothier [sp?].

How would you feel if New Hampshire were no longer the first primary and the soap opera moved elsewhere?
BETSY GOTHIER:
No, I wouldn't like that. I we like to be first.
BROOKE GLADSTONE:
Do you think that you're qualified to be first, to speak for the rest of the nation at the very beginning of this campaign?
BETSY GOTHIER:
Absolutely.
BROOKE GLADSTONE:
What makes you say that?
BETSY GOTHIER:
We've been doing it for many, many years.
BROOKE GLADSTONE:
Doesn't necessarily mean you're good at it.
BETSY GOTHIER:
Oh, no, but we are.
[LAUGHTER]
We take it very seriously.
BROOKE GLADSTONE:
At Pappy's Pizza, I asked Joe Lamont if he thought his access to the candidates qualified him to cast a primary vote that has more impact than the primary votes of thousands of other Americans combined.
JOE LAMONT:
Oh, yeah.
[LAUGHTER]
And then some.
[LAUGHTER]
I know as much as they do so
BROOKE GLADSTONE:
About urban poverty, racial issues, immigration?
JOE LAMONT:
Yeah. I think I have a good handle on all of that. Yeah.
BROOKE GLADSTONE:
As somebody who lives in New York, I never reach out and touch any candidate because they don't care what I think and they don't care about my vote. So I think it's unfair that they only care about yours.
[LAUGHTER]
JOE LAMONT:
Oh, well. Move to New Hampshire.
[LAUGHTER]
BROOKE GLADSTONE:
And at the legendary Red Arrow Diner, I asked 18 year old Joseph David Frank Bora [sp?], aka Joner [sp?], and Eric Warkola [sp?] if they were bothered by all the media attention.
YOUNG MAN:
What are we doing right now? We're getting attention from the media because we're from New Hampshire. I don't mind it. You think we don't need this every once in a while? Come on! We need the self esteem.
YOUNG MAN:
If it wasn't for skiing and maple syrup, no one would come to New Hampshire other than for the primaries.
YOUNG MAN:
And the leaves.
YOUNG MAN:
The leaves are nice.
BROOKE GLADSTONE:
Foliage notwithstanding, the people of New Hampshire are political animals.
JOE McQUAID:
New Hampshire, as you probably know, has the third largest England speaking deliberative body in the world.
BROOKE GLADSTONE:
Manchester Union Leader publisher Joe McQuaid.
JOE McQUAID:
I can never remember the other two. I think one is Congress and one may be the British Parliament. We have 400 reps, 24 state senators. If you're not in the legislature in New Hampshire, your uncle is or the guy down the street is or your schoolteacher is.
BROOKE GLADSTONE:
One representative for every 3,089 citizens — apply that same ratio to California, they'd have to elect 12,000.
BILL GARDNER:
It was this belief a long time ago that the more people here who could share the government, the better. And so that makes for a different environment.
BROOKE GLADSTONE:
New Hampshire's secretary of state, Bill Gardner, sets the date for the primary. It's written into the law that it shall occur a week before every other primary. For Gardner, it's not just state law, it's natural law.
BILL GARDNER:
There's a reason why the Kentucky Derby is in Kentucky. There's a reason why the Statue of Liberty is in New York. There are other historic harbors Baltimore, New Orleans. If they said it's not fair that the Statue of Liberty is always in New York so we need to tow it to Baltimore for a few years let it be rotated then we'll tow it to New Orleans and let New Orleans have it for a few years, well, there's a reason why it's in New York Harbor. And there's a reason why this unique political culture is here and is nowhere else.
BROOKE GLADSTONE:
That reason has everything to do with history. Robert La Follette, the progressive governor of Wisconsin, created the first primary in 1905 so that the people, rather than the party bosses, could choose the candidates.

