Candidates Vie for New Hampshire
Bush, Kerry Campaigns Are Not Taking the State's 4 Electoral Votes for Granted
By Jonathan Finer
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, June 20, 2004; Page A05
DERRY, N.H. -- On a recent Saturday morning, veteran Democratic National Committee member MarDee Xifaras asked the 200 volunteers gathered in a school cafeteria here to picture the electoral map of the United States and focus on those states colored neither red nor blue.
Eyes closed, she pointed at the air like a weatherman, rattling off the closely contested battleground states: Ohio, Pennsylvania, Florida and a host of others.
"But don't forget the smaller ones," she told the recruits, who had driven north from the Massachusetts that morning to be trained as political ground troops who will be deployed across the country for John F. Kerry's White House bid. "If this state had gone for Gore, he would be president right now. We would absolutely love you to get your feet wet in New Hampshire."
Budding political activists have been coming to the Granite State for a generation -- stuffing envelopes, making phone calls and knocking on doors during its pivotal early primary. But with a population of 1.3 million, the state has long been an afterthought in the general election. With only four electoral votes, New Hampshire has usually prompted candidates to focus elsewhere.
Not this year. Just 7,211 votes separated Al Gore from a victory over George W. Bush here -- an election that would have swung to the Democrats with a Gore victory here or in any other single state.
"Usually, all we see of the campaign is the underbelly of the airplanes as they fly overhead," said Thomas Rath, a lawyer in the state capital, Concord, and a longtime GOP strategist. "No question in my mind: This is the most organized I've ever seen a presidential campaign up here, so far out from the election. This year, nobody is forgetting about New Hampshire."
In 2000, neither campaign began advertising on the state's main television network, ABC affiliate WMUR, until June. This year, the two campaigns began in March and had saturated broadcasts as of mid-June with more than $2 million in commercials, roughly $1.2 million for Bush and $880,000 for Kerry, according to a survey of the station's public records.
Bush has also bought TV ads in Burlington, Vt., whose airwaves reach across state lines, but the gap between the two campaigns' ad spending has been more than filled by Democratic-leaning groups, known by their Internal Revenue Service designation as "527s." Led by Media Fund, headed by former Clinton aide Harold Ickes, they have spent nearly $800,000 on television ads here.
"Compared to other states, we're a relatively inexpensive media market," said station manager Jeff Bartlett. "You can get a lot of bang for your buck."
Both sides agree that the race in this state will be close. The latest poll by the University of New Hampshire showed Kerry at 49 percent and Bush at 45 percent. But Bush has closed the gap since the week after the January primary, when Kerry led 53 percent to 39 percent, after months of sustained attacks on the president by the Democratic rivals.
The traditionally conservative state -- in which Republicans outnumber Democrats 36.7 percent to 25.6 percent -- has voted for the GOP candidate in six of the past eight presidential elections. But with Bush winning so narrowly here in 2000, a year in which he lost the Republican primary to Sen. John McCain (Ariz.), Kerry campaign officials say they see an opportunity for their candidate, who is well-known in the state after almost 20 years as a senator from neighboring Massachusetts.
"Kerry has a real chance," said University of New Hampshire professor Andy Smith, especially if he can attract supporters of former Vermont governor Howard Dean.
Kerry and Bush have both visited New Hampshire since the primary -- with Bush arriving just days afterward -- and a host of high-profile surrogates, including Vice President Cheney and Gore, have also come to campaign.
The rank-and-file ground campaign is also well underway.
© 2004 The Washington Post Company