Her Motto: 'I Like (M)Ike'
Friday, January 4, 2008
PORTSMOUTH, N.H., Jan. 3 -- Ruth Griffin is explaining her political bona fides, as her cats, the "Mink Brothers" (Mini and Monster), look on.
"Wendell Wilkie was probably the first candidate I ever worked for," she says, referring to the 1940 Republican presidential nominee. Griffin was in nursing school then. "But here I am, supporting governor Mike Huckabee." She smiles -- like she knows something we don't.
Ruth Griffin's name is the first you'll see on the Huckabee campaign Web site's list of New Hampshire endorsements. With a thin campaign infrastructure and not much time spent in the state, the former Arkansas governor is not in good shape. The latest CNN/WMUR New Hampshire Primary Poll has him in fourth place, with 10 percent of likely Republican primary voters. Maybe Griffin, along with a fat bump from Huckabee's Iowa caucus win, can help. The woman has certainly been around: five terms as a member of the state House of Representatives, one term as a state senator, one term on the local school board, 10 terms on the state's Executive Council, which has the power to veto gubernatorial nominations and big contracts. Oh, she also has been a local police commissioner and served eight years as a Republican national committeewoman.
"I've never been defeated in a primary or general election," Griffin says, "so I must have been doing something right."
She is 82, but not retired. In New Hampshire, they don't let you retire. Not for real. Whether you're a bigwig or a mediumwig, a fire lieutenant, a sporting goods store owner or a former executive councilor like Griffin, every four years the candidates come a-courtin'. If you've got reach and influence, somebody running for president will want to kiss you, and then ask you to call all your friends and tell.
On Thursday evening, Griffin is in front of her television watching news from Iowa and signing 1,500 postcards she was planning to mail on Friday morning. This is her second batch; she had previously mailed 1,500. On the front of the postcards is a photo of herself and Huckabee at a picnic last summer, and on the back is her testimonial: "I have been courted by all the candidates and carefully considered them all. Mike Huckabee is the only one that presents a vision for the future in a genuine way that lets me know that his concerns for the future of our country are the same as mine."
Ruth Griffin lives in a white Victorian house with a flagpole in the front yard, the American flag flapping in the frigid breeze, a Huckabee yard sign planted in the turf. She receives visitors in the parlor, which is crowded with knickknacks, artifacts, little George W. Bush bears, ceramic figurines. On the walls, which are covered with 1940s-era flowered wallpaper, are two framed portraits: one of Jesus Christ, the other of her late husband, John K., as everybody called him, a cemetarian whose family long owned the cemetery across the street. Griffin points to a shelf in the corner. "He's right over there in that urn, waiting for me."
This is a special parlor.
Gerald Ford came to the parlor, so did George H.W. Bush, so did Bob Dole. "It used to be a joke," she says. " 'Have you been in Councilor Griffin's parlor yet?' " She points to the piano. "Lamar Alexander played that piano. We sang the 'Tennessee Waltz.' " Mr. Plaid Shirt didn't do well in New Hampshire, and the jam session didn't secure Griffin's endorsement either.
And what of Huckabee?
"I think he's going to surprise a lot of people here," Griffin says, though she adds, "I kind of naturally wanted him to do more in the state. But I gotta figure they know what they're doing."
Huckabee called her a couple of weeks ago, said he was going to be in Londonderry. Griffin couldn't make it. But she'll be at St. Anselm College in Manchester on Saturday night for the Republican debate, and for the Huckabee tailgating party beforehand. Campaign aides told her she will have a debate seat next to Janet Huckabee. "Have you ever seen her? She's 6 feet tall! She's very nice," Griffin says.