A lot of states jumped on the bandwagon but then jumped off again. By the '50s and '60s, even the '70s, only a few states held primaries. What happened?
BILL GARDNER:
They'd have one primary, some states maybe two, and then the big shots, the party leaders would go to the legislature and say, look, it's costing a lot of money to have the people do this and they don't participate in high numbers. Let us have the power back. And so state after state gave the power back.

Well, in this state, the people prevailed, and they said, no, we want to make this decision. We care about this, and we're going to keep it. And so New Hampshire kept it while state after state got rid of it.

Then after we've had it for a half a century, all of a sudden a state that's bigger and more powerful says they should have it? We just said, no, we're not going to just give this up. We never took it from anyone else. We don't think it's right to take it from us and we're going to protect it.
BROOKE GLADSTONE:
Not just because New Hampshire earned it, says, Gardner, and certainly not because of the money about 30 million dollars.
BILL GARDNER:
One NASCAR race brings in more money for this state, whether it be the hotels or the restaurants, than the presidential primary.
BROOKE GLADSTONE:
He also wants to protect the primary because it's good for America to have a place that matters, where there are virtually no barriers to running.
BILL GARDNER:
The American dream that any person's son or daughter can some day grow up to be President, there's a place that can happen, and it's here. When Jimmy Carter came here, no one had any idea who he was. He didn't have the accent that we have. He didn't grow up in the environment that exists here.

But he came, and, using his shoe leather, he went from place to place and talked about why he was running and who he was. You know, Jimmy who? And that demonstrated his character. And he ends up winning this primary.
BROOKE GLADSTONE:
By the time I finally got to New Hampshire Public Radio, I was convinced that preserving the New Hampshire primary was the only way to save American democracy. NHPR executive editor Jon Greenberg told me I may have OD'd on the state Kool Aid.
JON GREENBERG:
The Kool Aid is that you think that anybody who has great communication skills and great convictions can come into New Hampshire, meet enough people, and out of whole cloth, generate a presidential campaign just simply by that quintessential contact of aspiring politician and the people. And it doesn't work that way.
BROOKE GLADSTONE:
He says Jimmy Carter probably couldn't have pulled off his victory today. There's not enough time now between New Hampshire's primary and all the rest to build the necessary momentum.
JON GREENBERG:
I mean, for example, John McCain won in New Hampshire in 2000, but because he couldn't convert that quickly enough into a campaign organization with money, with advertising, in South Carolina, he died in South Carolina. That's the point at which the New Hampshire myth gets beaten down by reality.
BROOKE GLADSTONE:
Granite Staters are not immune to the power of campaign money, ads and polls, says Greenberg, but they have built up more resistance than those in other states. Like other kinds of resistance, it comes from frequent exposure.

And, of course, there's that political culture, decades of asking tough questions of presidential contenders face to face and hosting political house parties.
JON GREENBERG:
So over the past 50 years, I do, in fact, think what has developed in this state is something that can't just simply be replicated elsewhere because you say to the people of that state, oh, now you're first.
BROOKE GLADSTONE:
And that's the conclusion of a Granite Stater who hasn't drunk the Kool Aid. Now, a final word from the man with the recipe, Secretary of State Bill Gardner.
BILL GARDNER:
If you look at this primary from a distance or in an academic way, you can come up with all kinds of reasons why it doesn't make sense, it's not fair, that it's this privilege every four years, and it's not right that it's the same place.

But there are things in life that you have to experience because you wouldn't believe it otherwise. And this is one of them. Oliver Wendell Holmes once said that an ounce of history is worth a pound of logic, and that, to me, says everything about this.
BROOKE GLADSTONE:
Gardner says he will move the primary as early as he has to yes, even to the Fourth of July to preserve it. Eventually, though, even things that seem eternal crumble under constant pressure. The ancient stone face called the Old Man of the Mountain collapsed in 2003. But New Hampshire losing the first primary?
[MUSIC UP AND UNDER]
I think Gardner will be a lot harder to crack.
[MUSIC UP AND UNDER "LIVE FREE OR DIE"]